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The High Line — a dramatic park?

Staff Writer

August 13, 2004

If the budgets and bureaucrats fall into place, the architectural firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro will transform the High Line, an abandoned railway running above the streets of West Chelsea, into a dramatic strip of parkland.

Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit organization leading the effort to recycle that industrial artifact, chose the firm from four finalists including the Pritzker Prize-winner Zaha Hadid, sentimental favorite Steven Holl (who has been agitating for the project for more than 20 years), and a team led by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.

Diller, Scofidio + Renfro's plan offers an irresistible mix of the pastoral and the theatrical. All the proposals dealt with the untamed grassland onthe abandoned railway bed, but the winner envisioned an undulating landscape that climbs small hills and dips between the girders.

The choice cements the recently exalted reputation of a firm that once inhabited the conceptual edge of the architectural world, working as much with insubstantial materials such as light and electronics as with concrete and steel. The firm has recently scooped up commissions to reshape Lincoln Center and the cultural district around the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Even half a dozen years ago, it seemed implausible that the firm would become such a major player in reshaping the cultural life of an architecturally cautious city. This was, after all, the team that in 2002 produced the Blur Building, a temporary walk-in cloud hovering above a Swiss lake. Among the projects the firm has in the pipeline is the Eyebeam Museum of Technology in Chelsea, where visitors will wander along a ribboning ramp in a wireless high-tech haze and floors will swoop up into walls as they do in a skateboarding park.

The firm's High Line design combines the provocative with the practical. An elevated outdoor swimming hole includes a patch of beach on a sloping plinth. A vast outdoor movie screen would be visible from the street — and from bedrooms three blocks away. But the core of the proposal, which is still in the early phase, involves blurring the lines between pavement and wilderness, with plants that burst from between narrow concrete planks. Rather than the neatly divided zones of traditional parks, the schemeaims for a stylish bit of planned dishevelment.

There are still major hurdles. The project could cost up to $100 million, which has not yet been raised, and while the city backs the plan, the federal government and CSX, the company that owns the High Line, still need to sign off on it.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.


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