Line Dancing in the Landscape
Revisiting the great public parkway in New York City known as The High Line recently made me appreciate once again the power of design to make you see the world in fresh ways or as if for the first time. Created by James Corner Field Operations (Project Lead), Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and planting designer Piet Oudolf for the City of New York, it occupies the tracks of a defunct elevated freight rail line snaking through the West Side of Manhattan from Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street. Maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line, it opened in 2009 and another section was completed in 2011. I joined crowds of enthusiastic New Yorkers and tourists to admire the unusual vistas through and around buildings, and saw how sections of the original rails act as a kind of
talisman, literally and figuratively driving the design, as shown here (both photos by Iwan Baan, courtesy thehighline.org). Parallel concrete strips or “tracks” form planting beds, benches, and the walkway itself. Simple. Ingenious. Brilliant! I like the way the planting beds add another metaphoric layer as rows of crops visually connecting the walking surface to the earth itself. To my mind the High Line is a marvelous 21st century version of New York’s Central Park
designed by Frederick Law Olstead and Calvert Vaux, where a similar, if less abstract approach to “nurtured nature” can be seen in the way the Vista Rock Tunnel over 79th Street appears to be hewn out of a stone outcropping (photo by brianac37 courtesy Flckr), which, in fact, it was. Both Central Park and the High Line express a heightened appreciation of both nature and urbanism and the contrast/connection between them. Each in its way is a descendant of the Picturesque movement (emphasizing the romance of nature) of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
So can you bring something of that natural line, or lineage, home? Here’s an
example from the remarkable series of demonstration gardens at Appeltern in the Netherlands, where the line of stone literally links inside and outside (photo courtesy Appeltern.nl). Or follow the shape of an early modern backyard by the
great landscape architect Thomas Church, where the rectangular grid and curvilinear swoop intersect to form patio, sandbox, and tricycle path around the tree (image courtesy ncsu.edu). The design makes the outdoor rooms and paths extensions of each other so that it’s not possible to imagine one without the other. A recent garden by Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture also
combines grid and curve, but with a twist — the ground cover expresses the grid as an extension of the landscape, not the paving — as if nature is coming in from the wild (photo courtesy desiretoinspire.net). And what about that blue fire pit? I guess that’s where all the lines converge in dancing flames…some designs are hotter than others. And some lines of thought (i.e. mine) can perhaps go too far. But, hey, summer’s almost here!
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