Third installment of High Line surprises with its preservation efforts

By James Gardner | March 22, 2012 01:00PM

Last June saw the opening of the second of three parts of the High Line, that rusting elevated train track that swings through the Far West Side of Manhattan. When I went to see the results I found myself gravitating toward the northern end, at 30th Street, beyond which the third and final section of the High Line, as yet untouched, could be glimpsed behind an impenetrable fence of chicken wire.

Having been fed a mortifying diet of neo-Mod deconstructivism in the first two parts of the High Line, I could only look out longingly toward the abundance of plant-life that had sprung up spontaneously, and lament all the lovely plants that had once grown on the tracks to the south, but had long since been uprooted to make way for the designers’ impulsive sense of style.

It was thus with something less than sympathy, I will admit, that I greeted the unveiling, last week, of the High Line design team’s renderings for the third installment, slated to open in 2014. These new designs, like those of the two previous installments (which stretch from 30th Street and 10th Avenue down to Gansevoort Street and 10th Avenue) are the work of the architectural firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

There are important similarities and differences between the plans for the final section and the actual results of the first two parts. While the earlier sections passed in a fairly straight line through the mostly pre-existent and low-lying buildings of the Meatpacking District and West Chelsea, the new section cuts sharply west to 12th Avenue before fronting the Hudson River and then, at 34th Street, briefly turning east again. As yet the terrain it traverses, Hudson Yards, is all train tracks serving Penn Station. Eventually, however, it will contain a multitude of hulking postmodern high-rises.

For the most part, the newest designs are in the same spirit as what went before: peel-up benches, ill-fitting stone pavers, planters with interesting grasses, and a few set pieces of architectural intervention. What comes as a pleasant surprise, however, is that much of this part of the High Line will be left untouched, with a raised walkway suspended slightly over the plants that have naturally sprung up. The walkway is not as visually satisfying as the untouched paths — which I had the pleasure of walking on shortly before any work had begun — but it is an acceptable and surely necessary compromise. One would think that its preservation would save some money, but with this third section estimated to cost $90 million, that is a little hard to believe. In any event, because much of the High Line will be left as is, the renderings are a little more promising than expected.