It takes a special imagination and vision to transform an overgrown, potentially unsafe rail track into a cultural phenomenon and landscape-altering floating garden. Robert Hammond and Joshua David have managed to do just that.
To some, the overgrown ‘High Line’ track was something to be torn down and forgotten, a ’some’ which included former Mayor Guiliani – to Robert and Joshua, it was something that had to be saved. Having met at a community meeting, the pair decided to form ‘Friends of the High Line’, a campaign to save the structure – last used in 1980.
And it was there that the pair discovered that in it’s 20 years of abandonment, the High Line had become overgrown with plants, grass and trees – with one section even being covered in temperate rainforest.
“It captured my imagination” says Hammond, a former magazine writer who was working on a piece on the local area when he first noticed the line. “It seemed like an amazing opportunity to create something that would allow people to experience the city in an utterly new way. To go and tear it down without considering how we could use it seemed a waste to me.”
With the backing of local celebrities such as Edward Norton, Diane Von Furstenberg and Ethan Hawke ‘Friends of the High Line’ had a design competition for the reuse of the site, which was won in 2004 by Field Operations and Diller Scofodio + Renfro.
The line was constructed in the early 1930’s as part of New York’s West side highway, replacing the street level train that ran along 10th Avenue that become nicknamed ‘Death Avenue’ it was so notoriously dangerous and had to be preceded by a man on horseback waving a red flag to warn pedestrians.
The aim of the project is to allow New Yorkers a unique view that counters the spectacularly high traditional landmarks such as the Empire State building that the city is famous for, as the tracks are only three stories high. The line is now defining the area, David Bowie, another supporter started the High Line festival in 2007, which is now an annual series of musical and art projects based in spaces around the High Line, and nightclubs, retail spaces, real estate and restaurants have sprung up since its development.