James Ramsey: New York designer and creator of the world’s first underground park, the Lowline

James Ramsey

James Ramsey

Who are you?

I am a New York-based designer and creator of the Lowline (the world’s first underground park). I grew up in Maryland, born to academics, who instilled nerdy tendencies but also a love for travel and history. I’m a well-rounded architect, inventor and Game of Thrones enthusiast. I’ve run my own design firm for more than ten years and I still love what I do.

Where do you call ‘home’ and what do you like about it?

I just moved to an old-school loft in NoHo. I love it because I can walk everywhere. I have cobble stone streets. It feels gritty. It makes me want to paint.

Describe your favourite place to work and the view out the window.

I spend a lot of time in the air these days. Just in the last few months I’ve been asked to speak in The Hague and in Moscow, I’m working on a project in London, and I’ve travelled to Japan for inspiration for the Lowline. I think my favourite place to work, or at least where I find myself working, is seat 14A. The view out the window is the horizon below. I find it clears my mind and allows me to get a lot of work done; it’s where big ideas come to me.

Where do you find inspiration?

There is a mossy forest in Japan that I have visited twice in the last three months. It’s otherworldly. Trees for giants, moss for days, shades of green yet to be named by Crayola. It opens up a whole new world for me.

What is your favourite way to get around and why?

I ride my bike. In NY it’s the only way.

Describe a trend in your industry, or in society more generally, that fascinates you.

Urban archaeology. In my current London project I’ve been able to dig down and excavate through hundreds of years of history on the Thames. I think there is a real trend right now in cherishing, preserving and integrating history back into architecture. It’s not always about the futuristic shard reaching to the heavens, or the undulating blob reflecting in the desert sun. There seems to be a bit of throwback, a reference to craftsmanship and quality that defined previous generations when “handmade” wasn’t a bespoke term. I am charmed by the original materials and masonry in the abandoned trolley station where we plan to build the Lowline. It’s been preserved since 1948. It brings something to the project that we could never replicate: authenticity.

Photo: The Lowline

Photo: The Lowline

Name your favourite spot to hang out when you’re off work.

My CrossFit 212 gym. It provides me with strength and focus and confidence. It’s an obsession, but healthier than the alternatives.

Name your favourite city.

Kyoto. I can’t get enough recently.

Name one object you cannot live without and tell us why.

My guitar. I love to play. I have a band called Pleasurecraft. Oh yes. We’re pretty good. I’ve been playing for years.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve got coming up this week?

I’m pitching a new project at Rockefeller Center. I’ve got a bunch of interviews following our Lowline announcement last week (the Lowline got approval from the city to move forward with the project) and I’m taking my son Finn to the Park. Life is good.

Photo: The Lowline

Photo: The Lowline

You have exactly one minute to share your vision with our readers about anything you want.

I look forward over the next year to making the Lowline a reality. Not only because its the coolest project on the planet, but because it proves that the world still has the capacity to think and dream BIG. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither were the pyramids, or the Taj Mahal. Not that the Lowline will be a landmark centuries from now, but who knows where it will lead? Architecture is an important contribution to society and history. It is a marker, a reminder of what we are capable of creating as a race, and society, and determines how we will be remembered generations from now. It’s important to keep feeding that collective conscious with hope. I see people interact with the Lowline Lab, I see young eyes light up as they realise they are standing under real sunlight underground, I see science becoming cool again, and it inspires me every day to keep pushing boundaries.

Read our blog about the Lowline project.