14 August 2004

High Line Architects Selected

Congratulations to James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro for their selection as architects for the redesign of the High Line.

Diller, Scofidio + Renfro Highline PlanOn July 15, I attended a presentation by the four finalist teams at the Center for Architecture, and it was clear that the Diller, Scofidio + Renfro team had done their research. More than any of the other teams, they had examined the relationship between the Line and the City. They presented the most nuanced sense of the pedestrian traffic in the many neighborhoods crossed by the line, and of the different types and degrees of usage the park would host. See their design boards here. While grounded in usability, the design was also aesthetically interesting — with a recurring pattern of linear struts flowing through the length of the park, and a visual vocabulary of plants chosen for their seasonal colors and textures. It was also one of the most imaginative, incorporating an elevated urban beach and swimming pond, ramps and walkways rising above and below the trees, and an elevator lowering a living tree to street level when summoned.

I was also struck by how little Zaha Hadid actually had to say. Her presentation mostly consisted of slides of her past work. It was clear her High Line proposal had less to do with the City than with her own vocabulary of attenuated forms. Her computer-generated video flyby of her High Line design was rendered through a ghostly, transparent Manhattan, hammering home her message: “We invite the City to change around the line.”

Though the winning plan was my favorite, I was sure that Steven Holl Architects would win. Their plan seemed the cheapest, their design the most conservative, and, most significantly, they emphasized public-private partnerships — stating repeatedly how the project would eventually pay for itself. This mainly involved weaving the park through various shops and cafes, anchored at the ends by a Starbucks and a Barnes and Noble. I thought surely this would capture the heart of our businessman Mayor and his administration, otherwise busy selling off branding and naming rights to our public infrastructure to fill the gaps in the city budget.

I’m happy to say I got it wrong.