Seven to Save

The Preservation League of New York State announced its third annual Seven to Save list for 2002 at a recent Municipal Art Society (MAS) press conference. Two New York City sites are on it: Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK and the High Line, the abandoned elevated freight line that snakes 1.45 miles through the lower west side of Manhattan.

These two sites illustrate what makes certain designs enduring. The curvilinear TWA building, built between 1956 and 1961, is in danger of being swallowed up by the Port Authority’s plan to build a new terminal curving around the old one, making it marginal and treating it as an artifact.

The terminal’s legacy is powerful and has influenced a number of important works, including Australia’s Sydney Opera House (Saarinen was a member of that competition jury), and the winged shapes of many of Santiago Calatrava’s designs.

“You begin your experience of flight when you enter this building,” says Preservation League president Scott P. Heyl. “Development will diminish that singular experience.”

Cautioning that he is not an automatic preservationist, Terence Riley, chief curator at the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, weighed in with his support for the preservation of the TWA terminal. “I do believe it is possible to supercede certain design accomplishments,” he says, but the merit of Saarinen’s design is clear. “It is one of the most important buildings in the second half of the 20th century.”

The High Line demands protection because of its unique industrial heritage, Heyl says. The freight trains are gone, but the site is prime and the views unique; one can immediately envision a path down the middle of the currently overgrown railbed.

Friends of the High Line wants to create a remarkable public space by converting the structure to a pedestrian walkway similar to the Promenade Platee in Paris.

The High Line’s fate is in the courts. In late December, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani consented to the demolition of the line in an eleventh-hour move. Friends of the High Line are fighting this on the grounds that this move did an end run around the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and so is illegal. Although there was a standing demolition order in place from the Surface Transportation Board for 10 years, deciding who would pay for it postponed action. Supporters of the High Line are hoping for a political windshift with the new city administration, as Mayor Bloomberg supported the High Line when he was running for office. A few of his remarks are included in the MAS’s High Line exhibit, which runs until March 5.

Additionally, the National Endowment for the Arts recently awarded a $30,000 grant to Friends of the High Line for a design competition for future use plans and designs for the former freight line.

Categories: Cities