The High Line, in collaboration with James Corner Field Operations and Piet Oudolf, is a new 1.5 mile long public park built on an elevated railroad stretching from the Meatpacking District to the Hudson Rail Yards in Manhattan. Inspired by the melancholic, unruly beauty of this postindustrial ruin, where nature has reclaimed a once vital piece of urban infrastructure, the new park interprets its inheritance. It translates the biodiversity that took root after it fell into ruin in a string of site-specific urban microclimates along the stretch of railway that include sunny, shady, wet, dry, windy, and sheltered spaces. Through a strategy of agri-tecture - part agriculture, part architecture - the High Line surface is digitized into discrete units of paving and planting which are assembled along 1.5 miles into a variety of gradients from 100% paving to 100% soft, richly vegetated biotopes. The paving system consists of individual pre-cast concrete planks with open joints to encourage emergent growth like wild grass through cracks in the sidewalk. The long paving units have tapered ends that comb into planting beds creating a textured, "pathless" landscape where the public can meander in unscripted ways. The park accommodates the wild, the cultivated, the intimate, and the social. Access points are durational experiences designed to prolong the transition from the frenetic pace of city streets to the slow otherworldly landscape above.
Connecting city, nature and culture In the midst of a sea of buildings, and not at all separated from them, the High Line is dynamic and vibrant. However, people do need a break here and there. Park benches, lounge areas and seats and loungers are provided for this purpose. Here we have a sundeck with water features, over there rolling wooden loungers and a multi-layered seated area. From the “Viewing Box”, an area resembling a theatre, you can traffic watch through large glazed panels. Various viewing points provide a view of the Hudson River, the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Temporary exhibitions are often held on the High Line, and musicians and other artists perform there too. A convincing amalgamation of city, nature and culture.
The New York High Line opened around 1930, the aim being to remove the risks created by on-street freight trains. After the last freight train rolled along the tracks in 1980, the High Line fell into disrepair and with it the surrounding buildings. Friends of the High Line, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1999, succeeded in turning the elevated train track into an attractive park, with the support of the City of New York and NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. The “longest green roof” in the world to date was created in three phases over a period of 8 years (opened in 2009, 2011 and 2014). The organisation contributes 90 % of the financial costs of the High Line and is responsible for administration, care and maintenance and for organising public programmes.
A permanently reliable base The planning team consisted of the landscape architect, James Corner and his company Field Operations, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro and renowned plant specialist, Piet Oudolf. The experienced green roof system manufacturer, ZinCo, provided the technical basis for all the design concepts in terms of plants, walkways and leisure areas. Floradrain® drainage elements were installed on the sealed concrete surface. These profiled drainage elements have troughs on the upper side for retaining precipitation. Excess water is safely drawn off through the channel system on the underside. The Floradrain® elements are installed across the entire area, are filled with growing medium ZinCoblend M and are then covered with a filter sheet. This is followed by the vegetation layer. The existing water and electricity supply lines were integrated into the build-up.
Remembrance of things past The planners have been incredibly successful in incorporating the historical origins of the High Line into the new park, as the former tracks can be seen in a number of places. In addition, Field Operations have developed the so-called “planking” system, a walkway made of pre-cast concrete planks, tapered on one side and reminiscent of tracks amid overgrown vegetation. Hundreds of different plant types were used, including many bushes and trees that are thriving today in a substrate depth of approx. 45 cm on average. A drip-line irrigation system was installed for plants with greater water requirements. There is a wide variety here, ranging from very damp, moor-type areas to dry Steppe grasses. The aim here is not “decorative” growth but to reproduce the original character of the natural flora and wilderness that had sprung up over the years. You can experience the history of the freight train even more intensely in the recently-opened section, particularly the Rail Yards, named after the large railway yard that still dominates the area. The surface is reminiscent of railroad ballast and in a number of places the tracks from the former rail yard have been incorporated into the simple walkway asphalt.
Multiple value-added The High Line attracts not only nature lovers, photographers, performance artists and music groups to south-west Manhattan but also any number of investors. The former industrial wasteland of the Meat Packing District, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen has been transformed into expensive trendy neighbourhoods to which celebrities and high-earners are flocking. Haute-couture salons, galleries, cafés and up-market restaurants are shaping the carefully-reclaimed streetscapes. The current most popular hotel in the metropolis of New York, “The Standard”, straddles the High Line, offering spectacular views of the park on stilts. At the southern end of the park, a new home for the Whitney Museum of American Art has been developed by star architect Renzo Piano. Numerous building sites are indicators of new skyscrapers and luxury apartment blocks to come.
A green park has therefore become the economic engine of an entire district, something that has never existed before. This development is, however, a double-sided sword for many of the long-established residents in the area as many of them can no longer afford the rents here.
