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James Wilson 12/14/10

Discovery and Display Multiple Experiences of the High Line The design practice of James Corner Field Operations has a particular view of landscape and space that shapes a specific method of producing spatial experiences for the user. The practice conceives of landscape as a “’complex network of material activity’ rather than a ‘static 1

and contemplative phenomenon.’” A landscape is understood more as a system made up of latent continuous interconnected processes rather than something that can be understood simply by looking. Corner is not of the belief that the intricate and complex workings of a landscape can be easily pointed out and comprehended at a glance. The work of Field Operations instead seeks to provide the circumstances that will provide for the experience of discovery within spaces and landscapes that are recognized as dynamic physical and cultural processes with varied spatial and temporal scales. The user is recognized as a participant in these processes, fully integrated into the ecology of the landscape. The experience of discovery is meant to educate the user, to inform one of one’s role in the ongoing physical and cultural processes that make up the spaces one inhabits. Comparatively, the design practice of Diller Scofidio + Renfro works with a distinctly different set of methods to produce a spatial experience that is likewise based on a particular conception of space and landscape. The practice puts a lot of stock into the idea that the visual experience of a space or a landscape carries a lot of weight. Diller Scofidio + Renfro heavily believe in the power of visual communication to express information to the user. This is made especially explicit through their work, which seeks to provide experiences dictated through display. The user is made aware of surrounding social and spatial conditions through methods of display designed to seduce and demand attention. The experience of these displays is meant to help one see the reality of the surrounding conditions, which one has become desensitized to through familiarization. The High Line Park constitutes a conflation of these two distinctly divergent design methods into a single project. The conception of landscape particular to Field Operations as a system of processes to be discovered is here combined with Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s unique view of space as a series of images to be framed and put on display. The different methods of design that come out of each of these independent conceptions of space have been melded together in the design of the High Line to provide the user with a spatial experience that is in many ways completely unlike that of any other large public park. 1

Czerniak, Julia. "Challenging the Pictorial: Recent Landscape Practice." Assemblage 34 (1997): 110-20. Print.


The work of James Corner Field Operations is marked by an increasing attention to both the visible and invisible processes that are at work in the landscape. This overriding concern for an understanding of how the landscape works can be discerned both in Corner’s work regarding landscape representation as well as his large-scale landscape projects, which include the Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee and the Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island, New York. In Taking Measures Across the American Landscape, James Corner collaborates with photographer Alex MacLean to offer a new approach to landscape representation that places more emphasis on the underlying processes of a landscape. This new mode of representation is attempted through the pairing of aerial photographs of various landscape conditions with what Corner has termed ‘map-drawings.” The map-drawings, when placed alongside the aerial views are meant to provide the reader with a new perception of the represented landscape by explicitly bringing forth a latent layer of information about the functioning of the site that would otherwise be completely lost in the process of producing a pictorial representation of the site. “By communicating the ‘dynamic and interactive connections between human life and the natural environment,’ this book’s aerial visions intend to transgress nature’s scenic and pictorial role, sponsoring a rather pointed conflation of the ecologic and economic, the scientific and 2

scenographic, the poetic and politic.” Corner is interested in involving the user of space and landscape with all of the various factors that act in an interconnected way to shape the landscape, not just through the design of the physical landscape, but also even through the representation of landscape. This indicates a belief of Corner’s as pointed out by Julia Czerniak, “Landscape representation not only reflects a given reality, but also conditions a way of seeing and acting in the world.”

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Taking Measures Across the American Landscape

The Shelby Farms Park is a massive project on a site formerly used as a penal farm and

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Czerniak, Julia. "Challenging the Pictorial: Recent Landscape Practice." Assemblage 34 (1997): 110-20. Print. Ibid.


