If you want to believe in the power of design to change a city, take the High Line as your model—and a harbinger of things to come. “All across the city we are adaptively reusing the old infrastructure of the mercantile waterfront—wharves and piers and warehouses,” says Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “This is the biggest expansion and rebuilding of parks since the thirties, when the WPA was rebuilding parks around the city.”
For the High Line, Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro are designing a brand-new array of sidewalks and benches that work as landscape rather than furniture. The French firm L’Observatoire has designed lights that will shine on the paths but not distract from the stars.
“Instead of popping up directly onto the line, the stairs will take you up very slowly,” says Joshua David—co-founder of Friends of the High Line and, with Robert Hammond, one of the park’s original visionaries. “The girders are right above your head, then you are surrounded by them, and then you will be up on top. It gives people the opportunity to appreciate the structure.”
It will provide an excellent view of a lot of other structures too. At the High Line’s start, the Dia Art Foundation is seeking city approval to build a new gallery at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington. Meat markets will still ring the block’s base, and visitors will enter the Dia from the High Line, up one of those staircases. Artist Jorge Pardo, who tiled the 22nd Street Dia in citrus shades, is in talks to design the lobby, and the upper floor will be a wide-open gallery with saw-tooth skylights, as at Dia:Beacon upriver.
Just north of the Dia, André Balazs has already cleared the lot for The Standard, NY. One block north of that, he has partnered with Charles Blaichman (a developer of Richard Meier’s Perry Street towers) to build a private, Soho-esque boutique hotel and club atop an existing warehouse building bisected by the park. Moving uptown, there will be condominiums attached to names like Clodagh, Gwathmey Siegel, Jean Nouvel, Annabelle Selldorf, and Robert A. M. Stern. There’s the requisite Gehry project (Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp. headquarters), and side-by-side buildings by Lindy Roy and L.A. visionary Neil Denari on 23rd Street. At the just-completed Vesta 24 on Tenth Avenue, the sold-out apartments have balconies awaiting their High Line view. Mid-block, protected by mixed-use zoning, gallery construction proceeds up through the Twenties. The art dealer Marianne Boesky is planning a move to a Deborah Berke–designed building on 24th, and Larry Gagosian is expanding into another Gluckman Mayner–designed gallery on 21st.
“I see it as very similar to the transformation of Soho over the last fifteen years,” says Balazs. “The galleries which are now in Chelsea will once again relocate, chasing the need for reasonable rents.” So where will they go? “There are still dead midtown areas,” Balazs says hopefully. “Maybe they will slowly get a life force back into them.”