MoMA presents the first public display of preliminary designs for Manhattan’s High Line

The Museum of Modern Art presents the preliminary design for the reclamation of the High Line, a decommissioned elevated railway bed that runs along Manhattan’s west side from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro are leading the design process under the direction of The City of New York and Friends of the High Line (FHL). The High Line, organized by Tina di Carlo, Assistant Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, will present the first phase of design for the 22-block expanse, focusing on preliminary concepts completed in February 2005 for the section from Gansevoort Street to 15th Street. The team of landscape architects and architects, which includes horticulturalist Piet Oudulf, artist Olafur Eliasson, and structural engineers Buro Happold, among others, was awarded the project in fall 2004. The exhibition will features a 20-foot long model and experiential video as well as digital drawings and renderings. Large-format photographs by New York photographer Joel Sternfeld will document the High Line’s current condition. The High Line will be on view in the Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Drawings Gallery on the third floor from April 20 to July 18, 2005.

Inspired by what the architects deem the “High Line’s melancholic, unruly beauty, in which nature has reclaimed a once vital piece of urban infrastructure,” the preliminary design comprises a synthetic and fluid framework of pathways and vegatation. Drawings, renderings, and models will detail this synthetic framework of hard and soft systems; a hard striated, modular planking system for primary and splinter paths integrated with soft variegated landscapes such as woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands. Preliminary designs for seating, lighting, event space, and access will also be presented. Horiculturist Piet Oudolf has guided the selection of plant materials that will be employed in the High Line landscape. The new designs would return this space to the public domain, creating a walking park with various event spaces suspended over the west side.

The challenge facing the design team were those of preservation versus renovation, again balancing the ad hoc natural beauty of the High Line with the present qualities that distinguish it as a unique urban experience.

Ms. di Carlo says: “There is always a tension between preservation and reclamation, between the choice of leaving a found vestige in place and the desire for reuse or renovation. The strength and beauty of Field Operations’ and Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s design resides in their framework. Comprising hard and soft layers of planking and vegetation this framework will create a flexible and fluid condition of blurred edges and unique atmospheres that will be instrumental in retaining the nature and character of the High Line.”

The High Line was constructed between 1929 and 1934 and supported rail traffic until 1980, when it fell into disuse. Its placement mid-block, between 10th and 11th Avenues, renders it unique as an elevated line and within Manhattan’s city grid. Currently the High Line is a grassy corridor running above the city, prized as an urban vestige reclaimed by nature. A non-profit organization founded in 1999 by local residents, Friends of the High Line (FHL) successfully fought to save the High Line from demolition and is currently working with the City of New York to convert the structure to public open space.

Founded in 1998 by James Corner, Field Operations is a landscape architecture, urban design, planning, and ecology practice that concentrates on infrastructural design, reflecting the relationship between landscape, architecture, and city life. Their largest project to date is for the reclamation and reuse of Fresh Kills, a landfill located on Staten Island featured in the exhibition, Groundswell: Constructing the Contemporary Landscape on view at MoMA through May 16. Field Operations’ creative expertise is reflected in a diverse range of high-profile complex projects, from the design of entire sectors of cities to intimate garden spaces; the design of large, new public parks to housing and mixed-use private developments; the reclamation of landfills, derelict brownfield sites, and other postindustrial landscapes for new public uses and private development, to the preservation of natural reserves.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro is an interdisciplinary studio that fuses architecture, the visual arts, and the perfoming arts. The work of DS+R takes the form of architectural commissions, temporary and permanent site-specific installations, multimedia theatre, electronic media, and print. DS+R currently have 20 permanent employees and an extended family of outside collaborators. Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio founded D+S in 1979. Charles Renfro, a collaborator in the studio since 1997, was promoted to partner in 2004. DS+R are currently working on the expansion and renovation of facilities and public spaces for Lincoln Center in New York City, including Alice Tully Hall and the Juilliard School. Construction began in July 2004 for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. They are currently designing the new Museum of Art & Technology for Eyebeam on 21st Street in New York, a commission that was awarded following an international competition and featured in the 2002 and 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale.