Photo Essays

A Tour of the High Line’s New Section 2

by Kyle Chayka on June 8, 2011

Standing at Section 2's lawn (all photos by author)

Section 2 of the High Line public park, an elevated railway running down Manhattan’s Tenth Avenue renovated by architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro that has quickly become an urban design icon, opens to the public today. But visitors to the park yesterday were greeted with a soft-opening preview, complete with popsicle vendors, public art projects and plenty of opportunities to lounge in the grass. The new section may not cause as much stir as the launch of the first, but the 10-block stretch from 20th to 30th street is full of subtle surprises, from flyover walkways to hidden forests.

Section 2 kicks off at 20th Street, following a long promenade that had previously ended in a fence. Now, that area is opened up, showing off magnificent views of under-construction apartment buildings. Walking along the High Line, it’s almost possible to hear property values rising. On either side of the walkway are beds of bushes and flowers, familiar from Section 1, but now in full bloom as we hit an early summer. The original railways that give the park its name lay preserved in the garden beds. Artist Sarah Sze has designed a postmodern birdhouse that makes its appearance early in Section 2; something like an explosion caught in time, the bird feeder has trays to catch rainwater and notched boxes for the birds to nest. So what’s the rent on those?

The flat walkway suddenly enters in to a miniaturized forest, with taller bushes and trees extending over head height. Seen from either end, walkers vanish into the forest, but once inside the foliage doesn’t seem so dense. The spot should be beautiful come fall and the leaves color. The forest opens up onto a wider platform overlooking 22nd Street where a popsicle vendor was perched (they later sold out and abandoned their post). The platform gives way to the living room center of Section 2, banks of boardwalk seating abutting a grass lawn that had already been colonized by couples sprawled out on each other, solitary readers making their way through magazines and a few families in possession of toddlers running around in the sun. It’s a lovely space that should prove very popular, small but extremely functional.

The beginning of the flyover segment

Another straightaway soaked in sunlight and clear of buildings lays ahead leading to the next segment of Section 2. A ramp slowly inclines shaded on the street-side by blueberry bushes, their branches covered with not-quite-ripe berries, still red. Up the ramp is a flyover segment of walkways and spurs set with benches. The raised walkway isn’t far off the ground, maybe a single body length, but the space suddenly becomes divided between the walkway and the leafy undergrowth, lumpy plant beds with tall bushes and trees. The architectural composition becomes complex, trees poking through niches and corners created by intersecting branches of walkway. The split between the steel walkway and the organic undergrowth vibes off of the decaying warehouse buildings close in around the segment.

One more straightaway follows the down ramp off the flyover, long and thin, bordered with strictly defined plant beds populated with decorative blooms. Curving to the left, the High Line offers visitors a seat with a long bench following the sweep of the path. The flatness of this section and the elegance of the bench lend the walk a classic European atmosphere. A French mime wouldn’t be unexpected on the promenade. That impression comes to a quick end as DS+R fake out visitors with a post-industrial network of exposed steel beams and chunky fences that form the 30th Street end of Segment 2 and the beginning of the unfinished Segment 3, which is only just visible beyond a chain link barrier, extending west out toward the water and east into Manhattan.

The High Line’s Section 2 is a series of microcosms, small environments each with their own characteristics and their own quirks. Making the 10 block walk through the new section feels much longer than Section 1 because there are so many different places and spaces to interact with. There are classic DS+R devices (a slightly excessive viewing window that frames the street, with much less success than that of Section 1), but what makes the trip interesting is that the architects are never sensationalist; it’s about the human experience of walking, feeling and smelling rather than any kind of visual punch. As I heard one visitor comment to a High Line guard, I didn’t think they could top the first part, but they did.

Check out my photo essay of the High Line’s Section 2 below.

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The beginning of the High Line’s Section 2.

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Sarah Sze’s exploding birdhouse.

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Moving towards the mini forest.

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The High Line’s old rails show through the plant beds.

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The forest is small, but enough to shroud visitors from view.

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This popsicle vendor by 22nd Street had sold out by the end of the day.

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Section 2′s lawn provides a place to hang out, with stadium seating at left.

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Relaxing on the lawn. I kind of wonder how long the grass will survive daily abuse.

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One of the High Line’s exit staircases.

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Straightaway leading up to the flyover section of the park.

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Blueberry bushes in bloom.

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Looking off a spur on the flyover section.

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The raised path platform makes for an interesting contrast between organic and man-made.

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I wasn’t a huge fan of this framing device. The structure itself felt a little dated and the view was not particularly worth framing.

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A long straightaway precedes the end of Section 2.

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A curved bench lines the final segment of Section 2.

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Right at the end of Section 2, the park becomes increasingly inorganic, with cutaways to the steel supports beneath the raised platform.

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Looking out into what will be Section 3.

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Section 3 will stretch across 30th Street.

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The High Line park is located roughly along Tenth Avenue from the Meatpacking District to 30th Street.

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  • http://twitter.com/PeteAJ Peter Jacobson

    You know what’s funny? Some of the people in your photos really look kind of like rendering ‘people textures’. I think that’s a credit to your photography and the newness of the space. Except people lying down. People don’t lie down on grass in architecture. It’s hot outside. :)

    • http://twitter.com/chaykak Kyle Chayka

      Haha I’ll definitely take that as a compliment to my photography. This lawn is definitely going to have people laying on it, I just wonder if there’s enough room for the demand… 

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