Certainly, the High Line, has been discussed, written about and studied almost to the point of saturation. The park, even with its critics, has been incredibly successful in catapulting Field Operations and even on a larger scale the field of landscape architecture into recognition and discourse. (If you have not yet been acquainted with the New York City park, please forgive my brazen assumption and definitely check it out).
As a landscape architecture student in upstate New York, I visited the High Line multiple times throughout my undergrad as well as studied and critiqued it. Thus when I found myself yet again in New York City this past weekend, I did not feel a pressing need to ascend to the elevated park. However, while visiting the new Whitney Museum (also definitely worth checking out) I realized I, as a self-respecting landscape designer, was too conveniently close to the High Line not to visit the raised promenade. Thus I once again climbed the steps of the acclaimed project.
As I summited, I realized in all my visits I had never been on the High Line at nighttime. Immediately, I felt as if I had stepped into a serene forest far from the bustling city below. Where I had momentarily been in a concrete and steel city flooded with overhead lights, cars and people, I had entered into a vegetated pedestrian haven, accentuated with minimal lighting. The lighting of the park all occurs below eye level. Often times the underside of the handrails or the iconic cantilevered benches are lit, illuminating the path safely while preserving the feel of a dark enveloping forest. The design, by L’Observatoire International, purposely utilizes low height lights to sharply contrast the glaring, bright, overhead lights from the city below, while subtly illuminating the floating urban oasis. As the vegetation opens up, iconic views of the New York City nighttime skyline are enhanced by the minimal low lighting, which does not compete with the sparkling horizon.
In the larger field of landscape architecture, much of the discourse surrounding lighting leans towards safety while complying with dark night guidelines. I feel there is oftentimes an inclination to saturate a space with overhead lighting to promote this ¨feeling of safety¨. However, the High Line, with its minimal, low lighting design, is a stark and successful example of a different approach to safely lighting an urban public space.