Friday, September 4, 2009

Walk the (High)Line

By Ashley Takacs, special to the Weekly-Wright-Up

After sustaining myself for months on New York Times slideshows and various design blogs, I finally got to live out my architecture-geek fantasy and walk the Highline in person. When friends heard of my plan, they feared I had joined a circus troupe or some kind of Johnny Cash tribute band. And while all that sounds rather exciting, my weekend in New York City was far more benign. In fact, it was merely a walk in the park – the Highline Park, to be more specific.

If they had been reading The Weekly Wright-Up, my friends would have known that the Highline is a park built on an abandoned elevated railway that once supplied meatpackers and manufacturers on Manhattan's West Side. Designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro integrated everything from the old tracks (which now host rolling chaise lounges) to the wildflowers growing among the rusted railroad ties.

The Highline’s rampant success (the media darling sees 20,000 visitors daily, among them Kevin Bacon, Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton) proves that modern cities can embrace their industrial heritage and promote sustainability, all while pleasing tourists, crabby locals and the haughtiest of architecture critics. But, as Buffalonians, it’s hard not to feel just a little left out. New York, it seems, is like the sibling who always gets the new bike for Christmas, while Buffalo get’s shafted with a pair of socks (hand-me-downs no less).

With its vibrant industrial past, the Queen City is primed for such a project. As someone who has grown up in the shadow of the derelict Wurlitzer building, Buffalo’s myriad industrial relics have always managed to capture my imagination (In fact, I’ve always dreamed of living in a grain elevator).

It turns out that I’m not alone in my fascination. Last March, I read an article buried on an inside page of the Buffalo News about Ran Webber. Webber imagines the Buffalo Skyway creatively re-engineered to function as a signature green multi-use mega-structure, complete with a glass enclosed green roof and pedestrian pathway – sound familiar? The design would effectively create a year-round garden path from downtown to the lakefront. Sadly, such repurposing of the Skyway has gotten little press since that article six months ago.

Perhaps with the Highline’s recent success, local developers will feel inspired to take the plunge. But, unlike the Highline, which had the luxury of celebrity boosters and a location in an already thriving district, the Skyway project’s risk is amplified by the fact that Buffalo is hardly booming. The stakes are greater here, but so are the rewards. Developers would be building more than a park in a swank neighborhood; they would be embarking on a project with the potential to help bring a city back to life.

1 comment:

Ran Webber said...

Eric, I am ever so pleased that you mentioned my Adaptive-Reuse concept for the Buffalo Skyway. In the design that we are working on we are making every effort to visually reference the architectural
treasures of Buffalo, either in structural form or by use of materials. We plan to make a unmistakable visual reference to the Martin House in our design.
We plan on a public unveiling during the Spring of 2010. Just so that I can describe the concept in my own words I have entered this comment.

Buffalo Designer, Ran Webber, is proposing that 3/4 of the existing Buffalo Skyway be closed to traffic and re-engineered to create a High-Tech, Multi-Use, "Green", Megastructure which would feature two hanging floors below the former roadway. The other 1/4 of the Skyway consists of entrance and exit ramps that would be removed and the land made available for other development.
Situated above the ground-level Erie Canal Era Development, the de-commissioned overhead roadway would then also be developed to feature a "Green Roof"/glass enclosed mall w/tram to provide pedestrian access between Downtown and the Outer Harbor of Buffalo, NY. He envisions such a structure utilizing and showcasing 20 new and emerging Green technologies, spawning a new "Green" commerce and manufacturing center throughout the former surrounding industrial Brownfields and rail yards. He envisions the High-Tech architecturally re-designed structure being used as a Great Lakes Environmental Technology and Commerce Center. He also sees the Green Roof/mall being partially utilized as a horticultural college mandated to care for the Green Roof and surrounding park areas. A great deal of the structure would be also used for "Green Power" generation. The new multiple two-story modules hanging below the former overhead highway would feature multi-use areas to be created as museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes as well as residential and business suites.
The visionary design concept would: 1. eliminate all arguments for demolition. 2. create 850,000 sq. ft. of new multi-use real estate in the space that has been a blind spot for waterfront developers. 3. maintain Buffalo's Signature Skyline and highligh the panoramic vistas gained from maintaining and re-utilizing the lofty viewing platform for pedestrians. 4. save having to bear the costs of demolition and the resulting necessity of creating a landfill of Skyway construction debris. 5. contribute to solving the region's/planet's impending environmental challenges. See: the "Skyway to the Future" video presentation listed below for the many other advantages of this Adaptive Reuse project -, also see the video "From Grey to Green" at
The most optimistic benefit of this visionary Adaptive Reuse Project would be that this design concept would foster forward-looking, 21st Century "Green" commerce and manufacturing that, in turn, would physically stand above and compliment the historical 19th Century Erie Canal Era restoration situated below. A relevant catchphrase is - "Buffalo-from Grain to Green". Finally, Webber believes that within 30 years the entire globe will be facing numerous environmental catastrophes and for Buffalo to have concentrated it resources entirely on Erie Canal Era tourism is to blindly ignore the warnings of science and sound city planning and economic principles.
Please see: The Most Terrifying Video at:
See more at:,