INTERVIEW: Landscape Architect James Corner On NYC’s High Line Park

by , 09/20/14

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, high line, high line new york city, james corner field operations, Landscape Architecture, native plants, sustainable design, Urban design, urban green space

Jill: Can you tell me a little bit about the sustainable features of the High Line and how you tried to work toward designing features for environmental sustainability?

James: This is an extremely hostile and very difficult environment to build a landscape. We have a soil depth that is very thin – maybe 15 inches typically – it’s very hot in the summer, it’s freezing cold in the winter, there are issues with providing plants adequate water and nutrients – it’s a very difficult environment. Most of the plants up on the High Line are stress tolerant. They’ve been drawn from the prairie or from other difficult environments and most of them will hopefully succeed in survival. We’ll learn from those that don’t make it, take them out and replace them with those that have done well. There is also a dynamic aspect to how the landscape is managed. One of the greatest features of the High Line is the paving, which has been designed to crack open and allow plants to come through. It also has open joints so that when it rains the water falls through the joints and is collected, stored and then allowed to seep slowly into the planting beds. I think we can demonstrate that 80 to 90 percent of all the water that falls on the High Line stays on the High Line.

Jill: That’s impressive.

James: One could boast that there’s going to be some carbon reduction with the amount of greenery that we’ve brought there. There’s certainly an ambient cooling effect with the shade that’s provided. All the materials are recyclable or come from sustainable sources, so there’s nothing here that’s ostentatious or out of place. Overall I think it’s a very sustainable project.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, high line, high line new york city, james corner field operations, Landscape Architecture, native plants, sustainable design, Urban design, urban green space

Jill: So just to clarify, are you expecting plants to grow up through the cracks at some point?

James: No. It’s really what we call tapers or the combs. There’s an idea of trying to comb the paving so we don’t really have clearly defined edges between path and garden but really that the path bleeds into the garden, and likewise, the garden bleeds into the path. Obviously there are parts where it’s a little harder – for the main pathways, for maintenance, for emergency vehicles and this sort of thing – but the overall visual effect is to try to create an edge to edge effect of a rail bed landscape that has some paving and a lot of planting around the rails. It really is a wall-to-wall landscape rather than the typical garden path adjacent to planting beds.

+ James Corner/Field Operations

+ High Line

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  1. hortus5 November 1, 2014 at 10:52 am

    What would the High Line be without the plants? Really wish the “landscape” architect would have mentioned Piet Oudolf’s contribution and collaboration on the High Line. The omission leads readers to assume that the plantings were entirely conceived and created by Mr. Corner. I feel a very large part of the High Line’s success is due to the horticulture component. Proper credit should be give where credit is due.

  2. MattCicle7 March 18, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    LANDSCAPE architect!!!

  3. anothervoice July 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Jill –

    Has there been any review of the change in property values adjacent to the Highline Park?

  4. quercuslogica June 25, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Slight correction to the title of the article, James Corner is a Landscape Architect.

  5. eileen April 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    I love this !!

  6. anothervoice April 16, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Easily my favorite urban park. Or any park for that matter. And for me the value is more than doubled because the referential design approach lost nothing of the original derelict. That aspect was kept and amplified and enhanced and there’s such a richness to this space. New Yorkers are indeed lucky and I hope to have an opportunity to visit the park in person one day.

  7. jillyt November 8, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    And, I wish they would start using the street ampitheater for performing arts events — what a perfect venue!

  8. jillyt November 8, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    I love this park so much! I had the chance to sneak in in 2004, pre development, and will always feel like a supersleuth when I visit the public version now. What a great reclamation.

  9. Michael Van Valkenburgh... September 22, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    […] of the highlights of the proposed plan include lowering the I-70 as it runs downtown and creating a rooftop park that will connect the memorial to both the downtown area and the Old Courthouse. Moreover a larger […]

  10. Main Station Stuttgart:... August 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    […] the tracks 12 meters below the surface and open up the space for a 42,000 sq meter public park. The new urban park will also extend into the adjacent “Schlossgarten” or castle gardens, which act as the […]

  11. Diane Pham August 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Such a thoughtful design in terms of urban experience, nature, history and so much more. James Corner is truly talented and definitely understands the importance of adaptive reuse of public areas for just that – the public.

  12. scantando August 23, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you for providing this interview! I would like to visit the park at some point. I have only ever seen it as The Bolt Bus I was riding drove by it. I live in Philly and I am waiting for this city to step it up and start innovating with these unique green renovation projects. I am a believer that many of the sustainable efforts that are going to happen in the future will involve upgrading existing infrastructure rather than new construction.

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