Great news for New Yorkers and design fans alike: After years of wrangling, delays, and uncertainties, the High Line, an astonishing urban park built upon the remnants of an abandoned stretch of elevated railway, is opening tomorrow. Fast Company was at the preview, and here, we bring you the first images of the completed park.
It was a long shot from the outset: In 1999, two locals—Joshua David, a writer, and Robert Hammond, a painter—quailed at the prospect of the massive old railway structure being torn down by hungry developers. They lobbied the city to instead turn its surface into a park along the western fringe of the Chelsea neighborhood, some two stories above the street. Ultimately, they succeeded: The park itself is remarkably designed, a work led by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, with architecture by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and landscaping by Piet Oudolf (one of our 100 Most Creative People). But it's still a work in progress: So far, only a 2.8 acre stretch of the park has been completed, corresponding with the blocks between Gansevoort and 20th street. A second phase, between 20th street and 30th street, will begin construction in a few weeks, with completion slated for 2010. Together, those two sections will cost $152 million. A third, final section has yet to be developed. And the Whitney Museum is slated to open a new downtown branch below the first portion as well.
So what was the most difficult part of pulling off such a bold reinvention? According to Matthew Johnson, the architect at DS+R who managed the project, it was figuring out exactly the balance of concrete and landscape. "Basically, the balance between people and plants," he says. "At some portions the landscape takes over. At others, like the downtown entrance, it recedes to make way for public space."
It never really sinks that you're two stories up...until you peer over the ledge and see cars whizzing by below:
A signature touch by DS+R: The sunken observation deck that peers over the street below. Most of their big buildings—such as Alice Tully Hall and Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art feature similar types of floating, jutting observation platforms—reflective of Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio's long abiding fascination with surveillance and carefully framed vistas.
The park passes right beneath the newly opened Standard Hotel:
The brilliant landscaping by Piet Oudolf was meant to evoke the wild plants that spring up along unused train tracks:
Superb, albeit simple, details abound-such as this water fountain, which has no drain up top. Rather, the water runs down a trough, and the side of the fountain itself, into a drain on the ground:
Another great detail: The chaise lounges, which sit upon the old tracks and move a a few inches in either direction, letting you be closer or further from whomever is next to you: