about / project
The Lowline is a plan to use innovative solar technology to illuminate an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City. Our vision is a stunning underground park, providing a beautiful respite and a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments. To learn more about the Lowline concept, and the project overall, check out this video.
The Site
The proposed location is the one-acre former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, just below Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The site was opened in 1908 for trolley passengers, but has been unused since 1948 when trolley service was discontinued. Despite six decades of neglect, the space still retains some incredible features, like remnant cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings. It is also directly adjacent to the existing JMZ subway track at the Essex Street subway stop– so park visitors and subway riders would interact daily. This hidden historic site is located in one of the least green areas of New York City— presenting a unique opportunity to reclaim unused space for public good.
The Technology
Designed by James Ramsey of Raad Studio, the proposed solar technology involves the creation of a “remote skylight.” In this approach, sunlight passes through a glass shield above the parabolic collector, and is reflected and gathered at one focal point, and directed underground. Sunlight is transmitted onto a reflective surface on the distributor dish underground, transmitting that sunlight into the space. This technology would transmit the necessary wavelengths of light to support photosynthesis, enabling plants and trees to grow. During periods of sunlight, electricity would not be necessary to light the space. In September 2012, the Lowline team built a full scale prototype of the technology in an abandoned warehouse in the Lower East Side, for the “Imagining the Lowline” exhibit. The exhibit attracted thousands of visitors, was heavily covered by the press and ultimately served as a proof of concept.
The Vision
We are inspired to use technology to improve the lives of city residents, by creating more of the green space we all need. The Lowline aims to build a new kind of public space— one that highlights the historic elements of a former trolley terminal while introducing cutting-edge solar technology and design, enabling plants and trees to grow underground. To explore our vision in greater detail, we commissioned a preliminary planning study with Arup, the global engineering firm, and HR&A Advisors, a leading real estate, economic development and energy-efficiency consulting firm. The study concluded that the Lowline was not merely technically feasible, but would also vastly improve the local economy and the adjacent transit hub. Once built, the Lowline would be a dynamic cultural space, featuring a diversity of community programming and youth activities. We envision not merely a new public space, but an innovative display of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century. And along the way, we intend to draw the community into the design process itself, empowering a new generation of Lower East Siders to help build a new bright spot in our dense urban environment.
The Timeline
1908-1948 In 1908, the one-acre Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal opens on Delancey Street, transporting passengers from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn. After just four decades of use, the trolley terminal is closed to the public, and would never again have any official transit use, despite its adjacency to the J/M/A subway line. 1948-2000s The Lower East Side remains a remarkably diverse neighborhood, due to a mix of public housing and former tenements, and home to immigrants, small businesses, and artists. Delancey Street is widened for high volume car traffic, and becomes one of the least safe streets for pedestrians and local residents. 2009 James Ramsey, owner of Lower East Side design firm Raad Studio, is introduced to the forgotten Williamsburg trolley terminal and he hatches a plan to install solar technology in the site, enabling plants and trees to grow. Dan Barasch is separately exploring a project to install underground art in the New York City subway system. The two friends chat one night over too much wine, and agree to explore the idea of an “underground park” in earnest. 2011 James Ramsey and Dan Barasch release the concept of the Lowline to the public in a highly visible New York Magazine feature. New Yorkers and the world at large are fascinated by the idea that an underground park is possible. February 2012 The team launches a Kickstarter campaign that raises over $155,000 from 3,300 supporters from all over the world— creating a new record for the largest number of supporters for an urban design project on the platform. A community is born. Summer 2012 The Lowline commissions two planning studies, one from HR&A Advisors and one from Arup, to assess the viability of building a public park in the former trolley terminal. Both studies provide solid evidence that the idea can be transformed into reality. September 2012 Team Lowline installs a functioning full-scale model of the solar technology and accompanying green park in an abandoned warehouse directly above the actual site. The exhibit was attended by over 11,000 visitors in just two weeks, serving as proof of concept for the ambitious project. April 2013 The Lowline conducts its first in-school program with local high school students, designed to engage young people in the process of imagining an underground park and to help design its future uses. This leads to additional youth engagement and design projects with local schools and organizations. Summer 2013 Nine elected officials send a joint letter to the City showing their support for the Lowline project and encouraging the City to help it progress. Fall 2013 The Lowline conducts a semester long Young Designers Program with Henry Street Settlement / Boys & Girls Republic, Educational Alliance / SPARC Program and University Settlement / Beacon Program. Spring 2014 The Lowline has a month long exhibit of the Young Designers work at the Mark Miller Gallery. March 2015 The Lowline holds the “Shaping the Lowline” exhibit, where work from the newest class of Young Designers is displayed and the community is invited to provide greater input. October 2015- February 26, 2017 The Lowline Lab, a free community gathering space that displays cutting-edge solar technology, serves as a laboratory for lighting and horticulture experiments, and features multiple cultural and community events. Over 100,000 people from across New York City and around the world visited.  July 2016 The Lowline secures a conditional site designation from the City of New York. After negotiations are finalized, a capital campaign to support construction will be launched. 2018 The Lowline Board votes to temporarily pause its core operations, and aims to restart the project in partnership with the City of New York in the years ahead.