No one likes the hole in the west side of Manhattan—the black accordion of train tracks between 30th and 33rd Streets, west of 10th Avenue. But the 26-acre property has confounded developers for decades, mostly because the expense of building a platform over the railyards means that only a cluster of very tall buildings, with very large floorplates, can provide the kind of return investors hope for. But in December the Related Companies, headed by Stephen M. Ross, broke ground on the eastern half of the Hudson Yards development, one of the largest construction project in New York City history, with nearly 13 million square feet of office, residential, and retail space. Ross hopes Hudson Yards will compete, on a global scale, with financial districts like Shanghai’s Pudong and London’s Canary Wharf. But that begs the question: Will it become a windswept no-man’s-land of mega-buildings, or—as its designers hope—a new Manhattan neighborhood worth hanging out in?
The answer will depend in part on the work of Manhattan architect Bill Pedersen, whose firm, Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), is master-planning the entire Hudson Yards development (as well as designing several of its largest buildings). Pedersen says he has focused his attention on the High Line, the elevated park that has transformed the lower west side of Manhattan and, when its third phase is completed, will loop around the Hudson Yards site. Tearing down that portion of the High Line, which is something real estate developers once vowed to do, is now out of the question, according to Pedersen. In fact, the first building to be built at Hudson Yards will overhang the High Line, bringing the park and a skyscraper together in what the architect hopes will be a comfortable alliance. From there, the High Line will run alongside the Culture Shed, a vast telescoping gallery and performance space, and the Culture Tower, a condo building with a distinctive four-leaf clover shape, both designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Rockwell Group. Then it turns north to meet another skyscraper, this one by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Much of the development is still being designed; meanwhile an exhibition and related programs at the Center for Architecture in New York, Design in the Heart of New York (through June 30), is taking a close look at how Hudson Yards will impact the city.