A paradigm worldwide Prior to the conversion of the High Line, there were a few examples of how former train tracks can be converted to green areas but nothing as spectacular as the High Line nor with such compelling effect nor in receipt of as many awards. Robert Hammond and Joshua David, founders of “Friends of the High Line“, were awarded the “Jane Jacobs Medal” by the Rockefeller Foundation and the organisation itself was awarded the “Doris C. Freedman Award”. Other awards on the long list include the “International EGHN Award” of the European Garden Heritage Network and the “Green Roof Leadership Award” of the IGRA International Green Roof Association. Never before has a project been emulated so often: In Chicago, a disused railway track is to be converted into a green area; in Philadelphia an 18 m high viaduct; in Atlanta a 35 km green belt (Beltline project) is to be created on a railway ring around the inner city. There are also comparable projects in Paris (Petite Ceinture), Vienna (High Line Park Vienna) and London (Garden Bridge over the Thames). It is not only big cities that have big ideas: Krefeld in Germany is planning a hundred-year project with a 14.5 km long promenade. The level of acceptance and the wave of emulation are a clear indication that the inhabitants of large cities want nature at their doorstep too. This is reason enough to seek out further suitable areas for publicly accessible roof gardens. With well-engineered green roof technology virtually anything is possible.
The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. The first section of the High Line opened in June of 2009, and the second section of the High Line opened in June of 2011. Running between Gansevoort and West 30th Streets, the High Line is now one mile in length, connecting three neighborhoods along the west side. Friends of the High Line continues to advocate for the preservation and transformation of the High Line at the Rail Yards, the third and final section of the historic structure, which runs between West 30th and West 34th Streets.
FRIENDS OF THE HIGH LINE
Founded in 1999 by community residents, Friends of the High Line fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition. It is now the non-profit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to make sure the High Line is maintained as an extraordinary public space. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget.
HIGH LINE DESIGN TEAM
The High Line design is a collaboration between James Corner Field Operations (Project Lead), Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and planting designer Piet Oudolf. Visit www.thehighline.org for a complete list of design team members.
HIGH LINE DESIGN
The High Line design team created a sequence of varied environments within a cohesive and singular landscape. Below are descriptions of the park’s design and planting features.
The High Line is elevated 30 feet above the streets. Whenever possible, stairs are brought up between the existing steel beams of the High Line, through openings cut into the structure. The stairs at Gansevoort Street signal a gradual transition from the busy street to the park’s quiet landscape.
Tiffany & Co. Foundation Overlook
A dramatic balcony sits above Gansevoort Street, marking the point at which the High Line was severed in the 1990s when it demolished south of this point. The overlook offers a view eastward over the industrial awnings and cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District, and westward to the Hudson River. The site immediately west of the High Line is the future location of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new building, as well as the new maintenance and operations facility for the High Line.
We call this area the Overlook when space constraints require the official name to be shortened.
At the top of the Gansevoort Stair, the Gansevoort Woodland provides dense plantings and a grove of grey birch and serviceberry trees, welcoming visitors into thick greenery. The woodland’s raised planting beds creates a greater soil depth than is found on most of the High Line. Shade-tolerant species, including redbud trees, Pennsylvania sedge, and perennial bluestar thrive in the woodland, and its autumn foliage makes it one of the most picturesque spots on the High Line in September and October. The Gansevoort Woodland is thanks to Donald Pels and Wendy Keys.
We call this area the Woodland when space constraints require the official name to be shortened.
Moving to the north, the Washington Grasslands, between Little West 12th and 13th Streets, is the widest section of the High Line. Tall grasses, brilliant green in the early summer and golden in the fall, line the path, which leads visitors to pass under The Standard, a hotel that bridges over the park. Groupings of the High Line’s distinctive “peel-up” benches provide clustered seating in this section. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the original railroad tracks, criss-crossing in the planting beds.
To avoid confusion with the Chelsea Grasslands, we use the full name when referring to this area.
Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck
The High Line curves gently as it splits into two levels just north of 14th Street. In the warmer months, the upper level is lined with unique lounge chairs, which roll on wheels along railroad tracks, and water skims part of the path, providing visitors the opportunity to wade barefoot. Along the lower level, railroad tracks are reinstalled in plantings derived from the High Line’s self-sown landscape. The Sundeck is the perfect place to watch the sun set over the Hudson River, and an equally rich people-watching location. The Sundeck is made possible by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.
We call this area the Sundeck when space constraints require the official name to be shortened.
Chelsea Market Passage
At West 15th Street, the High Line enters a semi-enclosed former loading dock space of what was once the industrial bakery of the National Biscuit Company, or Nabisco. The building was converted for public use as Chelsea Market in the 1990s. This semi-enclosed passage has an upper and lower level, and provides a block-long cool refuge on hot summer days. On the lower level, café seating on the High Line Porch offers an appealing spot for a meal. The Passage is the site of an art installation, Spencer Finch’s The River That Flows Both Ways. In the building’s casement windows to the west, Finch installed colored glass panes, deriving the translucency of each pane from studies of 700 minutes on the Hudson River.
