Monument: The High Line
Location: New York, New York, USA
Architect: James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Year: 2004- 2009 (Section 1), 2011 (Section 2), Ongoing (Section 3)
Originally constructed in 1934 the elevated freight line was as an alternative to the more dangerous ground level railway line that pitted trains against pedestrians and traffic in the fast paced industrial area. While it functioned for nearly 50 years until the expansion of the nation’s interstates made trucking a more cost effective option for transporting livestock this piece of infrastructure was seen by many to be an eye sore by the 1990s when it was totally abandoned.
Now seen as the preeminent example of urban rejuvenation, the High Line project started out as a grassroots movement in 1999 led by The Friends of the High Line to reinvent the 1.5 miles of disused railroad tracks running alongside Manhattan’s west side. In time it gained widespread community and city support. Early financial backers that saw the value this project would generate in the city included Philip Falcone, founder of hedge fund firm Harbinger Capital, and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. After an open ideas competition in 2003 that drew in over 700 entries, an invited completion was announced in 2004 that included architectural heavy weights Zaha Hadid and Steven Holl.
In collaboration with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro and horticulturalist Piet Oudolf, James Corner’s proposal highlights the “melancholic, found beauty” that pervaded the High Line in the 1990s as rugged and resilient indigenous flora flourished between the hardscape of gravel and steel. The design creates a discrete expansive ribbon of lush garden that creates unforeseen relationships among the city blocks, buildings, and transportation routes it both stitches together and dissects along its route from the Meatpacking district to the Hudson Yards. Unique architectural features such as observation decks hovering above busy streets, translucent walkways elevated above wild flower fields, and tapered slat pavers that produce an ambiguous boundary between path and landscape, amplify the all too surreal presence of meandering nature within New York’s rigid urban grid.