Architect Elizabeth Diller is one of the founding partners of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R). DS+R is an architecture practice that works majorly in the fields of architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print. Diller and her co-founding partner, Ric Scofidio have been distinguished with Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list and were awarded the first MacArthur Foundation fellowship in the field of architecture. 

TedTalks for Architects: A stealthy reimagining of urban public space by Elizabeth Diller - Sheet1
A stealthy reimagining of urban public space: Video Cover_ © TED Conferences

DS+R was also awarded the Wall Street Journal Magazine’s 2017 Architecture Innovator of the Year Award and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Award, the American Academy in Rome Centennial Medal, and Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies Award. 

TedTalks for Architects: A stealthy reimagining of urban public space by Elizabeth Diller - Sheet2
Architect Elizabeth Diller_ ©Ungano+Agriodima

The studio, DS+R, is responsible and well renowned for one of the largest architecture and planning proposals in New York City: the adaptive reuse of the 1.5-mile-long High Line turned into a public park. Also, one of the studio’s international works includes the recently completed 34-acre Zaryadye Park adjoining the Kremlin in Moscow.

According to the TedX webpage, “Cities are becoming increasingly privatized: commercial real estate dominates the streets, carving up open space that once belonged to the public and selling it as a commodity to the highest bidder.” The talk ventures into the cause and effect of this ever-growing threat and takes us on a journey of her thought-provoking and revolutionizing projects aimed at creating landscapes for the public to relish and experience. This video talks about two of the above-mentioned studio projects that bring this vision to life. 

Giving an insight on the two projects, one common principle theory that was followed for both of them was to establish a community public space. While one is an adaptive reuse initiative, the other is a brand-new greenfield initiative. However, they both latch onto the same nerve of bringing the masses to reconfigured green spaces. Both of these projects aimed at allowing the residents of the city to experience nature in the heart of the city; to enable the coexistence of masses(built) and voids(landscapes).

TedTalks for Architects: A stealthy reimagining of urban public space by Elizabeth Diller - Sheet3
the High Line _ ©Eric Heras

Elizabeth Diller describes the aspirational values attached to the designing of the High Line. She mentions the fragility of the site that was an obstruction preventing it from being shared with the public. As Elizabeth Diller beautifully puts it, “We reinterpreted the DNA of this weird, self-seeded ecosystem that was half natural and half man-made, into a hybrid we called agritecture.” Usually, parks are designed to be an escape from city life. However, the High Line was envisaged to be a portal into the city’s urban realm. Situated over the fast-paced New York life below, the High Line became a place to experience an alternative New York.

The initiative in Moscow was very different. Considering the vulnerability that congregation spaces pose from the opposition, governments try to enforce their regulations on them. The design brief DS+R received discouraged large open spaces, possibly out of concern for potential public assemblies and social unrest. The studio addressed this by creating multifunctional open meadows and plazas. 

A principle called wild urbanism was introduced in place of manicured gardens and restricted inventories of official plantings. The park was envisaged to house native plants, brought in from the four major regional landscapes of Russia. This was their stealthy move and hence it was embraced as an expression of national pride. In contrast to typical parks in Moscow, this park is unscripted and promotes integration in the landscape.

TedTalks for Architects: A stealthy reimagining of urban public space by Elizabeth Diller - Sheet4
Zaryadye Park_ ©Iwan Baan

This talk was presented at an official TED conference IN 2020. This 10-minute talk gives an insight on how rapidly growing urban cities need these breather spaces in them for the cities to qualify as healthy environments for their citizens. It’s an eye-opener as to how we view public spaces and how they should be perceived as. 

On a concluding note, the speaker also talks about the unprecedented, potentially negative effects of these interventions on the surrounding real estate. The speaker then goes onto talking about an event that turned into a movement to reduce these impacts. However, the ever-increasing footfall barely reduced the impact. The speaker adds that all urban projects need to have a comprehensive analysis of projected impacts before the execution that should lead to the ultimate decision in terms of execution of the project. 

The talk gives an overview of all the measures a designer needs to take while designing urban spaces. However, it enforces on understanding the need of them in the first place. 

This is a must-watch for all Urban designers and Planners in the making. Find the link to this amazing and enriching TED talk below:

A stealthy reimagining of urban public space – YouTube


Designing for change has always been an aspiration. This is me doing the same through words. My interests in the field include Research, Sustainable strategies and Urban design and hope to work on similar lines in the future.