About this project
Can cities be greener, more livable, and more beautiful? We think so, and that's why we're developing new solar technology to unlock the potential of underused spaces below our city's streets.
With this cutting-edge technology, we plan to build the world's very first underground "park," featuring live plants and trees!
It turns out there's a 107-year-old former trolley station-- untouched since 1948-- right below Delancey Street in the center of New York City's Lower East Side neighborhood. All the old architectural details are still there, and right now it sits in one of the most crowded neighborhoods in a very crowded city. Our dream is to take that space back and transform it into a beautiful public gathering space.
To make the Lowline a reality, our next step is the construction of an ambitious Lowline Lab-- a long-term solar device testing laboratory and public exhibition to test and display our tech and design vision-- and we need your help to build it!
The Lowline is about the future-- but it's also about celebrating history. Here's a 1930s photo of the site we want to re-invigorate-- formerly the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal. It was originally used to carry passengers over the newly built Williamsburg Bridge between 1908 and 1948.
It's a one-acre site with all of its old historic details-- you can see remnant cobblestones and rail lines dating back to 1908, as well as catenary tracks on the ceiling.
Now just a forgotten slice of New York City history, we want to preserve this little gem and use it in a totally new, 21st-century, kick-ass kind of way. Our design team has developed early images of what the future Lowline could look like- an extraordinary oasis underneath one of New York City's most crowded neighborhoods.
Glad you asked!
Needed green space: New York City has much less green space per person than other big cities, and the Lower East Side is one of the least green neighborhoods within the city. The Lowline will add a new football-field-sized public space in a community that desperately needs it. Plus it will be awesome for generations of New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy.
Love of history: This site is the oldest existing relic of the city's former streetcar past, and features cobblestones laid down by hand by immigrants between 1904-1908. While others might want it to become a boring retail basement or a parking lot, we will preserve the old architectural details while adding in new plants, trees, and futuristic technology.
Inspiring technology: We need to be more creative about how we use space in the 21st century, and we think our tech approach helps solve a big problem: making the vastly underutilized underground beautiful, for both plants and humans.
We plan to collect sunlight on the rooftops surrounding the Lowline, before using extremely efficient mirrors to reflect that light down to the street level, and direct it underground via tubes. With this technology, we can direct so much natural light underground that we'll be able to plant many different kinds of plant species, almost like a botanical garden right in the middle of the city.
In order for the City to officially approve the project, we still have some big questions to answer. Will the solar tech work? Will plants really grow? Will it be a popular public space? To answer these questions, we're planning a long-term testing exhibition called the Lowline Lab, and we need $200,000 to build it. We've rented out a former market building, just a couple blocks from the future Lowline site, and are ready to go.
Here's what we're planning to do at the Lowline Lab:
Test solar technology performance: Following the last few years of research, we want to see with our own eyes how our technology functions over time. We'll test how effectively we can re-direct sunlight remotely, by installing three solar collection systems on the roof of an abandoned former warehouse space, and distributing that light into the otherwise dark space. Partnering with the solar device maker SunPortal, we are shipping cutting edge equipment via ocean freighter from South Korea to New York City, and will begin installation over the summer. These devices will track the sun throughout the sky every minute of every day, optimizing the amount of natural sunlight we can capture. These will be connected to a tube-based distribution system and 40-foot-wide canopy inside the warehouse, to help reflect natural sunlight into the Lowline Lab. Once this natural sunlight is filtered into the space, we can test for the quality of the light, taking specific note of spectrum, distribution and intensity. This research will be critical to our understanding of how much light can be gathered and filtered into the actual Lowline. And since we'll conduct tests for six months, from September 2015- February 2016, we'll see how this technology works in the fall and the winter.
Test landscape design and performance: We will test our research on the species of plants our team has determined will thrive best in the lighting conditions of the Lowline. So we are partnering with horticulture experts at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; the globally recognized Signe Nielsen (also a Lowline Board member), of landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen; Terrain; and Dirt Works to build a beautiful interior design featuring plants that prefer differing lighting levels. Our design inspiration is Mannahatta-- a verdant vision of the city before modern civilization-- and we expect to feature edible plants, and a science fiction palette of greenery forming stalactites, stalagmites, and whimsical passageways. Again, because we are testing in the fall and winter-- the two toughest times to grow plants-- we will gain valuable insight into which species will perform best throughout the year.
