High Line Opens With Design Appeal

Since its June 9 opening, I have visited the High Line twice — once during the day and once at night. While I have some criticisms, overall the park, designed by Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is a new amenity to the Meatpacking District and an example of how good design can produce successful public space.

A couple of Sundays ago, even though the line stretched down the block to 10th Avenue, I only waited about 10 minutes to ascend the stairs at Gansevoort Street. As my friend commented, it was like walking through all of the renderings we’ve seen over the last couple of years, with a mix of people and kids of all ages crouching at the plants and pointing to the skyline. The amphitheater that allows visitors to view 9th Avenue recalls Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s ICA in Boston, setting up a familiar vocabulary to followers of the firm’s work and also demonstrating a unique way to solve ADA requirements with a ramp that winds along the seats. When I saw that some of the benches had been vandalized already, at first I thought it was unfortunate. Then, I began to think that street art could add another layer to the park, referencing the city’s past in addition to the preservation of the train tracks.

My biggest criticism of the High Line is the lack of shade structures. Other than the shelter from the buildings that straddle the park, there are no opportunities to escape the hot summer sun or the occasional scattered shower. By the time I descended from the park, I needed water to rehydrate.

At night, the low lights (both in setting and luminescence), designed by Hervé Descottes, provide visitors with uninterrupted views of the cityscape. The lighting under the building overpasses is sparse, and could provide areas for future light installations as well. The only area where the limited lights are not successful — even treacherous — is at the amphitheater. I almost fell as I tried to descend the stairs to the seating area.

There is no question that the High Line is a great addition to the city, already publicly recognized as an achievement (See “Architecture Takes the Stairs,” by Murrye Bernard, LEED AP, and “High Line Offers New Slant on City Views,” by Lisa Delgado, in this issue). I plan on visiting it frequently in all seasons to experience the change in foliage, and I am excited for Section 2 to open, supposedly next summer. I also hope that the success of Section 1 will convince the city and developers to preserve the full Section 3 at the West Side Rail Yards.