agricultural area. At 4,500 acres, the park is more than five times the size of Central Park. The massive scale of this project has allowed Field Operations to include a wide range of programs in the master plan. In addition to the design of spaces and paths for a multitude of various recreational activities, the plan also calls for the park to be utilized as a resource for various husbandry practices including farming, research, food production and energy production. “In this way traditional land practices meet the new urban 21st century culture of health, fitness, leisure, 4

play, education, and ecology, creating a unique place of large-scale interaction with the land.” It is this emphasis on the human interaction with the land and an attention to the historical identity of the site that are most essential in creating the experience of discovery that Field Operations seeks to provide. The park will be organized into twelve ‘landscape rooms’ with the intention of adding some sort of loose structure to the vast site, making for easier navigation within it. Each room will be designed for the use of a different set of programs and users but will connect openly to the larger park system. Movement through the park and between these ‘landscape rooms’ is unrestricted, allowing for an experience of the park that is marked by exploration. Wide open views of the landscape allow the viewer to choose where to look and makes for a visual and spatial experience that is markedly different from an experience dictated through display, in which the landscape is broken down into pictorial moments. The Fresh Kills Park is another large-scale project through which Field Operations seeks to provide visual and spatial experiences of discovery. As with Shelby Farms, Corner is concerned with designing the park in such a way as to allow for continuous change. Both physical and cultural processes are recognized as factors that have shaped and will continue to shape the park over time. Corner writes, “The most complicated part of the design is the idea that it is designed to change. ... The trick is to design a large park framework that is sufficiently robust to lend structure and identity while also having sufficient pliancy and ‘give’ to adapt to changing 5

demands and ecologies over time.” It is understood that the experience of a landscape that is in a perpetual state of change must also be infinitely variable. It is not possible to capture the landscape in a single view for quick and easy consumption. This would be to ignore the myriad processes that are at play in the landscape at any given moment. As James Corner and Field Operations are primarily interested in making the user aware of these latent characteristics in the landscape in order to create a wider social conception of the landscape as more than something to be simply viewed, they must employ methods of design that challenge pictorial experiences of space and landscape.

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Shelby Farms Park Master Plan, Field Operations Corner, James. "Terra Fluxus." The Landscape Urbanism Reader. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2006. Print.


Fresh Kills

A survey of the work of Diller Scofidio + Renfro indicates an approach to the design of visual and spatial experiences that is decidedly different from that of Field Operations. In fact, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s work in general is quite unlike that of any other design practice. This is linked no doubt to the specific set of concerns that the office has for the experience of physical and social space. The set of methods utilized by Diller Scofidio + Renfro to address these concerns are dominated by the technique of display. “The work of Diller + Scofidio is a form of display that removes from architecture the idea that it is always and only about shelter, comfort, 6

and functionality.” A specific interest in the role of desire and consumption in social and cultural spaces characterizes much of the practice’s work. Many of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s early projects were directly concerned with these topics and the methods used to involve the user were often based on the concepts of visual display and the mediation of imagery. Projects such as Brasserie, Jumpcuts, Overexposed and Loophole made extensive use of surveillance cameras and television monitors in order to create experiences punctuated with very explicitly framed moments of visual display. The displays in these works were used as a way to seduce the user into looking at exactly what the designers wanted them to look at. These methods of display also extend to Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s more architectural work. Perhaps the most explicit instance of display can be found in the Slow House project, which 7

has been described as “a door to a window,” and “a machine for viewing.” The design of the house is meant to slow the movement of the user through the house, eventually culminating in a wide framed view of the sea. In addition to the real view of the ocean through the window, a small 6

Betsky, Aaron. "Display Engineers." Scanning: the Aberrant Architectures of Diller Scofidio. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2003. 23-36. Print. 7 Ibid.


video monitor is placed in the center of this frame, playing back footage of the horizon gathered from a camera oriented to the same view as that of the window. The footage is recorded, allowing the user the opportunity to decide to view the scene under past conditions. The layering of the mediated image and the real image are meant to collapse the distance between the viewer and the object being viewed, the sea and the horizon. This very deliberate framing of a specific view is the method Diller Scofidio + Renfro have chosen to use in order to establish a relationship between the user and the space surrounding them such that the underlying or latent reality of the spatial and social conditions of the site might be glimpsed. This glimpse of the conditions of a space or landscape that might not be immediately noticeable, through intentional acts of display, is the central to the work of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s more recent architectural work evolves and extends this technique of display, broadening the scope of what is put on display and increasingly implicates the user as a part of what is being displayed. The renovation of Alice Tully Hall, located in the Juilliard Music School building, is one example of how Diller Scofidio + Renfro have put the user on display for other users. A stadium style seating platform has been added at the corner of the building at street level, meant to engage the pedestrian traffic, the seating faces the building, providing those the seated user with a view into both the lobby floor and, above, into a rectangular room faced with glass protruding from the side of the building. The user on the street is able to view the activities taking place within the hall while the building’s users are provided with framed views of both those seated on the platform as well as the city beyond. This very obvious orchestration of views is meant to produce a particular visual and spatial experience for the users of the both the city in general, the pedestrians, and the users of the building. By framing certain views, displaying the activities of the building, as well as the activities of the street, the designers are attempting to pull the user out of a familiarized, everyday spatial experience such that latent aspects of the space or landscape may be noticed. The new ‘recognition’ afforded by these spatial experiences are meant to influence the way the user will see and act in the spaces of the world thenceforth.