Test the social and community value of the Lowline: We'll measure human happiness factors associated with our "park," across different seasons. The Lab will be open in New York City from September- February, allowing us to see how the space is perceived and used in both the fall, when the weather outside can be variable, and the winter, when the weather outside is generally cold and often nasty. We plan to keep the space open and free to all on weekends, and we intend to survey happiness levels in both quantitative and qualitative ways, before and after visiting a safe, magical, beautiful indoor "park."
The Lab will also give us a chance to study the various ways in which the Lowline can be an incredible asset for the local community. We will expand upon our Young Designers Program by opening up the Lab to weekly visits from youth organizations and schools, to truly test how valuable the Lowline could be as a pedagogical vehicle to get kids excited about science and tech. With a series of technology "Lab Talks," we'll see how effective we can be at inspiring community members about the transformative power of innovation. And with "Lab Walks," we will directly connect interested visitors not only to an insider's look at our technology research, but also will visit the nearby Essex Street Market, a historic gem that truly bridges the past, present, and future of the neighborhood surrounding the Lowline.
In a sense, the Lowline Lab will be a very exciting, dynamic prototype of the future Lowline-- from the perspectives of solar technology, landscape design, and human interactivity. And unlike many research laboratories, this will be free and open to the public... so YOU can come experience it, and provide your input over six months!
We officially launched the Lowline project on Kickstarter in 2012, which helped us get started on multiple fronts. With this funding and the support of additional backers from all walks of life, we focused on building a public exhibit; conducting extensive technology research; building political and local support; and fostering sustained community engagement. Here's a quick update on all we've been up to:
"Imagining the Lowline" exhibit: Our very first step was building a technology exhibit with Kickstarter support, where we installed a solar collection system in a warehouse and a live green space, designed mainly to show everyone how the Lowline would look and feel. We opened this exhibit in 2012, and over 11,000 people checked it out in just about two weeks! So we were able to share this vision with the world, test an early version of the technology, and learn about ways the Lowline could be a real popular hub for the community.
Technology research: We conducted a range of site visits and scientific research to assess our optimal solar technology devices and partners. We also carefully measured the amount of natural sunlight we can deliver on every day of every year given new multi-story towers to be built just above the site. Our team, along with our partners at Arup, determined that we will be able to deliver enough sunlight underground using our proposed methods, and that multiple species of plants can indeed thrive underground!
Building support: We set up a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and built an insanely awesome group of collaborators, supporters, and advisors-- some amazing people and organizations willing to help invest their time, expertise and resources in the effort (more on these good folks below). All elected officials who represent our neighborhood-- from the NYC City Council to the U.S. Senate-- now support our effort, and now we're working with the NYC Mayor's office to determine the political path toward achieving site control and official designation as a public space.
Community engagement: Over the last few years, we've found that the Lowline is a great way to get local kids excited about science and technology. So we've built the Young Designers Program, which has now reached hundreds of local kids with creative programming-- and also provided us with some pretty rad ideas.
The program first shows how science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) make the Lowline possible, and then we ask students to think about public space in general, visiting other popular neighborhood parks and gathering spaces to observe what works and what doesn't work from their perspective.
After learning about the science and tech behind the project, kids then come up with their own ideas for what they would like to see in a potential park in their neighborhood. Working with teaching artists, students have a chance to both draw their ideas and even to build 3D models of their dream parks-- working both individually and collaboratively in teams.
In 2014 and again in 2015, we have presented all these student visions at a public exhibition and showcase in a Lower East Side art gallery, giving kids a chance to share their ideas with the world, giving parents a chance to interact with the project, and giving us a ton of useful input on what local kids want to see and experience in the Lowline.
The Lowline Lab in 2015- 2016 will give us a fresh chance to build upon and expand the Young Designers Program, by bringing kids into the laboratory to observe real-world science and imagine new programmatic uses of a space they can physically see!
