The High Line is a "pulling-back from architecture" say Diller and Scofidio

You have to work within the law. But they were important snapshots for us. It was never our intention. And we’re doing a factory project in China. I mostly appreciate that. In ten years it will be different still.”
Diller and Scofidio, who founded their studio in 1979 and expanded to include partner Charles Renfro in 2004,   were speaking to Dezeen at the opening of their most recent work – an installation called Musings on a Glass Box at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. It has seen so much. Had it been torn-down, you would not only have just as much new architecture going there because developers would have moved in immediately, but it would have been really ugly architecture, and you wouldn’t have had the High Line. The way we look at it is neither technophilic or technophobic. Technology is so broad that it almost covers everything. It became a ruin and it was self-seeded, all of that was what we built the thing out of. “What makes it so successful is that it’s not an architectural statement. But I think the most exciting thing is this new agency for the architect – being able to put a programme on the table and to really raise consciousness about it, find the support, and work with a whole group of people to enact change. Musings on a Glass Box installationAnna Winston: It has escalated quite quickly to really large substantial projects like the Lincoln Centre. And that’s such a discovery for New York. Theatre is real-time – you get that real-time audience reaction, which is fantastic. Musings on a Glass Box installation at the Fondation Cartier in ParisThe pair said that their ongoing interest in technology was one of the threads that connected their work, from the installations they created early on in their career through to the Blur building – a floating platform on a lake shrouded in a pavilion of man-made fog – and major projects like the refurbishment of New York’s Lincoln Centre arts complex. Originally launched to reclaim part of a disused elevated railway line, the High Line public park – designed by New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro   in collaboration with landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and Piet Oudolf – has become one of New York’s most popular public spaces. It’s just one of the things we use. We were always working with space. We’re doing two operas right now, we’re doing another book. Nobody ever questions it. It would be really not interesting if we didn’t do everything. But when we think about responsive systems, materials, and things like that… So having two forms of the same thing – like a bucket and the mediated large-scale super human vision. If we’re doing something that we haven’t done before and that we haven’t thought about, so we learn. Anna Winston: Do you think that generally in the architectural scene there’s enough thought behind the way technology is applied? But there’s something about the unique properties of the density of that area, of the post industrial quality of it. In a way there’s kind of an organic urban growth that happens. We accept that buildings get built a certain way because that’s the way that buildings have always been built. Ricardo Scofidio: I think we’d shut our doors if we didn’t. Now we have this real appetite to do so many different scales. And in a way the Promenade Plantée has fallen off as a reference, but it is still the reference. It’s an interesting experience. Vision was turned off in a way. For me, the success of it is when you look at it and you don’t see the technology. The third section of the 1.45-mile park completed in September. But you have to keep mobile and cities keep changing. The High Line itself has triggered so much positive response both in the city but also around the world. The city that we built the High Line for is now a different city. But you can sit and you can walk. He took it to court. Is that the end of the saga? Nobody ever looks at conventions. “There are more people than anticipated, it’s more of everything – more new buildings, higher rents for real estate, and all that stuff.”
“It’s a kind of paradox. The artists who were there ultimately have to leave. “The one thing people don’t get, which I find interesting, is that when we were doing it I kept saying, ‘our job is to defend the High Line from architecture’, said   Ricardo Scofidio, who co-founded US-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Elizabeth Diller. Of course, in order to have done it at all it had to be spoken about as a way for this part of the city to develop because otherwise there would have been no money put into it by the city. You have to build consensus. Not every project allows us all the freedoms to do this. Ricardo Scofidio: The one thing people don’t get, which I find interesting, is that when we were doing it I kept saying, “our job is to defend the High Line from architecture”. You want to keep doing things that are good. We’ve always come up with a project and idea and only then determined what the media was that we needed to use. What makes it so successful is that it’s not an architectural statement. With architecture you have to be much more public. You don’t think about the technology.”
