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High Line Landscape Architect Tapped to Build an Olympic Labyrinth for the London Games

A rendering of architect James Corner’s winning design for the South Park

The verdict is in: after launching a design competition in July for London’s forthcoming 50-acre Olympic Park, the Olympic Park Legacy Company has announced James Corner Field Operations and erect architecture as the winners.

James Corner, the New York-based landscape architect, put himself on the map after designing the celebrated and oft-copied High Line park. His other notable work is Freshkills Park, the former Staten Island landfill the borough will, with Corner’s help over the next 30 years, reclaim as a recreation area that will be twice the size of Central Park. He’s bringing his landscaping expertise to the Olympic Park’s south end between the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre, and the park’s centerpiece, the Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond-designed ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture, a mammoth work of red, twisting tubular steel. He’ll be planting a hedge labyrinth (exciting!), event lawn, and outdoor theater along a tree-lined promenade.

While the south end’s focus will be on commercial use — festivals, food stalls, and the like — the north end will be more wildlife oriented. erect architecture, a younger emerging London team, has been tapped for its track record of whimsical playspaces, primary schools, and youth centers to create a community hub in the park’s north end, complete with a nature-themed playground for climbing trees and building dens.

Construction off the banks of the River Lea also include the VeloPark, which comprises a one-mile road circuit for cyclists flanked by wetlands, as well as miles of mountain bike trails surrounding the Velodrome. The entire operations of the park are slated to be renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2013 with the expectations that it will remain a major tourist attraction long after the Olympics are over.

To see renderings of the future Olympic Park, click the slideshow.


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Phase II of the High Line Now Open!

Cool benches under one of the many futuristic silver buildings which have popped up recently in West Chelsea.

The anticipation of the second section of the High Line has more in common with that of summer blockbusters than urban renewal projects. With two million visitors last year, the elevated park has garnered praise usually reserved for Manhattan’s original icons. The park was even featured in an episode of “Family Guy” late last year, featuring a Sketch-up like rendering of the hunkering Standard Hotel straddling the elevated walkway whose terminus disappears in a wash of low rise brick buildings.

Due to its overwhelming popularity and appeal, the park has, as some have pointed out, become more than a dynamic urban project — it’s become a brand, and one with remarkable influence in shaping the future of Manhattan’s real estate and elsewhere.

Aerial View, from West 30th Street, looking West toward the Empire State Building. ©Iwan Baan, 2011

Phase II of the High Line keeps all of the original features of the elevated promenade that flipped the Olmstedian park on its head, while introducing some new baubles, including a wide glass screen framing traffic criss-crossing 26th street below and a “cut-out” view of the deck’s substratum, where the trademark concrete planks are stripped away to reveal the platform’s substructure.

There’s also the “flyover” (above), a catwalk ascending above the main path into a “shady canopy of sumac and magnolia trees, allowing an undulating terrain of shadowy groundcover to fill in below”—a narrative apparently warranting donors’ name—and what will probably be the park’s most welcomed addition, a long, unobstructed lawn for lounging or picnicking.

Philip A. and Lisa Maria Falcone Flyover, aerial evening view at West 26th Street, looking South. ©Iwan Baan, 2011

But more has changed since the opening of the first section of the High Line. The architecture looming over the sides of the park has grown increasingly flashy, with starchitects and others being called in to furnish silver-screen backdrops to the spectacle. Of course, Gehry’s IAC building is nearby, accompanied last year by Jean Nouvel; further along, Neil Denari’s HL23 glistens like some Jetson-age aluminum bombshell. And Renzo Piano is set to make his mark at the foot of the High Line’s main entrance with typically ascetic designs for the new extension of the Whitney Museum.

The rapid production of such marketable architectural clout, along with the openings of countless art galleries, chic eateries, and high-end shopping have attributed to the construction of the High Line Effect. The dream is that this gleaming model of gentrification can be reproduced ad absurdum, given the tangentially right conditions, the involvement of fashionable architects, and, the most important ingredient, the procuring of salvageable decaying urban infrastructure. Cities far and wide, from Chicago to Philadelphia, Jerusalem to Rotterdam, have expressed interest in building their own elevated parks, going so far as to contacting Field Operations to consider plans (no doubt, willfully derivative) for their respective cities.

The original conception of the High Line project surely holds the most promise and the most applicable lesson to all venturing cities and urbanizing areas, that is, untapping the potential hidden within the obsolescent and the forgotten made possible through the tireless efforts of a stubbornly committed group of people dedicated to preserving and improving their city.

A ribbon of grass lawn just above 23rd Street

Source and more photos:  Architizer

High Line Website

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