There is a spot, walking north on the High Line toward West 30th Street, where Hudson Yards looks almost all right. The Shed, wearing a pillowy parka made from weatherproof ETFE panels, slides in from the left. The transparent lobby of 10 Hudson Yards overlaps it from the right, and the copper bowl of Vessel sparkles in the winter sunlight. The towers rise beyond: black-and-blue 15 Hudson Yards farther west, tan-striped 35 Hudson Yards to the north. There’s a hint of variety even though every material is hard and neutral, every edge geometric. There are even a couple of curves. It looks like a real city.
You’re coming off a curve yourself, as the High Line’s former rail trestle arcs, for the first time, out toward the river. Now there’s a new path open to the north, connecting you to the shops and the restaurants and the Equinox and the offices and the condos and the Instagrammable ball pits that live inside those muted grids.
But as you keep walking, those pieces disengage from each other—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven objects standing on a super-engineered platform. No one thought to bring any crayons, much less softness, or texture, or water. Help will eventually arrive, in the form of 200 mature trees and 28,000 plants, as well as a 200-foot-long handmade wooden bench, specified by landscape architects Nelson Byrd Woltz. Opening at the tail end of New York winter is not kind to the landscape, but it is hard to believe the plants will be enough to mitigate the unrelenting angles of the new city-within-a-city.
The problem of the design of Hudson Yards, the 28-acre, $25 billion development built on a platform over Penn Station’s working railroad tracks, is that there is no contrast. No weirdness, no wildness, nothing off book. The megaproject was built by an all-star team of designers, but in the end, it’s impossible to tell the difference between the corporate and the artistic.