2012-09-14

Co.Exist

The Lowline, New York's Revolutionary Underground Park, Says Let There Be Light

The Kickstarter-funded project to open a park in an abandoned underground trolley terminal takes a step closer to reality this weekend, as the organizers debut amazing tech to bring enough sunlight underground to grow plants.

New Yorkers can get their first peek at the technology required to construct a proposed park in an underground abandoned trolley station. A year ago (almost to the day). the Lowline project teased the imaginations of New Yorkers and dazzled park lovers everywhere by releasing dreamy renderings of a lush park paradise-to-be in a most unlikely place: below ground. And not just below ground, but below Delancey Street, one of the most disparaged and dangerous stretches of asphalt in the whole city for a pleasant pedestrian stroll.

A 35-foot-wide aluminum canopy showers light upon a mock indoor park to demonstration the "remote skylight" concept. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

In dense Manhattan, though, clusters of unused cubic feet are precious, be they in a penthouse or buried in infrastructure purgatory. So an abandoned trolley terminal dating back to the early 1900s is a contender to become New York park space. The plan depends on subterranean sunlight shining through the sidewalk in beams powerful enough to grow greenery.

“What I envision is that we will have this kind of undulating, reflective ceiling actually functioning as an optical device to draw sunlight into the space to make it somewhere that you would actually like to spend some time,” says James Ramsey, co-founder of the Lowline and designer of the “Imagining the Lowline” installation that opens September 15 to showcase sample “solar harvesting” technology.

A sample "canopy distributor" channeling sunlight into a darkened warehouse demonstrates how the proposed Lowline underground park in Manhattan could have enough light to grow plants. (Photo by Alex Goldmark).

The Lowline name is a play on the wildly successful High Line, which turned an abandoned freight rail line on Manhattan’s far west side into elevated park space. To showcase how that might be replicated in cavernous conditions, the Lowline team has set up an exhibit in a warehouse at ground level, right above the proposed site on Essex Street between Broome and Delancey Streets. The rugged, blackened warehouse aims to recreate what it might be like to amble through the 100-year-old trolley terminal below.

“On top of this roof we created a massive superstructure that’s way in the air that’s actually harvesting the sunlight, redirecting it through light pipes,” Ramsey says. A computer guides the rooftop solar collectors to track the sun all day long for maximal reflected light through a system created by a Canadian company, Sun Central.

The solar technology was designed by Raad Studio, engineering firm Arup, and physics professor Lorne Whitehead of the University of British Columbia. Landscape by Hortus Environmental Design. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

To fund the exhibit, the Lowline raised $155,000 on Kickstarter. But it still has to cross a number of hurdles before--not to mention if--it becomes reality.

Ramsey cautioned that the final design will depend on “many, many different conditions.” Including negotiations with several city agencies. Delancey Street--presently under a years’ long redesign to become more bike and pedestrian friendly--would need another overhaul to install “remote skylights.” The preliminary engineering study for the Lowline is still weeks away from being finalized. That will bring with it cost estimates for tasks like lead paint abatement and adding drainage. After the price tag is tabulated, a design will be hatched, and the dreamers crazy enough to build a park below a busy city will have to commence some serious fundraising.

Also sharing space with the “Imagining the Lowline” exhibit is “Experiments in Motion,” an installation sponsored by Audi and executed by Columbia architecture students to explore multi-modal transportation possibilities. The centerpiece of the projects on display is a 50-foot 3-D model of New York’s underground public spaces, mainly subway stations, meant to place the Lowline in spatial context.

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4 Comments

  • Onestophydro


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  • Saad Alayyoubi

    There's something beautiful about that lone tree being lit from the skylight above...It's like some crazy dystopian future where we have found the last living tree on earth (see: Wall-E)