Thursday, January 09, 2014

The High Line

On Christmas day we went for a walk on Manhattan, through Greenwich Village, Soho and the Meatpacking district. I love the color and textures of these neighborhoods, the low (for New York!) brownstone buildings, the former industrial buildings turned art galleries, apartments and boutiques, and the not quite so touristy atmosphere. 

  


I was quite taken with this recent piece of architecture that blended so beautifully in amongst the brownstones. The street facade is clad in Corten steel, and I'm guessing it has a higher degree of transparency on the opposite facade.

Always when I travel, I have a list of what I want to see, both art and architecture, and drag my poor husband and kids around... This time in New York, I only had two things on my list: the occasional public sculpture and The High line. I had really high (excuse the pun, couldn’t resist) hopes for The High Line, and I was not disappointed. I’m a firm believer in new thinking around established phenomena, in this case the urban public park. To be elevated above street level and experience the city from another viewpoint had a greater impact on me than what I expected. It’s also an efficient use of valuable street level space and, most importantly, reusing excisting structures is both ecological and creates some unexpected spaces with valuable links to the past. I can highly recommend it, if you haven’t been there already.

The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. The first section of the High Line opened in 2009. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 20th Street. The second section, which runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened two years later. 





The High Line is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. Founded in 1999 by community residents, Friends of the High Line fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget, and to advocate for the preservation and transformation of the High Line at the Rail Yards, the third and final section of the historic structure, which runs between West 30th and West 34th Streets.

The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district. No trains have run on the High Line for more than three decades. The last train chugged along the High Line in 1980, carrying three carloads of frozen turkeys.




The design team of landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, created the High Line's public landscape. Construction on the park began in 2006. For a relatively narrow and straight stretch of parallel tracks, I was impressed with the great variety of spaces they've created. The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. Many of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are incorporated into the park's landscape. It may sound funny, but I really liked the winter dullness of the plants, all brown and not much to look at. It really added to the intended effect of the natural elements taking over an old industrial installation.


 
In recent years, the High Line has been adding interesting art along its length and even on the billboards facing the linear park. Now, public art seems to be spreading outwards into neighboring Chelsea, a long-time gallery destination.

“The river that flows both ways”. This installation is part of High Line Art, a program that introduces site-specific works that respond to the park’s unique qualities.Inspired by the Hudson River, Spencer Finch’s The River That Flows Both Ways (between West 15th and West 16th Streets) documents a 700-minute (11 hours, 40 minutes) journey on the river in a single day. The title is a translation of Muhheakantuck, the Native American name for the Hudson, referring to the river’s natural flow in two directions. Like the rail line that existed on the High Line, the Hudson River was, and still is, an active route for the transportation of goods into Manhattan. The river and the High Line have always been linked in their geography, their function, and their imprints on the industrial legacy of the city. 



From a tugboat drifting on Manhattan’s west side and past the High Line, Finch photographed the river’s surface once every minute. The color of each pane of glass was based on a single pixel point in each photograph and arranged chronologically in the tunnel’s existing steel mullions. Time is translated into a grid, reading from left to right and top to bottom, capturing the varied reflective and translucent conditions of the water’s surface. The work, like the river, is experienced differently depending on the light levels and atmospheric conditions of the site. In this narrative orientation, the glass reveals Finch’s impossible quest for the color of water. I really loved how the artist used an existing structure (the old framework) to create something new. It reminded me a bit of the modern, pixelated new take on the stained glass window in the Cologne cathedral by one of my many favorites, Gerhard Richter. 


“Busted” is a series of contemporary busts amid the High Line’s public gardens. Artist Steven Claydon, created UNLIMITEDS & LIMITERS, which humorously plays with the idea of the traditional bust, with doubles in resin and concrete. 


Getty Station is a public art program based at the former Getty filling station conceived by real estate developer and art collector Michael Shvo to bring outdoor exhibitions to a broad audience in the center of the High Line arts district. The program centers on site specific installations as an opportunity to incorporate a classic twentieth century American icon into the contemporary art dialogue. I just missed Sheep Station (it ended in late fall) which showcased 25 of late artist François-Xavier Lalanne’s iconic epoxy stone and bronze ‘Moutons’. Lalanne’s first iteration of the sculptures was his infamous ‘Moutons de Laine’ in 1965, gradually expanding this particular body of work to include additional variations of the sculpture in epoxy stone and bronze in 1977. Set in a surrealist landscape amidst the existing industrial gas station architecture, the sheep symbolized Lalanne’s mission to demystify art. 

To me, even this New York phenomenon below could be an art installation, commenting the implications of urban density....But it's not! It's just an impressive parking structure:-)


Some "architect- nerdiness", a close up of a great material combo...
 
I really recommend this great video on YouTube, it gives you a  good overview and understanding of the High Line project and it's relation to the surrounding city. I also recommend this website for more info.

12 comments:

  1. An urban masterpiece, very impressive indeed. I need to visit that part of Manhattan. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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    1. p.s. Your architect-nerdy material combo pic is cool!

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    2. You are so welcome:-) So glad you liked the look of it, it's really worth a visit. I was very impressed, I think urban public spaces have a tendency of becoming very boring. The use of an existing industrial structure is very exciting. If you're into that kind of stuff, try googleing Emscher Landschaftspark or Duisburg Nord- those are part of an enormous scheme in Germany, transforming the Ruhr industrial area into a place for recreation, without removing all the industrial structures. They're like giants in the landscape! Sorry, I get a little carried away just by writing about it. I visited it a few years ago, it's truly amazing!!! Thanks again:-)

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  2. I love Manhattan, and going to see the High Line sounds like a good excuse to visit.

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    1. Oh, I hope you get to see it, Dana, I liked it so much!! There are some great areals of it on the web. Lots of great art along the way!!

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    2. Oops! That was supposed to be 'aereals' Still doesn't look quite right....

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  3. Takk, har delt den med de jeg skal til NY med i mai, så følger vi ruta di:)

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  4. Å, så gøy!! Dere må glede dere, det var en flott opplevelse! Kunsten skiftes ut med jevne mellomrom, men de flotte glassvinduene får dere sett! Chelsea, Soho og the Village kan anbefales på det varmeste også, der har jeg vært mange ganger før. Litt annerledes stemning der! Dere får det sikkert helt knall:-)

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  5. I remember hearing about this project on a podcast some time ago, amazing! I really enjoyed seeing through your architects eyes. We need to be more inspired in our planning over here!

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    1. Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Pippa, being there was so great! I really appreciate projects that challenge our way of seeing and doing things, and show us that a park is not only a square on the ground. Here in Norway, and I'm sure just about everywhere else, there used to be a planning department. Nowadays, most city "planning" (development) is based on private initiatives. Most of them are cost and commercially orientated, as well as very conventional. I wish we could dare more!!! xx

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  6. Tove!! How did I miss this post?! You got me a bit weepy and home sick from reading this. :) I do remember the days of wondering if the High Line would ever come to be. Of course it is better than I could have ever hoped or imagined. It really is such a great use of space and has completely changed the West side. I'm so glad you and your family got to enjoy the High Line on your visit. No matter what season it's a great way to experience NYC.

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    1. Aw, I'm sorry, Francine! Believe me, I know about being homesick. Every time I see a picture from my hometown, my stomah aches.... I absolutely loved the High line! What an amazing use of an existing infrastructure and such a great new take on the urban park. I was amazed to see the great variety of spaces along that linear stretch, and all the art. Even though it was freezing cold the day we visited, it was packed with people. I can easily see how much it has done for that area of the city! I'm looking forward to seeing the extension. The plans were shown on posters when we were there.

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