Elevated Parks on Obsolete Transportation Infrastructure

The Case of Barrio 31

“Infrastructure’s long-term value, whether used or disused, is tied to a place. It is a local and material response to societal and economic challenges. Today we spend so much time immersed in the mediating environments of networked society, staring at data through monitors and at highways through windshields, that we are prone to forget infrastructure’s powerfully physical nature.” – Ian Baldwin, 2019


This report presents a series of themes, considerations, and recommendations related to the practice of redeveloping obsolete urban transportation infrastructures. Given the pace of economic restructuring and ongoing urbanization, many cities find themselves inheriting elevated rail or road infrastructures that have outlived their original use. While many of these redundant infrastructures are razed to make room for new forms of development, an increasing number are being offered a second life as elevated public parks. The practice of adapting defunct urban infrastructures came to prominence in the 1990s with the conversion of the Promenade Plantée in Paris, a 4.7-kilometer-long elevated walkway atop an abandoned railway viaduct in Paris’s 12ème arrondissement. The practice was further developed during the 2000s with The High Line, a 2.3-kilometer-long park built atop a disused stretch of elevated freight rail line in western Manhattan. Following their success, elevated parks proliferated during the 2010s, a trend that is expected to continue to accelerate. In light of the wide and rapid acceptance of this mode of adaptive reuse, as well as the ubiquity of derelict transit-destined areas in cities around the world, this research project draws on a comparative, case-based study of such parks in order to inform the discipline of landscape and urban design.

The specific context for this analysis is the case of the IIIia Highway in the Barrio 31 area of Buenos Aires City, for which a similar redevelopment project was recently proposed as part of a larger urban integration plan. The work presented in this report, in line with the Office’s goal of addressing societal and cultural conditions associated with modern urbanization through design research, organizes and visually represents complex arrays of information related to Illia Highway’s prospective conversion. Instead of producing a definitive design, it negotiates between analysis and proposal, using simulations and scenario-based projections to reveal relevant conditions that can serve to later guide the design processes.

This research project revolves around a series of key themes — identity, accessibility, activity, hydrology, ecology, energy, and materiality — drawn from studying international precedents and presented in order of priority. Each theme, developed over the course of a chapter, serves as a lens through which to tackle areas of interest. As such, “Identity,” as a topic, becomes a point of departure for thinking about the materialization of the park; “Accessibility” refers to issues of entry, as points of access are related to the intricate and narrow spatial conditions of Barrio 31’s buildings; “Activity” proposes thinking through programming and events throughout the whole section of the highway; “Hydrology” illustrates how water can be both a challenge and an asset for the park; “Ecology” displays the interconnectedness between users, vegetation, biodiversity and microclimates; “Energy” considers the influence of the sun patterns and the need for shade in the proposed park; and “Materiality” helps to anticipate the volume of materials to be dealt with and notes the ramifications thereof. In addition, direct guidance is offered for the development of various scenarios along with advice on the convening of academic and professional peer reviews and the documentation and dissemination of findings. The Barrio 31 case in Buenos Aires is assessed in relation to similar projects in New York, Chicago, Paris, Barcelona and Seoul, integrating different forms of knowledge in order to foster social, cultural, and environmental renewal. With an ecological framework as its background, Barrio 31’s proposed park stands not only to join the city’s roster of celebrated landmarks, but also to set a new precedent for urban redevelopment around the world.

A synthetic representation of the precedents used is compiled at the end of the report in the form of a comparative catalog. This report ends with a series of general observations and recommendations, as well as a small list of winning proposals in the international competition for the design of the elevated park.

Project Team: Charles Waldheim (PI), Daniel Quesada Lombó, Erin Yook, Mercedes Peralta, Aziz Barbar, Daniel Ibañez, Sofia Xanthakou, Lane Raffaldini Rubin, and Charlie Gaillard.