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Into the Light

About eight years ago, architectural historian Matt Postal read about two fellows who wanted to transform a derelict railroad structure into a park. Matt soon got the go-ahead for a walking tour, “In the Shadow of the High Line,” from then-tours director Jill Anson. Neither Jill nor Matt knew if anyone would be interested. Sixty people showed up the first time MAS offered the tour — and the second time it was offered, and the third. Matt continued to lead the walk every year, as the park became a reality. For years, tour takers wended their way along the base of the High Line, through a then-raffish neighborhood of warehouses and meat markets. Last Saturday, on a perfect summer’s day, Matt led MAS members up the stairs and into the light. They had a shared, audible response. Wow. High Line Park is two to three times the width of its Parisian inspiration, a linear park with space for walkers and for its imaginative design. It is filled with evocative references and wild flowers that one might find in the disturbed areas of a railroad right-of-way, though probably not so well composed nor with a palette from violet and periwinkle blue to hot pink and creamy white, with shots of yellow. The lighting is so unobtrusive that Matt had to point it out–under a railing, in the midst of a planting bed. A journalist on the walk wondered if the High Line will soon lose its appeal, since it can’t offer the variety and scale of a large urban park. “Never,” says this walker. The views are from a greater height than the top of a double-decker bus, but with the same exhilarating sense of seeing the city from a new perspective. And those new buildings! One cluster contained one by Frank Gehry next to one by Jean Nouvel next to one by Shigeru Ban. The High Line will soon be a top architectural destination. Kudos to architects Diller, Scofidio and Renfro, and to the landscape architects of Field Operations and, most of all, to Joshua David and Robert Hammond and all Friends of the High Line. They have given New York a splendid gift. Matt Postal will be leading future tours atop the High Line, but if you can’t wait, purchase a copy of 10 Architectural Walks in Manhattan and follow Matt’s directions. The MAS book is co-authored by Francis Morrone and available at Urban Center Books (MAS members get a 10% discount).