Inside New York's incredible new Hudson Yards precinct
A look at New York City’s phenomenal new Hudson Yards precinct.
The US$25 billion development, known as Hudson Yards, is being built on a seven-foot-thick concrete platform atop a massive working rail yard. It’s only half-finished, but this city-within-a-city is already humming: there are skyscrapers full of office workers, elegant apartment blocks, an enormous shopping complex, destination restaurants and a multidisciplinary arts centre known as The Shed.
Along the southern and western borders of Hudson Yards, visitors can walk the High Line, a phenomenally popular elevated park that originally served as a railway goods line from the 1930s to the 1960s before falling into disuse. Or they can stroll down to the water’s edge and sun themselves in Hudson River Park.
The High Line, weaving between Manhattan buildings (image by Martin Adolffson).
Directly south, in Chelsea, there’s world-class architecture to admire and some of the city’s most prestigious art galleries to discover. A little farther south, the trendy Meatpacking District and the huge Whitney Museum offer yet more things to see and do.
This patch of the west side is Manhattan’s new centre of gravity – it’s buzzing with the culture, cosmopolitanism and commerce that have long made New York one of the world’s most fascinating destinations. And yet, only a few years ago, locals and travellers routinely skipped over the entire area.
Locals relaxing in the neighbourhood by afternoon light (image by Martin Adolffson).
In fact, when a small stretch of the High Line first opened in 2009, expectations were low. Back then, butchers still toiled in the Meatpacking District, Hudson Yards didn’t exist and West Chelsea was a nondescript mix of old warehouses and public housing.
“We never anticipated how this would grow,” says Robert Hammond, a local resident who helped dream up the park and co-founded Friends of the High Line, the not-for-profit that administers it. “We weren’t sure if people would come at all.”
But Hammond and his fellow residents persevered, opening a second section of the High Line to the public in 2011, and another in 2014. Word spread and visitors began arriving in droves, keen to explore an old-school New York neighbourhood dotted with wooden water towers, old gas stations and historic apartment blocks.
The High Line from above (courtesy Unsplash).
Today, the High Line sees more visitors than the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim combined. “When we began, our ultimate goal was to attract 300,000 people per year,” Hammond says. “Last year, we had 7.2 million.” Part of the appeal is the growing program of events that Friends of the High Line organises on-site – everything from classical music to stargazing.
The High Line’s success has fuelled a building boom in West Chelsea, and some of the world’s most renowned architects are erecting mini masterpieces along its route. A handful of these are now complete, such as Zaha Hadid’s futuristic apartment building at 528 West 28th Street, which has already enticed celebrities Ariana Grande and Sting.
Futuristic building facades in the Hudson Yards precinct (image by Martin Adolffson).
Others are due for completion next year, including perhaps the most ambitious of them all: the Eleventh (also known as the XI) by charismatic Danish “starchitect” Bjarke Ingels. It consists of two dramatically twisting towers, the taller of which rises 36 storeys. When finished, the XI will house some of New York City’s most luxurious apartments and a new hotel by Six Senses, the group best known for its environmentally conscious beach resorts.
Ingels thinks the layout and mix of buildings in Chelsea make it a uniquely appealing place for a modern architect to operate. “Here you have this great assortment of really big warehouses and quite significant small buildings by some quite significant architects,” he says. “And you have a little bit more breathing room than you do in other neighbourhoods. You have a walkable neighbourhood around you with tonnes of restaurants and galleries, and then you have the riverside park and the sunset over the water.”
The distinctive exterior facade of the Vessel, at Hudson Yards (supplied).
Another drawcard for residents and visitors is the lower west side’s growing collection of significant cultural attractions. Even before the High Line took off, Chelsea was home to many of New York’s best commercial art galleries, which were housed in old factories and warehouses. Today, fans of contemporary art shouldn’t miss Pace Gallery, the Gagosian, David Zwirner Gallery and others.
Then there’s the Whitney Museum, one of New York’s most cherished cultural institutions. For decades, it was located uptown, but in 2015 it moved into a splendid Renzo Piano-designed building in the Meatpacking District, bringing with it a permanent collection that includes Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jackson Pollock and other titans of American contemporary art.
Whitney Museum (courtesy Unsplash).
Not much meat is sold in the Meatpacking District any more. Instead, this enclave at the southern tip of the High Line has become one of Manhattan’s trendiest locales, with atmospheric cobblestone streets and low-slung historic buildings plus an array of boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs. It’s also home to The Standard, a distinctive hotel that straddles the High Line and serves as a high-energy base camp for visitors to the area.
Those in search of a restorative night’s sleep might prefer the just-opened Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards. An offshoot of the upscale Equinox gym chain, the hotel promises “total regeneration” via soundproof bedrooms with blackout blinds, hi-tech mattresses and health-club-inspired minibars. Guests can book from about AU$1000 per night.
The rooftop pool at Equinox Hotel (courtesy Equinox Hotel).
Thankfully, not everything at Hudson Yards is eye-wateringly expensive. At the Shed, edgy arts practitioners such as Björk perform daily, with tickets starting at about US$20. Many performances and workshops are free. There’s also Vessel, a gargantuan public sculpture comprising hundreds of interlocking staircases that can be walked (and photographed) in seemingly endless combinations. The Vessel has elicited mixed reactions, but whether you love it or hate it, it is a colossus worth seeing.
After you’ve walked the High Line and the Vessel, repair to Mercado Little Spain, a food hall inside the mall at Hudson Yards that brings together the talents of the Adrià brothers (of elBulli fame) and chef and humanitarian José Andrés.
Here, you can wander between stalls and restaurants and sample superlative Spanish cuisine, from the molecular gastronomy of elBulli to vibrant paella and sweet, fluffy churros. There are several bars for toasting, too, making this European outpost the perfect place to wrap up a day on Manhattan’s ever-evolving lower west side.
Words by Dan F Stapleton