Alice Tully Hall

The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston is likewise an attempt to alter, through


experiences of display, the actions of the user within the larger social context of public space. Diller Scofidio + Renfro here again make use of methods that engage the user through the sense of vision. The rectilinear form of the building provided the designers with several opportunities to display the surrounding landscape within the traditional four-sided frame. The major mass of the building is cantilevered out eighty feet from the lower building mass, emphasizing the view provided to the users within. This formal maneuver also serves to define a box shaped space below where there is a set of steps moving gradually down to the water. It would seem that these steps were designed to also serve as a space for sitting and looking out to the water and the city, a view that is framed somewhat by the cantilevered mass overhead. The Mediatheque room extends out from the bottom side of the cantilevered mass, providing its occupants with a view of a frame filled by the water. This room seems especially obsessed with the experience of the pictorial two-dimensional image as it is filled with computer monitors for the viewing of artwork. The experience of viewing artwork on a computer screen situated in front of a large framed view of water is likely to affect the user in an extraordinary way. For example, the user might all of a sudden find themselves wondering about the differences between the immediate, physical experience of a landscape or space and the distanced, mediated image or representation of that same landscape or space. This is the sort of experience that Diller Scofidio + Renfro are interested in creating. They set up these experiences of display with the belief that a view can do much more. The idea is that a much deeper and more meaningful experience can be created for the user through such methods of display. This is important because it allows Diller Scofidio + Renfro to pursue their ultimate agenda, which I would argue is a common agenda amongst all architects, to have agency in the world, and to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

The Mediatheque, Institute of Contemporary Art

Now having surveyed the work of both practices, it becomes clear that James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, despite having two very different approaches, are actually working towards a common end. Both practices are ultimately concerned with creating new conceptions of space. Both practices are invested in getting the user to interact with the surrounding spatial environment in a deeper, more meaningful way, engendering a new understanding of the relationship that we as humans have with the spatial conditions surrounding us. This can be achieved through a number of different techniques, such as exhibited through the


work of Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The techniques used are indicative of the designer’s general philosophy regarding the experience of space. The High Line Park can be examined as not only a combination of two distinct techniques, but also as a conflation of two distinct philosophies about how the subject should interact with and experience space. A distinction must be made here between agenda and philosophy. James Corner and Diller Scofidio + Renfro have very similar agendas, but the philosophies that led them to these agendas are quite different. One way to begin to discern between these philosophies would be to consider how each of the designers responded to Joel Sternfeld’s photographs of the High Line that ended up being so pivotal in the conservation of the railway and the creation of the park. The photographs present views of nature reclaiming an urban, industrial space – wild, rambling plant life consuming the steel structure of the railway. The majority of the photographs present views looking north or south down the railway, making the strip of unchecked nature the main subject of the picture. The buildings of Manhattan rise up along each side, providing a partially framed view of the rail. A prolonged examination of the images will allow for the ‘discovery’ of specific moments or details in the photographs – a discarded beer bottle there along the railings, an exposed portion of the rail ties over here, an oddly dense growth of tall spiky weeds over there.