Tenth Avenue Square
Hundreds of tons of steel suspended above a busy avenue make up the High Line’s most monumental feature: the Tenth Avenue Square. As part of the High Line’s transformation into a park, the steel beams of the Square’s upper deck were removed to make way for wooden seating steps, creating an amphitheater-like space that allows visitors to inhabit the structure. The southwest side of the Tenth Avenue Square is home to a grove of tall red maples, and offers views south across the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty. The Tenth Avenue Square is thanks to Hermine Riegerl Heller and David Heller, and Sukey and Mike Novogratz.
North of West 17th Street, the High Line sweeps gently toward the Hudson River, and begins a mile-long straightaway north through Chelsea. Inspired by the self-sown landscape that grew up on the High Line when the trains stopped running, the High Line design team filled the Chelsea Grasslands with wild grasses and vibrant wildflower that add color and texture throughout the four seasons. This section also gives visitiors a unique perspective on the old and new architecture of the neighborhood. Between West 18th and West 19th Street, new buildings designed by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Annabelle Seldorf, Shigeru Ban, Audrey Matlock, and Della Valle Bernheimer are juxtaposed by the industrial brick architecture of the neighborhood’s older factories and warehouses. The Chelsea Grasslands are thanks to The Tiffany & Co. Foundation.
To avoid confusion with the Washington Grasslands, we use the full name when referring to this area.
As visitors move north from the Chelsea Grasslands’ prairie-like landscape, a dense planting of flowering shrubs and small trees indicates the beginning of a new section of the park, between West 20th and West 22nd Streets. In the Chelsea Thicket, species like winterberry, redbud, and large American hollies provide year-round textural and color variation. An under-planting of low grasses, sedges, and shade-tolerant perennials further emphasizes the transition from grassland to thicket. The Chelsea Thicket South is in memory of Janice H. Levin and made possible through support of the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation.
We call this area the Thicket when space constraints require the official name to be shortened.
23rd Street Lawn and Seating Steps
The High Line opens to a wider area between West 22nd and West 23rd Streets, where an extra pair of rail tracks once served the loading docks of adjacent warehouses. The extra width in this area was used to create a gathering space, with Seating Steps made of reclaimed teak anchoring the southern end of a 4,900-square-foot lawn. At its northern end, the Lawn “peels up,” lifting visitors several feet into the air and offering views of Brooklyn to the east, and the Hudson River and New Jersey to the west.
We call these areas the Lawn and Seating Steps when space constraints require the official names to be shortened.
Philip A. and Lisa Maria Falcone Flyover
Between West 25th and West 26th Streets, adjacent buildings create a microclimate that once cultivated a dense grove of tall shrubs and trees. Now, a metal walkway rises eight feet above the High Line, allowing groundcover plants to blanket the undulating terrain below, and carrying visitors upward, into a canopy of sumac and magnolia trees. At various points, overlooks branch off the walkway, creating opportunities to pause and enjoy views of the plantings below and the city beyond. The Philip A. and Lisa Maria Falcone Flyover is made possible by Philip A. and Lisa Maria Falcone.
We call this area the Falcone Flyover when space constraints require the official names to be shortened.
26th Street Viewing Spur
Hovering above the historic rail on the east side of the High Line at West 26th Street, the Viewing Spur’s frame is meant to recall the billboards that were once attached to the High Line. Now the frame enhances, rather than blocks, views of the city. Tall shrubs and trees flank the Viewing Spur’s frame, while a platform with wood benches invites visitors to sit and enjoy views of 10th Avenue and Chelsea. The 26th Street Viewing Spur is thanks to Sherry and Douglas Oliver, The Hanson Family, and Avenues: The World School.
We call this area the Viewing Spur when space constraints require the official names to be shortened.
Between West 26th and West 29th Streets, the landscape of the Wildflower Field is dominated by hardy, drought-resistance grasses and wildflowers, and features a mix of species that ensures variation in blooms throughout the growing season. The simplicity of the straight walkway, running alongside the wildflowers interspersed between the original railroad tracks, allows visitors to appreciate the green axis of the High Line, as it moves through the city.
At West 29th Street, the High Line begins a long, gentle curve toward the Hudson River, signifying a transition to the West Side Rail Yards. The High Line’s pathway echoes the curve, and a long bank of wooden benches sweep westward along the edge of the pathway. Planting beds behinds and in front of the benches line the curve with greenery.
30th Street Cut-Out and Viewing Platform
Near the northern terminus of Section 2, the pathway curves west toward the Hudson River, and slowly rises above an area where the concrete decking has been removed, showcasing the strength of the High Line’s steel frame. The pathway leads to a viewing platform that hovers above the Cut-Out, allowing visitors to peer down through the grating and grid of steel beams and girders to the traffic passing below on West 30th Street. The 30th Street Cut-Out and Viewing Platform are thanks to The Pershing Square Foundation.