A new exhibit conjures the Low Line, a plan to turn a massive and abandoned trolley terminal in the Lower East Side into an underground green space illuminated entirely by a solar canopy.
The proposed project imagines the 1.5-acre cavernous space filled with gardens, pathways, grassy knolls, even mature trees – all fortified by a system of remote skylights. The solar collector will capture sunlight above ground on Delancey and Essex streets and then pipe it underground via fibre optic helio tubes. The light irrigated underground will carry enough wavelengths to support photosynthesis.
The novel proposal has been gaining public interest and media attention since it was first announced last year. Its co-founders, James Ramsey of Raad Studio and Dan Barasch, initiated the concept by launching a Kickstarter campaign that generated $155,000 U.S. from 3,300 backers. The startup capital is now being used to fund phase two of the project: a 12-day exhibition, now on view at the old Essex Street Market building.
Called Imagining the Low Line: A First Glimpse of a Future Underground, the installation demonstrates the subterranean park’s key elements, including a life-size tessellated canopy distributor system made up of 600 hexagonal and triangular panels laser cut from aluminum.
To simulate the light quality of Low Line’s trolley terminal location, the exhibit space was darkened and remote skylights were installed in conjunction with six sunbeams, circular light transmitting components manufactured by the Canadian solar technology company SunCentral.
Each sunbeam has an internal GPS calibrated to follow the direction of the sun. For overcast days, an energy-efficient back-up system will be programmed to balance light levels.
Some bloggers have noted that even with sunlight added the cavernous space of Low Line site remains a rather harsh environment that’s not exactly Gramercy Park-like. While greenery is a huge aspect of the park experience so is seeing the sun, clouds and blue sky above.
In addition to the solar display, an impressive 15-metre-long 3D map of Manhattan has been suspended overhead. Created by students of Experiments in Motion, a research lab run by Columbia University and sponsored by Audi of America, the aluminum street grid is a 1:1,500 scale replica of the city’s road and subway infrastructure.
Its looming form is also reflected onto the floor to create an animated shadow as people walk beneath, revealing the flows of motion through the city.
Both installations aim to expose the many underground and unseen spaces of Manhattan, and to rethink the potential of derelict industrial sites. Like the Highline, Low Line is an innovative answer to layering the future overtop of the past while also inserting nature into cities too dense for traditional parkland expansion.
Imaging the Low Line is on view at the Essex Street Warehouse at Essex and Broome streets, until September 27.