Thu, Apr 11, 2019 - Page 9 News List

The upside down:
Inside Manhattan’s Lowline subterranean park

In two years’ time, the Lower East Side is to become home to the world’s first underground ‘green’ space

By Jake Nevins  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

To get a glimpse of what is eventually to become the Lowline, a subterranean Eden being billed as the world’s first underground park, you have to swipe your MetroCard at the Lower East Side’s Delancey Street station, go down one flight of stairs, go down another, slither through a few characteristically congested subway corridors, and then up another flight, to the J train platform.

Here, in the crucible of Manhattan’s public transportation system, with its slow, industrial wheeze, is an abandoned space the size of a football field.

Seventy years ago it was the Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal, transporting city folk between boroughs, but since 1948, it has existed in a state of dark, musty desertion, save for tall metal columns, a few men in hazmat suits and the outlines of the balloon loops in which the trolleys once turned, which are to be integrated into the park’s walkways.

Lowline cofounders Dan Barasch and James Ramsey have imagined a future for this space, one in which city dwellers take respite from the concrete jungle beneath it, thanks to remote skylight technology that filters sunlight underground through fibre-optic helio tubes.

The park, which they hope will provide one of the city’s most densely populated and aggressively gentrifying neighborhoods with more green space, is to have a ventilation system and a year-round garden.

In 2016, shortly after a pop-up called the Lowline Lab demonstrated the project’s solar redistribution technology and drew 70,000 visitors, New York City finally greenlit the Lowline, which is to cost about US$80 million to build.

“People who are trying to innovate have to be a little crazy,” said Barasch, reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the project’s conception over coffee at the nearby members-only Ludlow House, itself a monument to the neighborhood’s rapid mega development.

“I just want to do something that has never been done before,” he said.

Ramsey, an architectural designer, got word of the abandoned space in 2009, the same year the High Line — the sleek, elevated greenway-cum-tourist attraction built on what was once a New York Central Railroad spur — opened a few kilometers north.

A friend introduced him to Barasch, who at the time was working in strategy and marketing for Google.

“Very fast I drank the Kool-Aid and believed almost wholeheartedly that technology could solve all social problems, but I still didn’t feel like I was making the world a better place,” he said of his time at the tech giant.

That year, Ramsey — a Yale-educated former NASA satellite engineer who in 2004 founded Raad design studio, which is spearheading the Lowline — brought Barasch and his entrepreneurial acumen into the fold.

When they toured the space together, they saw in its dilapidated, old-world charm an opportunity for innovation, to merge their interests in technology, architecture and New York to make the most of the city’s cosmopolitan topography. The station tower, they observed, would make for a perfect child-friendly tree house.

The initial name for the project was Delancey Underground, but the generally rapt reception to the High Line positioned Delancey as a kind of architectural antidote, both projects motivated by a desire to revive and repurpose run-down parts of the city’s transit system. Hence Lowline, which it has been called ever since.

This story has been viewed 1734 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top