A Detour and a Highline

Peter Mauss taking a photo of Knut Wold’s sculpture along the

Sognefjellveien, Norway

Detour: Architecture and Design Along 18 Nation Tourist Routes in Norway is the title of the exhibition and symposium I attended recently in New York City. My interest came out of a road trip taken back in 2007 where I happened on some of the projects featured in the exhibit. It was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of Knut Wold, artist and coordinator for the National Tourist Route Project. Knut is a sculptor who’s studio is a working quarry. All his stone cutting and carving is done outdoors. The soft spoken Norwegian in his sky-blue down parka could never be mistaken for a Manhattanite. Nevertheless, he did a great job leading an interested group of locals on a tour through the exhibit.
Also in attendance was Peter Zumthor, a Swiss architect and winner of the 2009 Pritzker Prize. He later gave the keynote address for the symposium at the Guggenheim Museum. I got to quiz Mr. Zumthor about the unique method he used to represent a bedrock landscape in a scale model he made for one of the Tourist Route Projects. Small chunks of charcoal, just like you’d find in the remnants of a campfire, were pasted on a substructure, to surprisingly good effect.

But, as is often the case, a side track to the symposium visit proved to be of equal interest. And in this case it was, really, a side track that caught my attention. The Highline is an elevated public park on the lower west side of Manhattan. The steel superstructure was built in 1930 to elevate freight train traffic 30′ above the city streets. Unused since 1980 the now 20 block long track bed is becoming a beautiful addition to New York’s park system. The hardscape design and planting layout is in keeping with the history of the Highline. For twenty years the line was in abandonment. Volunteer plants sprouted. It became a wilderness in the heart of the city. The park gardens are now carefully tended but have keep the natural feel. Many of the original rail tracks have been left in place. Pedestrian paths are built of concrete beams laid lengthwise along the line. Construction continues on the Highline. I was intrigued by a tool being used on the site to move the concrete beams. Those who move heavy materials around on a regular basis might also like to take note of the Sumner Grasshopper. It looks like  device that could be very useful on a stone wall construction site.

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