about / project
Concept
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.
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 in 2012 with Arup, the global engineering firm, and HR&A Advisors, the leading consultant behind the High Line. 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 cultural programming, youth activities, and popular retail.

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

1800s-1900s
Waves of European immigrants make the Lower East Side their new home. The area surrounding Delancey Street is quickly developed into tenements, creating the densest urban conditions the world has ever known.

1908
The one-acre Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal is constructed below Delancey Street, to be used by passengers traveling from Brooklyn to the Lower East Side. Trolley riders would end their journeys in this underground terminal, before ascending to a bustling Delancey Street.

1948
In the era of the influential Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, trolley service is discontinued, as the automobile, bus, and subway assume superior roles in New York City public transportation. The Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal is closed to the public, and would never again have any official transit use, despite its adjacency to the J/M/Z 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.

April 2012
The team hosts an exhibit of the concept at Mark Miller Gallery on Orchard Street, in the heart of the Lower East Side. The community packs the space to learn more about the concept and meet the cofounders and engineers behind the idea.

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.

Fall 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.

2014–2017
The Lowline aims to have completed negotiations with the MTA and the City to build and operate the underground park. After negotiations are finalized, a capital campaign to support construction will be launched.

2018
The Lowline is opened for all to enjoy.