Construction of the Future

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted March 20, 2014

Vision of the future from 1920

When we dream, we’re the star of a show where anything is possible. But when we rise up out of bed to face the day, it’s back to business as usual. We’re programmed to know the difference between reality and fantasy, and we’re fine that way.

Some people seem to live in a dream. They come up with some unbelievably crazy schemes that don’t necessarily come from any reality that you or I might know.

Yet these same ideas could just change the way we all live.

For centuries, people have provided wild visions of what life will be like in the future. Some of them were prescient, others just ridiculous. At the rate technology advances today, some of the outrageous predictions from history don’t seem all that crazy.

It’s 2014 and our cars still aren’t zipping through the air like they did in The Fifth Element, but we have to go no further than to the High Line of New York City to see certain grand sci-fi illusions being put to the test.

NYC’s Megastructure

The NYC High Line was built in the 1930s as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project that lifted freight traffic 30 feet into the air. Before that, there was so much street level traffic and accidents that 10th Avenue became known as “Death Avenue.”

By 1980, as times and traffic patterns changed, High Line ran its last train and was put out of commission.

Thirteen miles of unused rails and construction were left behind.

Slowly, the city found innovative ways to use the space, turning it into an elevated urban green space. It really is turning into something out of one of our dreams – relatively speaking, anyway.

In Manhattan this spring, heavy construction will begin on the largest private development in U.S. History, called Hudson Yards. Not only is this project massive in scale, but it will float above an existing train depot on an artificial foundation.

The West Side Yard is a rail yard that lies between the High Line and two blocks from Penn Station. It is a critical nerve center in NYC’s transit system. The 26-acre depot serves overflow Long Island Railroad trains during rush hour, with 30 tracks in total, and has space for storage and maintenance, too.

What’s interesting is that when the yard first opened in the 1980s, its engineers had the foresight to see a day when the area might be paved over, so they left small gaps around the edges of the yard for future structures to be laid without disrupting traffic.

That foresight is now paying off, but builders have far grander ambitions than anything they were thinking about back in 1980. Hudson Yards will comprise of four state of the art skyscrapers and a nucleus of other towers.

…And it will float?

Not exactly, but a brand new neighborhood will be added to Manhattan – 65,000 people will live and work there – from schools, to streets, and restaurants. It will be a brand new cornucopia for the hustle and bustle Manhattanites to call home, and it will appear effectively out of thin air.

Hundreds of caissons will be laid deep within the bedrock below the tracks and filled with concrete, much like the foundation of the Brooklyn Bridge, and as deep as 80 feet down on the West Side of Manhattan.

Then comes the mega-platform, piece by piece that will sit on top – hence, the floating analogy. Once that’s all in place and supported by additional tresses, then the engineered architecture will begin construction – apartments, restaurants, schools, and the four huge skyscrapers – all-encompassing some 17 million square feet.

This thing will be incredibly large an unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. And during construction trains will run like usual, day in and day out, right underneath it all.

High Line Copycats

NYC’s High Line and its abandoned railroad may have kicked tiered architecture off here in the states, and Hudson Yards will be the largest example thus far, but there are some interesting things sprouting up in different parts of the world, too.

The whole concept really started in Paris with the Promenade Plantee. Completed in 1993, this inspired work to begin on the High Line. Its gardens fill old Vincennes railways and intersect different shops and other parks to create a wonderful display.

In the Rotterdam, Netherlands, they have the Luchtsingel – a sky bridge that weaves through traffic and unites the districts of the city.

If we go in the opposite direction -underground- and travel to London, we’ll find that they have plans for an underground mushroom garden – the “low line” if you will, or Fletcher Priest Architects – that would take advantage of a network of tunnels and rails under the busy streets of Oxford. They could feature underground cafés and similar public attractions.

Chicago and San Francisco are getting in on the action state-side and Mexico City has plans of its own, all to take advantage of wasted or otherwise unused space.

What Dreams May Come

This is a design and architecture concept from the 1920’s, and it’s taken almost a hundred years of engineering and technology to make it a reality. While we’re not technically “floating” we’ve advanced far enough to start making some very old dreams come true.

As we continue to strive forward, these new, fresh takes on the world will bring eco-savvy blueprints that will offer fresh air, clean water, and a world that knows no such thing as a traffic jam.
Okay, maybe I’m still dreaming about that last part, but maybe.

And while Manhattan will be busy above ground this spring, it also has plans for a Lowline, or an underground park of a three-block-long space below the Lower East Side’s Delancey Street.

Hudson Yards New York Development Project

These ambitious dreams often create tremendous outflows of cash to architecture and engineering firms, raw materials providers, construction companies, energy, and real estate, and mixed-use development projects touch lots of different parts of the economy.

It pays to dream big.

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