The Floating Path

Monday 11 Mar 2013

On Lighting the High Line and Revitalizing Manhattan's West Side

New York City has many parks, but none can reach the physical and aesthetic heights of the High Line. As a visitor ascends the stairwell to the reclaimed public space, each step brings him closer to an extraordinary experience. The High Line drifts above the city, granting its visitors a never-before-seen tour. This bird’s eye voyage affords guests a bird’s eye view of lower Manhattan flanked on each side by beautifully cultivated plants. At night the park softly glows, guiding visitors through the city supported on a shimmering band of light.

The story of the High Line is the story of New York. Originally a freight train line running from Canal Street in Chinatown to Thirty-Fourth Street in Midtown, the High Line was shut down in 1980. For the next thirty years it was considered a public nuisance and partially demolished. The Friends of the High Line, founded in 1999, saw a chance to rehabilitate a unique part of the city's history, and challenged the public's misperception of the landmark. The design, the product of a collaboration between James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Piet Oudolf, and L'Observatoire International, transformed an industrial eyesore into a vibrant park. It was crucial that the park function as an elevated voyage through the city streets in both day and night.

To that effect, L'Observatoire's designers incorporated energy-efficient LED lights into landscape elements such as benches and railings. This gentle lighting illuminates the walkways without glare and unites the park with its surrounding area. The low light promotes an unobstructed view of the city at night from the tracks which in turn creates a visual connection between the elevated tracks and the nearby buildings. Spike lighting for large trees punctuates the park with a secondary layer of colour, texture, and light, adding syncopation to the densities and rhythms of lights in the overall scheme. This innovative illuminated duality contributes to the High Line's original design.

The High Line is a monumental project that has been completed in segments. The first two parts were opened in 2009 and 2011 respectively, and the final stretch of park is tentatively scheduled for a 2014 public debut. Despite its work-in-progress state, the High Line is already an icon, attracting over 4 million visitors and playing a crucial part in the revitalization of the west side of Manhattan.


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