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Old Posted Jun 28, 2011, 5:42 PM
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Constructive criticism: New York's architecture comes down to earth

Constructive criticism: New York's architecture comes down to earth

24 June 2011

By Jonathan Glancey

Read More: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesi...k-architecture

With the Chinese website Motian City reporting that, over the next three years, the country will be home to a newly completed skyscraper every five days, you might wonder whether New York is looking anxiously towards its high-rise laurels. After all, this is the city that, along with Chicago, nurtured the skyscraper from the late 19th century onwards. It still boasts one of the world's most memorable high-rise skylines. Yet during the few days I spent in New York last week, many of the most talked-about architectural and urban planning projects were low-rise and even low-key. Partly that's down to the opening earlier this month of the second phase of the High Line Park, a green walkway along the old elevated freight railroad running through the West Side's former meatpacking district, and designed by James Corner Field Operations with local architects Diller Scofidio and Renfro, and Dutch planting designer, Piet Oudolf.

- But Jayne Merkel, the distinguished New York historian, told me when we met that she thought, if anything, the High Line had been overhyped: "It's fun to walk along as a tourist and occasionally to wander," she said, "but it's much less significant than other places that have been created or are being created for people to relax in the middle of the city." Such as? She points to the reclamation of several lanes of traffic for pedestrian use from about 47th Street all the way down to 14th Street, and their embellishing with tables and chairs provided by the city. Hardly the wildest of ideas, but effective nonetheless. "As a Brit," she continued, "you may not be aware just how radical this ... for most people the only public space is a bench in a privately owned shopping mall."

- Merkel also pointed out the emerging Brooklyn Bridge Park, an ambitious reclamation of abandoned, rough-and-ready cityscape masterminded by the landscape architect Michael van Valkenburgh. The latest idea for the park, unveiled yesterday, is for a floating public pool in the East River, beside Brooklyn Bridge. The $350m scheme is due for completion in 2013, but two of the piers are open and the ambitious nature of the project is already visible. As well as grass, plants, trees and wildlife, it features playgrounds, cafes, a volleyball beach, cycle paths and a beautifully restored 1920s carousel. Ideas from the local community are being taken on board.

- Assistant curator at the Guggenheim Maria Nicanor says: "It's a mixture of an urban thinktank, community centre and a gathering space." Sitting under a kind of hi-tech parasol, anyone will be able to come here to discuss how New York – and cities worldwide – might develop intelligently and well. The "lab", sponsored by BMW, can easily be taken down and will be shipped to Berlin in the autumn, and then around the world. Not so long ago, New York exported skyscrapers; now it seems that the Big Apple is happy to nurture projects much closer to the ground.


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