Joel Sternfeld, Walking the High Line

Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro looked at these photographs and saw these same things in them, but each responded to them differently based on different philosophies and techniques. The semi-framing of the railway by the buildings running alongside it will have resonated with Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The view of the city in the background and on either side would have also interested them. In these photographs, Diller Scofidio + Renfro saw the potential of the space of the High Line to be used as a platform for viewing the activities of the city surrounding it. It is their philosophy that the city and everything that goes on within it has a direct bearing on the spatial conditions of the High Line. Their concern was then how to create an experience that would make the user of the High Line aware of this. This suggests a philosophy


that supports the idea that the subject must be explicitly engaged by the architecture in order to create a consciousness of the space. James Corner and Field Operations saw instead the potential of the High Line to be used as a space for an interaction with the multiple physical and cultural processes present at the site. The unplanned, unchecked plant growth shown in the photographs will have appealed to them as a model for an undirected, wandering exploration of a landscape. The many details to be found through extended examination in each photograph would have also been of interest as it represented the potential of the High Line to be a space in which the discovery of latent characteristics and processes could happen. Sternfeld’s photographs span the seasons, and so, when viewed as a collection, successfully represent the temporal physical processes that are continuously shaping the space. Corner was no doubt inspired by this documentation of the dynamic spatial condition of the site, recognizing the potential of maintaining this ever-changing physical and visual condition with the High Line Park. The variety of plant life depicted in Sternfeld’s photographs likewise influenced Field Operation’s idea of what the High Line Park could be in terms of a landscape that could illustrate visually the ecological processes and relationships embedded in it. This suggests a philosophy that supports the idea that the architecture should not engage the subject so explicitly but should instead provide for an experience that is more variable and less programmed, or less choreographed, allowing the subject more freedom in becoming aware of the space. Ultimately, even though Sternfeld’s photographs constitute an undoubtedly pictorial, static image of a landscape, it would seem that it is possible for the viewer, as Corner specifically has, to imagine in a fairly accurate way, the dynamic temporal aspects of the site. This is an important idea to consider in the ongoing debate regarding landscape representation as it challenges the argument that photographs and other two-dimensional forms of representation are completely ineffective methods of describing the intricate, temporal and procedural characteristics of a landscape. It calls for a reconsideration of various assumptions about the way viewer interprets a photograph. It suggests that it is entirely possible for photography, as a method of representation, to be utilized in new and imaginative ways to describe the complex, latent qualities of a landscape. For example, photographs could serve as more effectual representational tools by appealing to memory. There are many general spatial experiences that the majority of individuals have experienced. The physical, temporal, dynamic, and intangible qualities of these common spatial experiences are stored in the memory and can be recalled with the aid of photographs. For example, most people have been to a beach and have stored memories of the smells, the sounds, the way the breeze feels, the way the sun feels, and so on. These sensory memories are vivid enough that for most of us, seeing a photograph of a beach, even a beach we have never been to before, will trigger these memories, making the photograph more than just a static image of a beach.


It is easy to believe that Corner was able to interpret Sternfeld’s photographs in such a way as laid out here considering the previous representational work he has done, including Taking Measures Across the American Landscape, as previously discussed. “Corner critically engages issues of representation in the field of landscape through the thematic of ‘measure’ – 8

posited as ‘the guide, the outcome, and the gauge of cultural activity and meaning.” Corner’s work with Alex MacLean is an example of just one technique that might be used in order to expand the work of the photograph in landscape representation. A close examination of the designed elements of the High Line Park will serve to further an understanding of how two design practices with similar agendas but distinctly different philosophies and techniques might work jointly on a single project and what the consequential spatial experience might be. Central to this discussion is the concept of giving multiple design strategies and theories equal voice in a project in order to produce results that could not otherwise be produced. The most immediately noticeable feature of the High Line Park, and that which rightfully designates it as a park, is of course the plant life. As alluded to previously, the planting design is very obviously influenced by the wild, unmanaged condition of plant growth depicted in Sternfeld’s photographs. Not only have many of the wild-growing plants seen in the photographs been included in the planting design for the park, the variety of different growth conditions that could be found on the High Line prior to renovation have been maintained in the design of the park. The unrestrained, loose movement of the user through and along this natural living landscape is likewise reminiscent of the wild, natural conditions of the High Line prior to renovation, which “…further helps to define a wild, dynamic character, distinct from a typical manicured landscape, and representative of the harsh, arid conditions of the shallow rooting depth.”

