Friday, August 31, 2012

The High Line, New York

In light of a recent high-profile criticism of the The High Line that appeared in the New York Times Op Ed section, now seems like an appropriate time to extoll the spectacular urban space that is the High Line.

The High Line is special because of the unique perspective of the city it offers its users. Adapted from a long-abandoned elevated rail line, the park literally lifts pedestrians above the street, granting them an unusual freedom of unimpeded movement across city blocks. The view is equally spectacular and unique within the city; as one moves across the linear park, the view ranges from sweeping panoramas of the Midtown Manhattan skyline to up-close-and-personal eye-level peeps through the windows of adjacent buildings that the park seems to snake around and through. Blocks west of the park in the mid-20's form a staccato of tantalizing concrete-and-brick-framed vistas of the Hudson River, and park users are offered a voyeuristic bird's eye view of busy intersections where the High Line crosses over at 10th Ave & West 17th and Washington & West 12th. Recognizing this defining appeal of the High Line as a unique platform for watching the city, the park's designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro have incorporated theater-style tiered seating overlooking the street at 10th Ave and West 26th; where one might expect to find a move screen at the front there is an expansive glass window literally framing the performance of urban life.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Washington Mews, between Fifth Ave and University Place, New York

Walking through Washington Mews offers an opportunity to forget where you are. Easy to miss, the experience has more the feeling of a surprising escape than of disorientation. Lined with cobblestone pavers and ringed by flower boxes and vines framing small windows on stucco walls, this odd little laneway obscured by the NYU campus has the character of a quiet Mediterranean village. The buildings on this street - early nineteenth century converted carriage houses and stables that recall what pre-1920s Madison Avenue once looked like - are remarkably small in sale compared to the massive blocks of apartment towers that dominate this neighborhood. In proportion to these low buildings, the cobblestone street is almost wide enough to have the feel of a long piazza. Though the buildings of Washington Mews have been altered over time to accommodate new uses, the remarkably unchanged scale of this inconspicuous street offers a rare glimpse back through time to how many of the city's side streets may have appeared before the age of the skyscraper.