We’ve all heard of the Highline by now–the incredibly successful transformation of an unused railway line into a mix of walkway, garden, and public art project running up the Westside’s Meatpacking and Chelsea districts. Cueing off those elements of abandoned public transportation space and innovative design, the Lowline proposes to use the underground space of a former trolley station to create a garden under the Lower East Side.
To be clear, these photographs are of the demo Lowline Lab, which intends to show the public how plants can be grown underground. These experiments mimic how the nearby site of the Lowline (which connects to the JMZ Delancey-street subway station) will operate. The one-acre Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal has been closed to the public since 1948. The Lowline proposal would reinvigorate the existing unused space and highlight historic architectural details. How would the sunlight get underground to the plants, you might wonder? Basically, in tubes.
Co-Founder James Ramsey, his team at Raad Studio,and Korea-based technology company Sunportal designed and installed optical devices which track the sun throughout the sky every minute of every day, optimizing the amount of natural sunlight we are able to capture. The sunlight is then distributed into the warehouse through a series of protective tubes, directing full spectrum light into a central distribution point. A solar canopy, designed and constructed by engineer Ed Jacobs, then spreads out the sunlight across the space, modulating and tempering the sunlight, providing light critical to sustain the plant life below.
Somehow it seems to work, as the many flourishing plants attest. As the founders of Lowline state, the Lower East Side is both densely inhabited and sorely lacking in green space, so this proposal for a new kind of public space is really appealing. And with winter coming, an indoor garden seems positively Edenic.
I was skeptical before I visited. But while I found it hard to imagine an underground garden, this demo lab certainly suggests that is is possible. Initially few people saw potential in the abandoned Highline either. Before it can become a reality, the Lowline needs to be approved by the city and raise money.
The Lowline Lab is located at 140 Essex Street and open to the public on weekends from 11 am to 5 pm through March 2016. Learn more here.