New York celebrates 10 years of the High Line: Six buildings you must see

It is the 10th anniversary of the High Line, arguably the world's most unexpected and controversial garden, which opened in New York City in 2009. And a decade on, its critics silenced, the High Line is finally completed.

It runs 2.3 kilometres, south to north, from the city's once humble Meatpacking District in lower Manhattan to Hudson Yards, the 11-hectare, $US25-billion-dollar renewal project that is the largest and most expensive reinvention of Manhattan since construction started on the Rockefeller Centre in 1931.

The first stage of Hudson Yards – built on a gigantic platform over the still-serving 19th-century rail yards – was officially opened in March and the final 100-metre spur of the High Line opened earlier this month.

This particular "west side story" is a lesson in how to keep historic buildings and infrastructure by reinventing them, while transfiguring a moribund, traditionally industrial area into a vibrant new part of a city brimming with world-class architecture.

Various New Yorkers wanted to demolish the High Line, including Rudy Giuliani, now President Trump's personal attorney. One of Giuliani's last acts as New York mayor was to sign the High Line's death warrant, believing it to be an ugly reminder of a bleak past.

At that time New York was bidding to host the 2012 Olympics and planned to build a stadium (later to be home of the New York Jets NFL team) over the rail yards. But the city lost out to London. A win-win for New Yorkers?

Giuliani's successor as mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, supported the conversion of the High Line as well as the reimagination of the rail yards which he called "Manhattan's last frontier".

Today 5 million people walk the High Line every year. Naturally, most have their gaze cast downwards as they admire the exquisite planting and landscape designs that transformed a track of death – taking cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry for slaughter to feed the hungry metropolis – into a 21st-century symbol of hope and rebirth.

However, this Saturday afternoon, I'm looking up. Our group has spent the morning at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the $422 million museum, designed by Renzo Piano, which opened in 2015. From its sculpture garden we can see not only the High Line but one of the few meat-processing plants still left in the Meatpacking District

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We also wandered through the Saturday morning crowds cramming the popular Chelsea Market with its cafes and gourmet outlets. The High Line actually runs through this 1890s building, originally constructed as the headquarters and bakery of the National Biscuit Company – or Nabisco. "The birthplace of the Oreo" is now owned by Google and above the food hall are offices occupied by it, YouTube and other media companies.

So though the amazingly varied gardens and the live entertainment of the High Line are enchanting, my attention today is on its architecture. As you explore the High Line (and being a railway, it's level and absolutely compliant with anyone in a wheelchair) please raise your eyes to marvel at these buildings.

DIAMOND IN THE SKY

Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg was an influential High Line supporter and early Meatpacking District resident. "Everybody told me I was crazy, that it was full of drag queens, that it smelled awful because of all the butchers," the designer told Architectural Digest. "All of that is true." Her penthouse bolthole above DVF HQ (she and media mogul husband Barry Diller own many other homes) was designed by WORKac. A geometric set of angled windows trap the sun and disperse the light through computerised mirrors and 3000 Swarovski crystal prisms.

IAC BUILDING

Not to be outdone, Diller has his own High Line bragging rights. The HQ of his Interactive Corporation was designed by Frank Gehry, and opened in 2007 (two years before the High Line). It is best seen from Chelsea Piers, or at night from the High Line when lights emphasise its sculptural qualities.

520 WEST 28TH STREET

Seriously, they need to come up with a better name for this building with 39 residences and its own sculpture garden. The only NYC building designed by acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid before she died in 2016, it's praised for its "graceful curves".

THE "COACH" BUILDING

The 52-floor 10 Hudson Yards – whose anchor tenant is fashion label Coach, which began in 1941 as a leather workshop making wallets and handbags – is the first building you'll see of Hudson Yards if you're walking north. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, it opened in 2016.

THE VESSEL

This honeycomb-like structure of 154 interconnected flights of stairs and 80 viewing landings is Manhattan's answer to the Eiffel Tower and gives you a fabulous introduction to the first phase of Hudson Yards. Phase two, closest to the Hudson River, is due to begin this year. Entry is free, but book online.

THE SHED

Opened in April, this is the cultural centre of Hudson Yards. It has been designed, with a retractable shell, to host events that range across the performing arts and popular culture.

FIVE FACTS ABOUT THE HIGH LINE

In the 19th and 20 centuries – before the High Line – 10th Avenue was called Death Avenue. Ground-level trains, bringing animals to the slaughter, often ended in accidents and many dawdlers crossing the tracks – 540 by 1910 – died.

The "West Side Cowboys", horseback riders who waved red flags in front of trains, rode the ground-level tracks from the 1920s to 1941.

The first train on the High Line left Hudson Yards in 1933. The High Line cut through several buildings, including the Nabisco factory, to pick up goods bound for the rest of the US on the return trip.

The southernmost section of the High Line, from Spring Street, was demolished in the 1960s. Now the line is accessed via Gansevoort Street which explains why it appears to begin midair.

Friends of the High Line was formed 20 years ago to advocate for the High Line's preservation. By then, vegetation had taken over the disused railway.

FIVE CITIES THAT REINVENTED OLD RAILWAYS

PROMENADE PLANTEE, PARIS

In 1993, Parisians were the first to convert an elevated railway into a linear garden linking the Bastille with the Bois de Vincennes.

LOW LINE, HELSINKI

Once a freight train railway track, it is now used by an estimated 5000 cyclists a day.

THE BELTLINE, ATLANTA

Inspired by a student's master's degree thesis in 1999, this former railway corridor will eventually surround the state capital of Georgia. Parts are open as multiuse trails.

THE GOODS LINE, SYDNEY

Sure, this $15 million redevelopment of the industrial line which once connected outback meat and wool stations, via Central Station, to the wharves of Darling Harbour is minuscule by comparison, but it is much more accessible and tells its own epic story.

BLOOMINGDALE TRAIL, CHICAGO

When completed, this $US92 million "supersized" redevelopment of an industrial rail line, known as the 606, will be almost twice the length of the High Line.

TRIP NOTES

Steve Meacham travelled courtesy of Singapore Airlines and NYC & Co.

MORE

traveller.com.au/new-york

nycgo.com

thehighline.org.

FLY

Singapore Airlines flies from Singapore to Newark Liberty International three times a week. See singaporeair.com

EAT

The Meatpacking District is a food lover's nirvana, and that includes vegans.

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