Yale Students Have High Ideas for Proposed City Promenade

Designs by recent graduates of Yale College and one from the Yale School of Architecture were among those whose work was honored in an international competition for a proposed rail-to-trail garden project in New York.

Five of the student designers, Ravi D’Cruz, Luan Hu, Naved Sheikh, Eugene Wong and Penny Herscovitch, whose work is featured in an exhibition in New York’s Grand Central Station, came up with their proposals for converting an unused elevated rail line into a public park as an assignment in an advanced design studio at Yale School of Architecture. Students taking the Yale course have to prepare designs for a different competition every year as their final senior project – a graduation requirement for architecture majors – according to Sophia Gruzdys, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Yale School of Architecture.

Like previous design studio projects, which include the monument to Martin Luther King Jr. and an inner city area in Berlin, this year’s rail proposal “emphasizes issues of site,” says Gruzdys.

A defunct elevated freight line along a gritty industrialized section of the Manhattan waterfront might not seem like the most obvious venue for urban pedestrians to find their way back to nature, but that is what the non-profit community organization Friends of the High Line (FHL) had in mind when it announced its competition “Designing the High Line: Ideas for Reclaiming 1.5 Miles of Manhattan.”

The designs were never meant to be built, only to explore the possibilities –“from the highly practical to the purely visionary” – the unique space presents.

The line, which runs 22 blocks from the Jacob Javits Convention Center to the Gansevoort Meat Market on the far West Side of Manhattan, was built in the 1930s and hasn’t been used since 1980. Since then, the seven-acre space, perched from 18 to 30 feet above the street, has become a natural meadowland, as wild flora propagated through self-seeding and created a rich organic soil bed through their decay.

The transformation of an abandoned urban rail line into a public park has at least one notable precedent in Paris, the Promenade Plantee, a lush landscaped walkway wending from the Bastille, in the center of the city, to the eastern suburbs.

The ideas competition launched by FHL attracted 720 entries from 36 countries, of which 100, including those by the five architecture students from the Yale College Class of 2003, are on display in New York’s Grand Central Station through July 26.

In addition to those honored by having their designs exhibited, two other Yale graduates won prestigious awards: 2002 Yale College graduate Andrew Heid received the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Award and Elijah Huge, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, received Honorable Mention. Heid, incidentally, won a major award in an international competition in Berlin last year- the 2002 project of the advanced design studio at Yale.

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345