Volume 75, Number 39 | February 15 -21 2006

Design details outlined for High Line ‘park in sky’

By Albert Amateau

“This crazy pipe dream is really about to happen,” said New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe on Monday to more than 100 supporters of the elevated park between Gansevoort and 33rd Sts. on the derelict railroad viaduct known as the High Line.

Friends of the High Line, the neighborhood group that initiated the move to save the structure, and the park design team of Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro convened the Feb. 13 meeting to present the latest plans for the park’s first section, from Gansevoort to 20th Sts.

With $84.25 million in city and federal funds, “there’s not enough money to build it all but enough to get it started,” said Benepe, adding, “We’re on board in a major way and we [Department of Parks] are the agency that will own the ‘park in the sky.’”

Preparing the southern half of the structure for construction begins this month and will involve tagging and removing railroad tracks and ties (some to be restored to remind park visitors what the structure was built for), removing the gravel ballast, repairing the steel and concrete framework and installing new drainage. Lead-based paint will have to be stripped from the steel structure and anti-pigeon devices will be installed in the yearlong preparation phase, said Benepe.

Construction of the park features, including plantings with vegetation that approximates the grasses, bushes and small trees that were wind sewn over the past 25 years, is to begin in early 2007. If all goes according to plan, the park section from Gansevoort to 20th Sts. will accommodate its first public visitors in 2008, Benepe said.

“It’s still a work in progress and everything is subject to change,” said the team leader, James Corner, of Field Operations. The most complex features and access points will be in the southern half of the project, with a two-level entrance at Gansevoort St., where Dia Foundation for the Arts is planning its new museum building. Stairs and elevators at street level and at the High Line level will provide access to both the museum and the park.

Other major access points will be at 14th St. and at 16th St. at 10th Ave. Safety requires that railings at street crossings be augmented with an iron mesh that would be painted black to minimize any obstruction to the view.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I see my job here is to save the High Line from architecture,” said Rick Scofidio, a principal in the architectural member of the design team. The designers are taking care to make the park design as simple as possible to give visitors a feeling of the stark, almost-surreal landscape of grasses, weeds and small trees that have grown on the structure

At 10th Ave. and 16th St., where the High Line enters the former National Biscuit Company building, now Chelsea Market, the tentative plan provides the possibility for tables and seating. At 18th St., there is a possibility for a plaza of sorts. But the designers said they intended to avoid any commercialization of the “park in the sky.”

The current scenario calls for two alternate paths — a primary one 8-feet wide and a secondary path 3-feet wide — with plantings between them. “We want to blur the distinction between path and plantings,” Corner said.

The paths would have a surface of concrete planks that could “peel up” to form seating.

While city parks generally close no later than 1 a.m., the High Line could have different hours for different areas. At the Gansevoort Market area where nightlife dominates, the elevated park might stay open later, while sections near residential areas might close earlier, Benepe said.

The park would be lighted at night to illuminate the paths but remain dark above waist level so that visitors could enjoy the ambient night lighting of the streets and buildings.

That kind of illumination would make the top of the High Line appear to glow when seen from the street, the designers believe.

The cross streets beneath the High Line would be lighted from the underside of the structure to create an illuminated box.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation is administering construction funds for the project.

Robert Hammond, who founded Friends of the High Line with Joshua David, paid tribute to the support and enthusiasm for the High Line from volunteers and residents.

He also acknowledged that the Bloomberg administration’s support for the High Line was the keystone of the project. “If the city didn’t support us, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

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