Design team is on track to lead High Line design


By Albert Amateau

Friends of the High Line and the city made a preliminary selection last week of a team to lead the creation of a master plan to convert the High Line, the derelict elevated rail line that runs between the Gansevoort Market and the Javits Convention Center, into a 1.5-mile elevated park.

Field Operations, a landscape and urban design firm headed by James Corner, is the leader of the team of designers, engineers and consultants selected to work with the city and community groups on the High Line master plan.

The team is one of four finalists that submitted design concepts in the spring to the 10-member panel comprised of five members of Friends of the High Line and representatives of five city agencies.

The selection is contingent on a contract that the city is currently negotiating with Field Operations, said Joshua David, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, the community-based group that has been fighting to preserve the structure that was last used more than 20 years ago

The choice will become final when the contract is reached, probably around mid-September. “If for any reason the city and Field Operations can’t reach a contract, we still have three other wonderful teams to choose from,” David said.

While the design concept that Field Operations submitted to the panel was the basis for the decision, the selection was for the team, not for a particular design, David said.

“The design concepts were indications of the approach to the High Line,” David said. “The plan itself will be a collaborative effort of the team and city agencies with input from the community in public meetings,” he added.

Timing for the project depends on the progress of the design process; the Friends hope a draft master plan will emerge by the spring of 2005 with a possible construction start in 2006.

“Our goal to get people on the High Line as soon as possible,” said David. That means developing the park in phases and opening each phase to the public when it is completed, he added.

The Field Operations team includes the architects Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, along with Piet Oudolf, a Dutch horticulture expert; Olafur Eliasson, a Danish installation artist based in Berlin; and L’Observatoire, a French lighting design firm.

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, a West Chelsea art gallery, is a team consultant along with Creative Time, a public art programmer. The team’s technical members include Buro Happold, an international structural engineering firm based in Britain, and Robert Sillman, a New York-based engineer involved in historic preservation. Philip Habib is the traffic engineering consultant and Richard Barbour is the environmental engineering consultant.

At a forum in July, Corner, the Field Operations team leader, said, “We begin with the strange otherworldliness of the High Line and the emergent growth over time as new space is built. The extraordinary thing about this project is its improbability and the constant transformation of space that will never be completed.”

The Field Operations vision for the High Line has both hard and soft surfaces, including dips into pools in some places and the path flying above the track bed in areas intended to be free of pedestrian traffic.

Built by the now-defunct New York Central Railroad 70 years ago to raise street-level freight trains from the surface of 10th Ave., where they were an impediment to traffic and a menace to pedestrians, to tracks 20 ft. overhead, the High Line has been unused for 20 years and overgrown with grasses, weeds and trees from windblown seeds.

In 1999, Friends of the High Line began working for what was then considered the folly of preserving the line that had originally served West Side factories and warehouses. But the Bloomberg administration adopted the idea and has made a public promenade on the High Line the central element in the proposed redevelopment of West Chelsea, where more than 200 art galleries have moved into warehouses and industrial lofts within the last eight years.

City departments and offices involved in creating the High Line master plan are Parks and Recreation, City Planning, Economic Development Corp. and the offices of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff and Deputy Mayor for Administration Patricia Harris.

The Field Operations team was among 52 that submitted ideas at the beginning of the year and made the short list of seven teams selected in April and was one of the four finalists selected at the end of May.

The three other finalists, who remain as potential developers if Field Operations does not reach a contracts agreement with the city, are:

* Zaha Hadid Architects with Balmori Associates, landscape architect, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architects;

* Steven Holl, architect, with Hargreaves Associates, landscape architects;

* TerraGRAM, a team including Michael Van Valkenburgh, landscape architects; D.I.R.T. Studio; and Beyer Blinder Belle, architects.