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31. Because Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg Are Adding a Wing to Manhattan

Illustration by J. Darrow  

Where other than New York can two public ­figures of extraordinary renown remake an entire flank of the city into an exquisite architectural playground? In their golden years, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg have chosen to lavish a formerly unthinkable amount of dough on Manhattan’s West Side, including a recently announced free-floating park near 14th Street, dotted with enormous trees and three performance areas. “Ten years ago, we had a really rotten waterfront on the West Side—and I do think it’s appropriate to say the West Side rather than the Lower West Side,” says Diller on a recent afternoon. “Many cities glorify being on the water! Here, the farther west you went, the crummier it got.”

Which was nothing a few hundred million couldn’t fix. Today, with their investment in both IAC and DVF’s headquarters, the High Line, the Hudson Yards’ forthcoming Culture Shed—rumored to be the new home of Fashion Week—and, now, this crazy little “Pier 55” park, Diller and von Furstenberg have reformed the look of the city’s west end. “I just love public spaces,” says Diller, mentioning a fondness extending from the “parks of New Orleans to the squares of Savannah, to the extraordinary publicness of Washington, D.C.” He likes them in an ­Emersonian sense, for their peace and stillness, and “also in the other sense,” he says, “for their stimulation. A statue in a corner, a little fountain—those things bring a good feeling to people.” On the new island, there will even be a Greek amphitheater: “Early on in the process, we had a reference picture of a classic, moss-covered amphitheater,” says Diller, who worked on the project with Scott Rudin, Stephen Daldry, and George Wolfe. “And now we have one, as state of the art as can be.”

Is the park a bit of noveaux noblesse oblige in the age of Piketty’s Capital? “Somebody has to [make parks], with New York budgets,” says Diller. “I don’t know if it’s important, or part of it isn’t very important. I’m certainly not curing ­cancer, and if you say, ‘Why don’t you spend your money on something that will save lives?’ Well, I think we do,” he says, referring to the couple’s manifold philanthropy. But to Diller, it’s worth it to be ambitious about forgotten places. “There’s a value there, in public spaces,” he says. “I know they have value to me.”