James Corner On The Final Phase Of The High Line: “It Will Look Like A Floating Garden”

Corner, the landscape architect behind Manhattan’s wildly popular elevated park, discusses the design decisions that led to the High Line’s third, and final, leg.

It’s been four years since the first phase of the High Line, an elevated park on abandoned train tracks in Manhattan, opened to nearly universal approbation, charming tourists and native New Yorkers alike. Now, designers James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro are preparing for the park’s third and final phase, which will stretch from 30th Street to 34th Street in west Manhattan. The design has undergone some iterations; at one point, it looked like Jeff Koons might hang a life-size replica of an old steam locomotive over the park at 30th Street at 10th Avenue. The designers have released the final concept, and while there won’t be any trains dangling precariously over visitors’ heads, there is another unexpected design touch: the Spur, a foliage-filled concrete amphitheater that looks like a giant bird’s nest. Here, James Corner of James Corner Field Operations discusses the $36 million final phase, and the cool new addition.–Eds


Over the past three or four years we went through at least 25 design options. Some of them initially were landscape solutions, such as creating a garden of a sort. They all ran out of steam, because the landscape took up too much space, and there wasn’t enough space for programming or movement. Then there was a round of looking at hardscape ideas that had to do with events and performances. That ran out of steam too, because no one got excited about them.

Whereas section one and two went through contextual, neighborhood urban fabric–south through the Meatpacking District and through Chelsea–this is west Manhattan texture, with real buildings and balconies and a collage of the new New York, up close. When you get to section three it’s really about this new development [of Hudson Yards, a new west-side hub of activity for retail, living, and transportation]. Which is going to be built and dense and glass and steel. It’s a very different context.

The present solution [for the Spur] lifts the landscape off the ground, and turns it into an interior. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s an immersive, surreal, green garden that’s all-surrounding when you’re in it. But by lifting it up, you’re able to have open seating and circulation.

There was the suggestion of using the hanging train by Jeff Koons. That was a provocative image: this big vertical locomotive, and the headlight would light the stage at nighttime [and dangle over visitors’ heads]. That proposal fell through for technical reasons; there’s no way to build the train. But people did like the idea of an icon or an object. So this garden is creating this interior occulus. From 10th Avenue it will look like a floating garden.

It’s small, but it’s equivalent in size to the 10th Avenue square [on the High Line] where there’s a sunken seating space, overlooking a glass window–neither are massive. The Spur can accommodate between 100 to 125 people at once. There are concerns about the whole High Line getting overcrowded. The thinking is that this is still new and fresh and a must-see. With time it will calm down. There will be a few less people every year, and it will become a more normalized part of the city.


About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.