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The paving system, built from pre-cast concrete planks with open joints and tapered edges allow the free flow of water and the mixing of the plant life with the harder materials of the walkway. The concrete planks “comb” into the planted areas, creating a surface condition that allows for movement that is not restricted to a path. “…this intermixing of plants with paving creates a rambling, textural effect of immersion, strolling ‘within’ and ‘amongst’ rather than feeling distanced from.”

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This paving system, along with the design of the planted areas, is an essential

feature of Corner’s specific agenda of creating a spatial experience in which the user is integrated into the landscape, offered the opportunity to interact with the natural in a much more intimate way. This spatial experience allows the user to discover the aspects of landscape that Field Operations believes the subject must understand in order to develop a deeper consciousness of 8 9

Czerniak, Julia. "Challenging the Pictorial: Recent Landscape Practice." Assemblage 34 (1997): 110-20. Print.

Corner, James. Preface. Designing the High Line: Gansevoort Street to 30th Street. New York: Friends of the High Line, 2008. Print. 10 Ibid.


the landscape.

The High Line Park th

Conversely, features such as the seating platform and framed view of the city at 10

Avenue Square provide an experience in which the subject is given distinct cues as to how to begin to understand the spatial environment. By creating this moment of pause on the High Line and literally framing a particular view of Midtown, Diller Scofidio + Renfro are explicitly engaging the user by indicating where to look and what to look at. Attention is deliberately being focused on the activities of the city street below, causing the viewer to contemplate a specific condition of the urban landscape. This is indicative of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s philosophy that the subject’s gaze should be controlled by the architect in order to foster a deeper consciousness of the spatial surroundings. Aaron Betsky outlines this principle in an essay about Diller Scofidio + Renfro entitled Display Engineers, “In order for ourselves, our goods, and our information to work, they cannot merely have a presence; they must be designed to catch our attention, to seduce, to make sense in an ever more confusing environment. Diller + Scofidio want to make us aware of this fact by heightening, questioning, or frustrating the act of display, and doing this within display itself.”

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It is not enough for the subject to be immersed in a space and provided with the opportunity to discover the characteristics of the space, attention must be directed toward particular views, the visual experience of the space must be choreographed in sense in order to guarantee the recognition of specific social and spatial conditions.

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Betsky, Aaron. "Display Engineers." Scanning: the Aberrant Architectures of Diller Scofidio. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2003. 23-36. Print.


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10 Avenue Square

This technique of directing the user’s attention toward particular scenes in the th

environment is used several times in the High Line Park, most obviously at 26 Street in the second section of the park, where a smaller seating platform is situated facing a frame fixed to the railings, acting as a “spur,” goading the viewer into sitting down for a moment to take in a framed view of the city. In this instance, the frame is meant to suggest the billboards that were originally attached to the High Line’s railings at street crossings. Now when cars or pedestrians pass under the High Line they are presented with a framed image of the users of the High Line. Similar to the condition set up at Alice Tully Hall, this frame is meant to display two distinct groups of users to each other – the users of the street or sidewalk and the users of the High Line. As with the situation created at Alice Tully Hall, this feature creates a situation that puts individuals on display to each other, initiating thoughts about social interactions and relationships that might not otherwise ever occur to most individuals as they go on with their daily routine. This philosophy has roots in the ideas of the Situationist International and the writings of Guy Debord whose main intention was "to wake up the spectator, who has been drugged by spectacular images, through radical action in the form of the construction of situations” that are characterized by, "a sense of self-consciousness of existence within a particular environment or ambience.”

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The work of Diller

Scofidio + Renfro in general can be seen as a comment on the primary topics implicated here: mass media, consumerism, desire, and surveillance. This technique of putting the users of the High Line and New York City on display to each th

other was also utilized in the design of the 18 Street Plaza, currently pending approval. The design called for a large rectangular glass-sided box to be raised above the plaza and cantilevered out over the street, framing views north and south. In addition to framing views of the landscape of the city, the “elevated snack bar” will allow for individuals to watch the users of the plaza below. The users of the plaza are simultaneously provided with a framed view of the users 12

Debord, Guy, and Ken Knabb. Society of the Spectacle. London: Rebel, [200. Print.


