Page N2.1 . 25 August 2010                     
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    QUIZ

    Postcard from Manhattan

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    The High Line passes through Chelsea Market, part of the former Nabisco complex in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood. Photography by David Owen.

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    As I walked through west Chelsea, near the Hudson River shoreline of Manhattan, a palpable sense of change was afoot — especially striking considering the impact of the recession on new construction across the nation. Among an aging urban fabric of midrise warehouse and residential buildings, many in various stages of renovation and repair, several new projects stood out.

    Joining Frank Gehry's 2007 IAC Building — an expressive all-glass building whose bending surface recalls the sails of a clipper ship — is the new 100 11th Ave, a 23-story condominium building designed by Jean Nouvel. These buildings share adjacent corner sites across West 19th Street, overlooking 11th Avenue, the Hudson River Park, and the Chelsea waterfront. In contrast to the expressive forms of IAC, Nouvel's building seems fairly staid, but the facade's chaotic composition of rectangular and square window openings gives some life to the otherwise conservative form.

    Just one block east, the High Line elevated railway is undergoing a transformation into a miles-long city park. A handful of staircases and a single, tinted-glass elevator currently provide pedestrian access to the completed first phase.

    As I walked along the accessible portion of the High Line, which cuts an irregular path across the city grid, at times passing through buildings that are remnants of an early-1900s National Biscuit Company factory, the hot, tense, noisy pace of the Manhattan streetscape below seemed more distant than the two-dozen-or-so feet that separated me from it.

    While at street level the day's muggy heat felt oppressive, a light breeze blew across the High Line, providing a bit of thermal relief. In young trees at the southernmost tip of the park, small birds flitted from limb to limb, their chirps a welcome contrast to the sounds of traffic below. Now and then, it was just possible to catch the light scent of blooming wildflowers from the park's extensive plantings. Visitors found refuge from the bright sun in the shade of a tall recent building that straddles the High Line. For the sun-worshipers, a series of playful, site-appropriate sunbathing chairs glide along the old train tracks.

    At the northernmost end of the High Line's first phase, the next stage is under construction, its new features tantalizing visitors from just beyond a chain-link barrier.

    On the road in New York City,

    David Owen
    ArchitectureWeek

     

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