originally published in:
Point of View, a Metropolis Magazine Blog, August 2015
all photos courtesy Max Touhey
A new canopy structure designed by Zaha Hadid was recently installed over a short stretch of The High Line, the much beloved (and controversial) elevated public park in New York's Meatpacking District.
Titled Allongé, the slender structure is clad in a semi-transparent, silver fabric over a hybrid armature of standard steel scaffolding and custom-fabricated curved members. Poised above the flexible, flowing membrane is a more rigid construction—a shed-like enclosure made of what appears to be steel deck covered in black-painted plywood. The project’s primary purpose is to protect park-goers from any potential debris that may come from the adjacent construction site of an 11-story luxury residence, also by Hadid. According to Related Properties, the developer of the residential project at 520 West 28th Street, “The installation seizes the opportunity to beautify necessary infrastructure by offering a compelling experience while also protecting pedestrians.”
The project’s two components—the soft canopy and the hard enclosure above—might at first appear to parse the formal and the functional requirements neatly. But while the canopy aims to “beautify,” it is in fact another defensive strategy deployed to protect pedestrians from noticing the work nearby. The typical overhead shed—a structure that’s unabashedly utilitarian, replete with exposed cross beams, rough wooden shims, and ostentatious hunter-green plywood—is a sure sign of construction, but here, this fact is somewhat obscured. Even the shims are painted a neutral silver.
Perhaps this kind of obfuscation points to an anxious paradox implicit in the recent history of the High Line. The original concept of the park emerged as a rehabilitation of the disused West Side Line—a Robert Moses public works project from the 1930s—for the development of noncommercial space open to the general public. Soon after completion however, the High Line not only became a draw for pedestrians, but also an attractive neighborhood magnet for high-profile, luxury real estate development, with towering projects by Lord Norman Foster, Kohn Pedersen Fox, and Thomas Juul-Hansen all erected along the park since its opening in 2009. Vertiginous increases in property values and vicious gentrification soon followed, enclosing the very public space The High Line was meant to reinstate.
As much as Allongé may protect us from the sight of the site, it does not protect us from its effects. For all the emphasis on maintaining a “compelling experience,” the other blight of construction—noise—is wholly unaddressed and is actually quite an ear-sore for those walking by. Then again, this isn’t surprising: the canopy’s analog is less shield, and more gauzy veil; a high-rise flirtation with The High Line below.