of the snack bar. This situation is serving to display individuals in the act of taking leisure, individuals in the act of eating and also individuals in the act of viewing. th

This framing technique is used again slightly differently at 30 Street where a rectangular frame will be placed over a cutout section of the surface of the High Line. Not only does this frame direct attention to the exposed structure of the railway, it also acts to suggest specific views out toward the city by orienting the rectangle so that two corners opposite each other jut out in an almost literal pointing gesture, indicating the direction the user in which the user should look. By exposing the steelwork of the structure it is obvious enough that the designers intend for the users to look down at it, but it is made unmistakably clear with the use of the rectangular seethrough platform. In this instance, the designers wish to instill a consciousness of the space by providing the user with a view showing how the structure is actually constructed.

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30 Street Cutout

Of course, these experiences of display only occur a handful of times along the High Line. In between these moments of directed looking the user is free to view the park and the surrounding urban landscape from whichever position they choose. The way the High Line is situated within the urban fabric creates a spatial and visual experience that serves the agenda of Field Operations quite well. As the user moves along this elevated path they are presented with a dynamic and highly variable visual experience of the urban condition. At points along the park one will be presented with wide-open views out across the city. At other points one will be presented with views obstructed by the buildings alongside the High Line. The user, raised above street level, is able still to experience the feeling of immersion in the landscape that one has on the street, but is now also offered sweeping views of the landscape that are not possible at street level. This aspect of the park is important to James Corner as it provides for an experience of the space of the city that will allow for the user to make discoveries about the endless number of processes that allow for the functioning of such a large city. From certain locations on the High Line one might be able to witness the daily routine of a local courier service or the movement of a


meter maid down the street. At another point in the park one might be able to observe changes in traffic patterns or the route of a delivery truck. These are examples of physical daily processes, but the opportunity also exists for the discovery of the latent processes that shape the city as well. Not only does the High Line allow for a spatial experience of immersion within the urban landscape of New York City, it also provides experiences of immersion within miniature natural environments. The Woodland Flyover, where the user is lifted above the surface of the High Line and through the top of a stand of trees is one specific example of this type of experience. In this way the user is immersed within a unique micro-ecosystem. The user is meant to slow down at these points along the park and to feel encouraged to really take notice of the space around them. The Chelsea Thicket is another example of this type of experience.

Woodland Flyover rd

Yet another experience is offered at the Sundeck Preserve and the 23 Street Lawn. At both of these locations, the user is encouraged to stop and linger. Unlike the seating platforms at th

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10 Avenue and at 26 Street, there are no explicitly directed views at these spots. Instead, the user is provided with wide views of the city. These spaces are likewise meant to get the user to slow down and experience moments of discovery in the landscape around them. This technique of attempting to slow the movement of the user through space in order to heighten the awareness of the spatial condition also occurs at the Gansevoort Stair located at the southernmost end of the High Line Park. This long stair enclosed in glass moves the user gradually up to the surface of the park from the street in an attempt to make the user conscious of the shift from one spatial condition to another. Immediately above this stair is the Gansevoort Overlook. As soon as the user reaches the surface of the park an open view of the city is provided, emphasizing the change of one’s location in space from the street to the park.


Gansevoort Stair

Combined together into one park, all of these features make for an incredibly unique spatial and visual experience of a diverse landscape. The blending together of the techniques utilized by Field Operations with those of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which initially might seem problematic prove to be otherwise. In fact, the blending of these two approaches to spatial and visual experience serve to create a wide range of experiences, all of which promote increased consciousness of the space on the part of the user. It may well be due to the fact that these two practices share this ultimate agenda that the combination of techniques work so well. It should be noted additionally that neither of the two different techniques come to dominate the project. In fact, the High Line exists as a balanced compromise between the two divergent yet non-opposing sets of techniques. This is not to say that the High Line Park is any danger of falling victim to the concept of “something for everyone.” The project still has a clearly defined purpose of providing the user with experiences that increase the consciousness of the space one inhabits. Instead of being contradictory the techniques utilized by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Field Operations seem to almost complement each other. The moments of explicit display, the influence of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, provide a sort of counterpoint to the completely undirected moments of self-motivated discovery as designed by Corner. The experience of the High Line ends up being one that provides both display and discovery. The experience is not too choreographed nor is it too loose and open. At times the user is directed and at other times left to his own devices. One is able to experience elements of both the pictorial and the picturesque on the High Line. The pictorial can be experienced at the points in the park punctuated by directed views. The technique of displaying particular views through the device of a frame serve to create a momentarily static, fixed image of the urban landscape. These features are pictorial in that they “…bias how a landscape appears as a picture, a retinal image, over how it works as a process, a


continuing activity and set of relations that change over time.”