Portrait by Peter Ash Lee. And one interesting thing about what constitutes an authentic experience, what constitutes artifice, or mediated experience. Diller said that they were “unsettled” about the potential for “monoculturalism,” but added that change was inevitable in New York. We’re all kind of unsettled a little bit with what potentially could happen with monoculturalism. I think Lincoln Centre and the ICA were breakthrough projects. Anna Winston: Is there a common thread between your first installations and big projects like the Lincoln Centre? Ricardo Scofidio: We did get it right. You just want to keep doing your best work wherever you have an opportunity. It’s something that’s always been on our minds. The city believed that this kind-of burnt-out area would go through a change. Anna Winston:   Did you ever expect it to be quite as popular as it is? And then to make spaces in that space in that where there’s even less to do. In ten years it will be different still. It’s just amazing. And so that’s another thing that somehow permeates a lot of our work. “We were always working with space. And we feel this nostalgia looking back at a past that can never be recreated, and a future that we don’t quite know that might be scary. It keeps changing. But then buildings started to become just one other trajectory of the work. There were things we took away from them that we could bring to other projects. The project downstairs [Musing on a Glass Box] did. You never want to make it anything less than successful. I mean that’s the problem – architects inherit bad, old ideas from programming of the past. Ricardo Scofidio: They wanted to tear it down. Anna Winston: It has been accused of being a gentrifying force. Interview: the architects behind the phenomenally popular High Line park in New York have spoken to Dezeen about how the project has changed the city and why attempts to recreate the idea in other places might struggle. That has persisted in a lot of projects since the beginning. There are more complexities. To not only inherit. Because there was so much already there. All these [installation] projects had a very short life, we did them and they disappeared. And sometimes the concept is about the technology but not often. We were simply doing things that interested us and using the way that architects conceive the world to investigate conditions which we generally don’t pay a lot of attention to. A series of investigations of things which are invisible but yet influence our daily existence. Anna Winston: What happens next? From our standpoint, we love this kind of abject part of New York. Elizabeth Diller: That’s what makes it fun. It’s like a pathological state. You can do something and really follow a research. Ricardo Scofidio: No. It’s so much about nothingness. So people just go and buy ready-made kitchens, because it’s too complicated for most brains to deal with. Elizabeth Diller: I think it’s the ability to do these larger museum projects or urban public space projects with a little bit more wisdom and with some new experiments. It’s really about growing out of what was there in a very quiet way. It just manifests in different ways and uses different media, a different toolkit. And so it becomes a reference. A number of things. The project downstairs [Musings on a Glass Box] did. And it’s involved in all of the different networks of systems that produce architecture – including politics, economics, social and cultural conditions. I’ve often said that the most difficult architectural problem is to design a kitchen. This project had an acoustic quality, the last project we did had an olfactory one, Blur was about heightened senses. So we kind of loved that discovery. A big museum in Colorado Springs. These have included proposals for a green “promenade” in London, the Goods Line railway in Sydney, a garden bridge by OMA in Washington DC and   even a “low line” scheme for tunnels in New York’s Lower East Side. Elizabeth Diller: It’s a kind of paradox. “A lot of people think it’s this big architectural statement. Elizabeth Diller: I think we’ve always been interested in technology, the world of technology. “But then buildings started to become just one other trajectory of the work.”
“We’ve always come up with a project and idea and only then determined what the media was that we needed to use,” added Scofidio. It wasn’t – it was really pulling-back from architecture. Ricardo Scofidio: No, because of the construction there there’s a section there which still has to be designed. Related story: Diller and Scofidio create “mischievous” leak inside Jean Nouvel’s glass galleryLike some of their best-known small projects, the exhibition uses different forms of technology to create an apparently low-fi effect – in this case a roof that appears to leak inside Jean Nouvel’s original glass-walled gallery building. “So if we didn’t need technology we didn’t use technology. Elizabeth Diller: The after effect that we can totally count on is that there are more people than anticipated, it’s more of everything – more new buildings, higher rents for real estate, and all that stuff… Do you still get time to investigate many projects like this? So if we didn’t need technology we didn’t use technology. The incredible irony is that here we are in Paris, the Promenade Plantée is here. Says “Why are doing it that way?” So we started investigating it. It’s a super big deal. We’re all kind of unsettled a little bit with what potentially could happen with monoculturalism,” she added. It’s the heart of who we are. What do you think about how it is changing the city? Ricardo Scofidio:   Though when you say we have been interested in technology, we’re not geeks. Ricardo Scofidio: They were snapshots. Ricardo Scofidio: We never said “one day we’ll be doing this” or “one day we’ll have a big office”. It preceded the High Line and we used the Promenade Plantée as an example of how could have a park up in the air when it was being fought for. And then it goes through that whole cycle. We were just given some opportunities. It’s really about growing out of what was there in a very quiet way.”
The High Line has had a knock-on effect of making the areas around it in New York more desirable for property owners and developers. You can’t ride a bike, you can’t play ball, you can’t do anything recreational. It’s really hard to work with budgets and deadlines and all of these collaborators and all of these voices and special interests. Elizabeth Diller: There’s nothing too small for us. We use it in design, we use it in the operation of buildings, and then we use it architecturally for different kinds of effects. Some have accused the project of having a negative gentrifying force. But you have to keep mobile and cities keep changing. We kinda throw ourselves off a cliff and have no idea, and ‘where’s our parachute’, and then we figure out ‘oh, this is how we can do it!’. “We love this part of New York. “I see a lot of proposals where people want to create High Lines and it’s just too much architecture,” said Scofidio. Elizabeth Diller: A lot of it was figuring out how much of a voice it could take. “So our feeling was that our biggest work was not screwing it up – because it was already there.”
Each section of the project has retained some portion of the self-seeded planting that had grown naturally on the structure before it was reclaimed, adding in wooden walkways, raised seating areas and viewing points.

Updated: 04.11.2014 — 15:09