The High Line as Urban Spine

The vast majority of urban development is created without an appropriate conceptual urban framework. In dense urban centers, we find an emerging mixed use typology of office, commercial and residential hybrids, “towers over retail podiums” lacking the proper integration into the city fabric, no relationship to the public realm, and often with introverted retail development, with little reverence to the surrounding context. These projects, in part or as a whole, rarely contribute to a greater quality of city life, with developers treating individual city blocks as introverted 'private islands.' We need to take a fresh look to reorganize these development types, how we tie them to the city public, and also how they relate one to the next.

A variety of city plans have evolved over the centuries to guide urban growth. Most American cities, including New York, were planned around a grid of streets and avenues. These were often punctuated by diagonal boulevards and intermittent, larger squares and parks inserted into the grid.  Zoning was added to guide permissible uses and densities.

In contrast to grid planning, Roman and Greek ancient cities were generated by a hierarchal plan of major spines, the Cardo and Decumanus. These major and minor spines, usually running perpendicular one to the other, accommodated most public buildings along their length and were the locations of the great central marketplaces. Similar linear-axial-organizations prevailed much later, in Haussmann’s Paris. The spine was the generator.

The High Line in New York, although evolving circumstantially, conceived in an entirely different era and context, has served as an urban spine, hovering over the New York grid below. As a public attraction, it has completely changed the nature of the West Side acting as a catalyst to spur development along its length. While the High Line itself is in many ways successful, the ongoing development that is being built around it is not informed by effective urban design guidelines aimed at enhancing the spine, but rather built to overcrowd and compromise it.

Neither the grid, nor the hierarchal plans were conceived to accommodate the development of high-rise buildings. Even the High Line does not allow connections to the buildings that surround it. The question would be whether a newly-conceived spine can be a generator for a city that primarily consists of high-rise towers. What kind of spine and what building designs might accomplish this new type of urbanism?  

The concept that we propose to explore is an expansion of the High Line into an integrated three-dimensional combination of linear park and commercial marketplace. That is to say integrating park and street life, free of vehicular traffic, along which high-rise residential and office development and community facilities can be constructed.

We will utilize the program and density of the Hudson Yards mixed-use development in New York City, but will free ourselves from both the site constraints of the existing rail yards and master plan.  The program includes high rise office and residential, cultural facilities, multi-level retail, and a school, which we will re-appropriate along a new urban spine running five city blocks north extending the current termination point of the High Line.

The studio will travel to New York to study the High Line and receive an in-depth briefing on the workings of the Hudson Yards Project and the surrounding neighborhoods. We will first break into teams of two, each exploring the nature and character of an urban spine and the manner in which we can create design guidelines to inform smart development along it. In the second segment of the studio, individual students will propose building designs to flank the spine. The buildings will be tested as an integrated whole at the conclusion of the studio.