NYC Sees Art in Aged Infrastructure

Event: High Bridge/High Line: Infrastructure as Culture
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.20.11
Speakers: Patricia Cruz — Executive Director, Harlem Stage/Aaron Davis Hall; Peter Mullan — Vice President for Planning & Design, Friends of the High Line; Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP — 2009/10 AIANY ENYA Co-chair & Job Captain, Gensler; Keith VanDerSys — Principal, PEG office of landscape + architecture; Bryan Winter, RA — Executive Director, NYC Cement League
Moderator: Adrian Benepe — Commissioner, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation
Organizers: AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA); AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee

The High Line and the High Bridge.

Jessica Sheridan

“Parks represent the highest aspirations for a city,” stated Peter Mullan, vice president for planning and design at the Friends of the High Line. And whether they are generators for economic development or sites designed to bring a community together, he continued, parks are non-hierarchical, democratic levelers. A recent discussion brought together a panel to talk about the value of re-conceiving aged infrastructure to generate cultural activity in the city. Projects, such as the High Line by Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro and the Harlem Stage by Ohlhausen DuBois Architects with WASA/Studio A and Harvey Marshall Berling Associates, represent successful rehabilitation projects. The High Bridge, with $50 million from PlaNYC and the oversight of the NYC Department of Design + Construction, represents future potential for the oldest bridge in NYC.

The connection between infrastructure and culture is not new, stated Patricia Cruz, executive director of the Harlem Stage, which is housed in a former gatehouse to the Croton Aqueduct. In 1886, people traveled in horse-and-buggy to watch water being released from the gates. Now, since 2006, people gather to watch performances, attend events, and view exhibitions by artists of color — a program that answered the needs of the local community at the time of the renovation, according to Cruz.

The High Line represents the “ultimate repurposing,” according to NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who moderated the discussion. With rotating art exhibitions and impromptu performances (including a “renegade cabaret” performed on one local resident’s balcony), the High Line has drawn millions of visitors. With the rezoning of the meatpacking district, new economic development is flourishing.

The High Bridge was the subject of the AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee’s (ENYA) most recent biennial design ideas competition. Connected to Highbridge Parks on either side of the Harlem River, the act of linking the Bronx to Manhattan through its parks is symbolic. Keith VanDerSys, principal of Philadelphia-based PEG office of landscape + architecture and winner of the ENYA Prize for his firm’s submission, used water to create a new connection between the community and the environment. His proposal integrated rainwater collection to generate a series of pools and waterfalls over and through the bridge. The health and welfare of the river and the local climate would be reflected, stated VanDerSys, and consequently the community would have a better understanding of climate conditions. The proposal incorporates a cloverleaf-shaped art center that transitions through the steep topography of the site over railroads and streets to give access to the waterfront.

Although VanDerSys’s proposal was an idea and not an actual proposal, ENYA’s goal for the competition was to inspire the local community to imagine the unconsidered possibilities for the High Bridge. VanDerSys suggested that by rebuilding the surrounding context (the parks) the potential of the bridge itself will be triggered. The parks will draw visitors and the local community will ultimately be improved. As was exemplified in the Harlem Stage and the High Line, the High Bridge has similar potential. “It is the ‘if you build it, they will come’ effect,” stated Mullan.

Note: The “High Bridge“exhibition featuring selected entries from the ENYA HB:BX competition is now on view at the Center through 03.26.11.