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Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose

work tends to be concerned with the image in general and which makes heavy use of the technique of displaying defined, image-like views of space bring these aspects of the pictorial to the High Line. Experiences of the picturesque are interwoven with and dispersed between the experiences of the pictorial. The picturesque can be found in the experience of moving along the High Line and then coming to a point where the city seems to unfold before your eyes. This is the picturesque as Robert Smithson described it, “The picturesque park is not the transcription on the land of a compositional pattern previously fixed in the mind, its effects cannot be determine a priori, it presupposes a stroller, someone who trusts more in the real movement of his legs than in the fictive movement of his gaze.”

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James Corner and Field Operations, who have concerned

themselves more with the immersion of the subject into the landscape, bring these aspects of the picturesque to the High Line. The experience of moving through the landscape and interacting with it in such a way as to be able to understand the dynamic, temporal qualities of it is central to Corner’s agenda. Concepts of both landschaft and landscape are also to be found in the High Line Park. The nature of landschaft as “…points to a particular spatiality in which a geographical area and its material appearance are constituted though social practice. …landschaft is best understood in terms of relative rather than absolute space.”

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Aspects of landschaft exist in the socially shaped

experiences of the High Line. The spaces along the High Line that allow for the congregation of people to collectively experience the park are characterized by the social processes that are present there. Moments along the High Line that direct the user’s attention out toward the activities of the city are also socially shaped spaces. The conditions of these spaces are relative to the latent social qualities of the surrounding landscape. The social atmosphere of Manhattan has a direct effect on the user’s experience of these types of spaces on the High Line. The social characteristics of all the different individuals who visit the High Line will combine with the social characteristics of the neighborhoods bordering the park, creating a very diverse, and continuously changing mix of social conditions that will continue to shape the spatial conditions of the High Line. The concept of landscape as traditionally understood stands in contrast to the concept of landschaft. “The conventional usage of landscape in English is closely associated with the idea of scenery.”

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This concept of landscape is also to be found on the High Line at moments of directed

views through framing devices. Although these experiences are meant to be shaped relative to 13 14 15

Czerniak, Julia. "Challenging the Pictorial: Recent Landscape Practice." Assemblage 34 (1997): 110-20. Print. Bois, Yve-Alain. “A Picturesque Stroll around “Clara-Clara.” October, Vol. 29. (Summer, 1984), pp. 32-62

Cosgrove, Denis. "Landscape and Landschaft." "Spatial Turn in History" Symposium. University of California, Los Angeles. 14 Dec. 2010. Lecture. 16 Ibid.


the view of the social activities that are taking place on the city streets, they undoubtedly serve more often than not to create simple visual experiences of a fairly static scene that will not affect the viewer’s consciousness of the socio-spatial conditions of the urban landscape. The effect of these experiences of display depends on how successful the features meant to slow the user’s movement and experiences are. Ultimately the High Line Park provides multiple spatial and visual experiences that serve to enhance the user’s consciousness of both the space of the park and the broader landscape of New York City. The user is made conscious of the landscape through experiences of both discovery and display. The combination of these two distinctly different techniques, as employed by Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro respectively, result in a unique spatial experience marked alternately by features that work to direct the user’s attention toward particular views and features that allow the user to explore the space and landscape undirected. The High Line Park serves as a model for future projects that seek to provide experiences though which the user can engage the landscape in more meaningful ways. The two techniques discussed here, display and discovery, could be expanded or modified in order to suit the specific parameters of a given project. The project also serves as a model for future projects that seek to combine multiple techniques in order to produce moments of compromise and balance, shaping new and unique experiences.

Discovery & Display: Multiple Experiences of the High Line  

An essay exploring the different design approaches of James Corner Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and the resulting experien...

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