The amount of your pledge that is deductible for U.S. federal income tax purposes is limited to the excess of the amount of any money and the value of any property contributed by you over the value of the goods or services provided to you by Lowline. Each item above states the portion of your pledge that should qualify as a charitable contribution deduction for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
- Lowline: non-profit 501c3 organization devoted to using new solar technology to reclaim an historic subterranean site to build the world's first underground park; led by Co-Founder Dan Barasch and Director of Community Robyn Shapiro
- Raad Studio: led by Co-Founder James Ramsey, Raad oversees Lowline technology and design; key team members include Kibum Park, Sang-yun Han, and Jaeyual Lee
- Ed Jacobs: by day a mind-blowing motorcycle designer and land-speed record holder; by night and weekend Ed is the genius behind our solar canopy design and execution
- Arup: global engineering leader and core advisor on project management, capital planning, and solar technology research; we've worked most closely with principal Craig Covil; engineer Nigel Marcussen; and lighting engineer Star Davis
- Mathews Nielsen: award-winning landscape design firm with extensive public works experience in NYC and beyond, led by board member Signe Nielsen
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden: global leader in botanical research, advising on landscape design and plant selection; we've been so lucky to work with Executive Director Scot Medbury, tropical landscape expert Karla Chandler, and VP of horticulture Melanie Sifton
- Terrain: one of the world's largest retail landscape products companies, providing us with tremendous insight into plant selection and optimal procurement, led by Steven Hensley, Karen Clancy and Lacey Soslow
- John Mini Distinctive Landscapes: With over 40 years of experience on the nation’s most intricate landscape projects, the John Mini team is collaborating on the horticulture and "park" installation
- Dirt Works: award-winning landscape architecture firm dedicated to design solutions that emphasize a close connection with nature and enhance the restorative quality of the natural environment, led by David Kamp
- Zach Aarons, Millennium Partners
- Serena Altschul, CBS News
- Dan Barasch, Lowline
- David Barry, Ironstate Development
- Jennifer Blumin, Skylight Group
- Vin Cipolla, Municipal Art Society
- Boykin Curry, Eagle Capital Management
- Paul Hoffman, Liberty Science Center
- Jolie Hunt-Potter, Hunt & Gather
- Signe Nielsen, Mathews Nielsen
- James Ramsey, Raad Studio
- Peter Shapiro, Brooklyn Bowl
- Joshua Sirefman, Sirefman Ventures
- Marquise Stillwell, OpenBox
- Sunny Bates, Sunny Bates Associates
- Dave Bolotsky, Gulick Park
- Huy Bui, Plant-in City
- James Capalino, Capalino+Company
- Wellington Chen, Chinatown Partnership
- Scott Conti, New Design High School
- Craig Covil, Arup
- Joshua David, The Highline
- Lena Dunham, Writer/Actor/Director
- Megan Ellison, Annapurna Pictures
- Vincent Fong, Entrepreneur
- Vikram Gandhi, Filmmaker
- Robert Hammond, The Highline
- Jan Hanvik, Clemente Soto Vélez
- Jeremy Heimans, Purpose
- Mo Koyfman, Spark Capital
- Marc Kushner, Architizer
- Steven Lau, Kinetic Records
- Tim Laughlin, Lower East Side BID
- Scot Medbury, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
- Bentley Meeker, Bentley Meeker Lighting and Staging, Inc.
- J.B. Miller, Empire Entertainment
- Mark Miller, Mark Miller Gallery
- Shantelena Mouzon, Parent of Lowline Young Designer
- Jon Neidich, Restaurateur
- Craig Newmark, Craigslist
- Benjamin Palmer, Barbarian Group
- Miriam Parker, Lower East Side Artist
- Kenny Scharf, Artist
- Jamie Springer, HR&A Advisors
- Louisa St. Pierre, Bernstein and Andriulli
- Michael Tumminia, Karen Rand Associates, LLC
- Morris Vogel, Tenement Museum
- Lorne Whitehead, Professor, University of British Columbia
- Thomas Yu, AAFE
- US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
- US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)
- US Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (NY-12)
- US Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (NY-7)
- NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
- NY State Senator Daniel Squadron
- NYC Council Member Mark Levine
- NYC Council Member Daniel Garodnick
- NYC Council Member Margaret Chin
- NYC Council Member Rosie Mendez
- Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
- NYC Manhattan Community Board 3
Check out a few of the fun articles written about us:
Check out Dan describe his motivation behind the Lowline at TED:
Here's an incredible NYC Media video showing rare footage of the Lowline site and interviews with our design team:
For more articles and video coverage of the Lowline, click here.
Risks and challenges
Every element of the Lab is meant to be an experiment, so even if things go wrong, it will provide valuable insight! Because our technology will be positioned outdoors on the roof of an abandoned building, extreme weather could make life more difficult, which is why we are budgeting for replacement parts and labor. The exhibition will feature live plants, so this will require significant maintenance and upkeep. The Lab will also be on a busy street, so security and sanitation will both be concerns. We will have consistent staffing and volunteers to ensure any issues are resolved efficiently.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter