From Park to Pantheon: Rem Koolhaas Latest Starchitect to Grace High Line

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

Over a dozen starchitect-designed structures sit complete along the High Line right now, and even more are under construction, including a 14-story luxury apartment complex by Zaha Hadid and the new Whitney Museum by Renzo Piano (among the projects in progress pictured below). Now, Rem Koolhaas is the latest world-renowned architect to join the list of those who are creating this 21st-century architectural theme park in West Chelsea.

With the shuttering of its iconic Breuer-designed home on museum mile, the Whitney will open the doors of its new Renzo-Piano-designed building at the foot of the High Line on May 1st.

Earlier this month, the New York Post reported that the Dutch architect will design his first ground-up building in NYC on West 18th St. Until now, Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has only designed New York interiors, such as the Prada Epicenter shop in SoHo. The opportunity comes via The Related Companies, the private real estate firm behind the new project, which is adding OMA to their roster of star-studded development projects along the High Line including the ambitious future 55 Hudson Yards.

Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and David Rockwell, New York’s Culture Shed is set to be the future section of Hudson Yards that serves as a pop-up entertainment venue.

At this point, no details on Koolhaas’s design have been revealed to the public, but the 1.45-mile-long elevated park — itself 15 years in the making — finds itself flanked by ever more building projects each year. With the completion of phase three of the High Line, the stage is set for the stars of contemporary architecture, who boost the value of West Side real estate even as they revel in it, alongside their peers.

Zaha Hadid’s first New York commission, an 11-story residential tower at 520 W. 28th Street, broke ground last year and is on schedule to open in 2016. Image via Zaha Hadid Architects

The High Line is a new nerve center for design in lower Manhattan. Take one stroll down the park and you’ve seen a veritable who’s who of contemporary design. But with such a focus on design in these neighborhoods, you can’t help but wonder: Why here? Why now? If the decaying rail line had never been a cause of concern for Joshua Davis and Robert Hammond, would these projects have ever been born?

Norman Foster’s 551 West 21st St., a 19-story residential tower, will open this year. Image via Designboom

Exposure to high design is never a bad thing, but exposure to high-priced real estate is another story. It’s no secret that the residents of West Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Hell’s Kitchen are questioning the High Line’s future impact on their neighborhoods. Sure, Carmelo can afford to live in these high-profile homes, but they remain far beyond the means of your average New Yorker.

Thomas Juul-Hansen’s double apartment complex at 505 West 19th Street will connect at street level underneath the High Line and is set to open later this year. Image via Curbed NY

This speaks to a larger cultural concern: Is highly valued design only available to the rich and famous? It’s an age-old question. Tourists and longtime residents walking the High Line can look but they can’t touch — is it enough to have the privilege of seeing these structures up close even though you may never have a chance to enter them?

Jeanne Gang is currently designing her first New York City project, the Solar Carve Tower, sited at 10th Avenue between 13th and 14th streets.

One thing is certain: The High Line has changed not only the face of Manhattan’s West Side but also urban renewal as a whole. For better or for worse, new proposals from Rome to São Paulo have drawn comparisons to the elevated park — an oversimplified characterization at best, since New York has long attracted both talent and capital when it comes to architecture. While only a lucky few can afford the proverbial view from the top, the High Line has brought more (and hopefully better) name-brand architecture to the rest of us nonetheless. We look forward to seeing what Rem has in store for us.