New York innovators are planning the world’s first underground park using state-of-the-art solar technology in a disused, century-old trolley terminal, called the Lowline.

The High Line captured the imagination of New Yorkers and global visitors alike, when a 1.45-mile-long disused New York Central Railroad spur was converted into an elevated park in Manhattan’s West Side. Attracting four million visitors a year, urban nomads love how it captures ideas of old and new; regeneration and reinvigoration; green and urban.

No doubt spurred on by the success of The High Line, the Lowline looks set to change New York’s cityscape once again, and push the boundaries of ingenious technology and urban transformation. The concept has been designed by James Ramsey from Raad Studio, and architect, former satellite engineer for NASA, and inventor of the Remote Skylight. The idea will be to provide a cultural venue and respite from the urban jungle of New York. Both James Ramsey and his co-founder Dan Barasch feel strongly about using technology to improve the lives of city residents.

New York: urban transformation and solar technology

The proposed location is in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal. The terminal opened in 1908 but has been disused since 1948, when the trolley service was discontinued. Despite the many decades of neglect, the space retains features of times-past, such as cobblestones, railway tracks and vaulted ceilings.

Growing a subterranean garden is no mean feat, which is where ingenious solar technology comes into its own. It essentially involves a remote skylight, where sunlight passes through a glass shield above a solar collector. The sunlight is gathered in a focal point and redirected underground. An underground distributor dish transmits the sunlight throughout the underground park, triggering photosynthesis and allowing plants to grow.


Photo by the Lowline

Underground plant life: it works

For those sceptical about whether this hugely ambitious process would work in practice, the concept has already been proven. In 2012, the Lowline team built a full-scale prototype in a disused warehouse in the Lower East Side for the ‘Imagining the Lowline’ exhibit. It worked. Global engineering firm Arup and HR&A Advisors – specialists in real estate, economic development and energy-efficiency – were also commissioned to do a preliminary planning study. They found the concept was technologically feasible and would significantly improve the local economy, spurring on a programme of cultural events and local services.

The Lowline is scheduled to open in 2020, and there are various events and projects planned for the meantime. This includes the Lowline Lab (140 Essex Street), showcasing the innovative solar technology used, initiatives with schools and young designers exhibitions. The Lowline Lab is also the home of landscape research designed by Signe Nielsen, looking at all aspects of subterranean gardening. The working laboratory has 60 plant species, and 3,500 plants, mosses, fruits and vegetables, including pineaples, mint, strawberries, mushrooms, tomatoes and basil. This research will help decide which plants will end up in the Lowline.

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The Lowline Lab will be open until March 2017. Watch the TED talk below to learn more about Lowline.

Website: The Lowline