Image courtesy Visualhouse/KPF
Kohn Pedersen Fox’s master plan for the Hudson Yards development sprawls along the Hudson between Tenth and Twelfth Avenues, and West 30th and West 33rd Streets.

After years of debate and delays, Hudson Yards—an ambitious plan to create a new mixed-use neighborhood from scratch over railroad tracks on Manhattan’s west side—is finally breaking ground. Excavations for the first office tower on the site, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), which also created the master plan, will begin by the first week of December, according to a source at the Related Companies, its co-developer with Oxford Properties Group.

While much of Manhattan’s waterfront suffered serious flood damage from Hurricane Sandy, the site, which sprawls along the Hudson between Tenth and Twelfth Avenues, and West 30th and West 33rd Streets, was spared. The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) stores its trains there, and its pumps worked when the water surged. Most of the development will be built atop a massive platform that will cover the tracks and allow trains to run even during construction. This should protect buildings from future storms, which have suddenly become a major worry. “Hudson Yards will have the benefit of learning from the mistakes of others” and incorporate the latest dewatering technologies, says Mitchell Moss, an urban planning professor at New York University.

The first tower, a 46-story, 1.7 million-square-foot building, with the luxury apparel company Coach as anchor tenant, will be at the far southeastern corner of the 26-acre Hudson Yards site. Construction of the $1 billion glass tower, which slopes westward before tapering to a point, is to be completed by 2015. Studios Architecture has designed the interiors for Coach; an entrance of the building will overhang a portion of the High Line. The entire development will include 14 acres of public open space and parks.

In addition to the Coach tower, KPF is designing a 1,300-foot high-rise. Connecting the two will be a five-story retail podium by Elkus Manfredi Architects, facing a landscaped plaza by Nelson Byrd Woltz. Also planned for the first phase: a 950-foot mixed-use tower with a hotel, condos, and shops, by SOM. Plus, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with the Rockwell Group, are designing a “culture shed,” a five-story moveable structure that abuts an 825-foot apartment tower that the team has also designed. The shed can roll out, like a trundle bed, to create a 55,000-square-foot performance and exhibition space.

A half-dozen structures, not yet designed, are planned for a second phase on the western side of the site. The total project, whose cost is $15 billion, isn’t expected to be completed for a decade. “This has to be the most exciting thing I’ve ever worked on,” says Bill Pedersen, 74, the lead design architect and a KPF founder.

The official start of the project caps a controversial history, from 2002 when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed building a sports stadium at the Hudson Yards site, to the city’s mega-density rezoning of the former industrial area in 2005. In 2008, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which controls the site, chose Related Companies’ plan over four competing proposals. The city has also extended a subway line to serve the new neighborhood; it’s set to open in 2014.