World's First Underground Park One Step Closer to Seeing the Light of Day

World's First Underground Park One Step Closer to Seeing the Light of Day

By Heather Corcoran
With the first city approval of the Lowline, designer James Ramsey's subterranean dream finally gets off the ground.

Since the inception of The High Line, the New York park perched on a once-abandoned railway track, cities around the world have been reclaiming unused infrastructure to create new pockets of green. Now, the trend is headed underground with the Lowline, a proposed park that could occupy a disused trolley terminal under the streets of Manhattan.

Designer James Ramsey demonstrates the solar technology that will illuminate the underground Lowline park at the Lowline Lab, which is open to the public each weekend.

The project is the brainchild of Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, who have spent the past eight years developing the proposal and introducing the concept to the public through their Lowline Lab, where they've been testing the "remote skylight" technology that brings light to the project. Just this week, their proposal got its first city approval, a major step towards making the park a reality.

The Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, under Delancey Street, where the proposed park will be located.

"Every designer dreams of doing civic work that contributes to society and to the profession." —Lowline creator James Ramsey

At the Lowline Lab, more than 3,000 plants grow under natural sunlight in an architectural landscape designed by Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen and built by John Mini Distinctive Landscapes. The installation is meant to test which species will grow best underground.

From here, the developers will need to raise $10 million in a capital campaign and present new plans to the city for approval. The one-acre park would occupy a former trolley terminal that has stood unused since 1948. If approved, it could open as soon as 2021.

The space is lit by sunlight collected using optical devices by Korea-based technology company Sunportal, which track the sun throughout the sky from the roof of the building. 

The project is about more than just creating an underground park. The hope is one day the technology will be able to be used to capture and utilize natural sunlight in other applications, including at offices, hospitals, schools, and even prisons. 

See more from our visit to the Lowline Lab here

A visitor examines the solar canopy that distributes the natural sunlight to the plants below. The structure was designed by engineer Ed Jacobs.


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