Ashley Wells

A team shows off its invention, which would make underground parks possible.

It’s been a long journey for James Ramsey and Dan Barasch, the creators of the Lowline. Since they first announced their admittedly zany idea over a year ago, they’ve spent that time dutifully shopping the project all over town, so to speak, meeting with investors, sponsors, tech companies, fabricators, and community board members.

After an unthinkably successful Kickstarter campaign in February, the tag-team duo raised enough money to develop a working prototype of the solar collection panels that make building a park underground possible. These hanging structures, made of triangulated anodized metal pieces, transmit sunlight collected above ground to the subterranean space below.

Today, the team behind the Lowline gave the press a sneak preview of the exhibition, located in the Lower East Side’s Essex Market Building at an abandoned warehouse that sits directly above the site of the proposed intervention. The installation consists of a scaled mock-up of the planned park, a slightly-updated rendition from that depicted in the designers’ renderings from last year. The fact that the prototype meets, even exceeds those initial, purposely vague images is a rare feat, to be sure. Yet, it also raises the bar, perhaps, a little too high, pointing to the difficulty that lies ahead for the team as they push to bring the project to complete fruition.

All of the technology is there, including the 35-foot-wide aluminum canopy suspended above the mossy parklet, dispersing the much-needed light to the vegetation below. The exhibit is even equipped with an immersive sound installation that echoes the bustling sound of New York City’s underground, not to mention an eery soundtrack of children laughing. Careful thought has gone into all aspects of the display, evident in planning details such as the program of the flora, which relies heavily on mosses and fungi that thrive in such microclimates.

Still, the joy and the irreverent play depicted in the drawings is here entirely missing. For a space that’s supposed to invite recreation and respite to a neighborhood lacking in green space, the current exhibit falls decidedly short in fun factor. Between the gloomy warehouse, white laboratory light and spongy vegetation, it’s hard not to imagine an entire underground park filled with the  mushy sounds of trampled moss and the smell of expired greenery, rather than the bright, lusty green lawns and thriving plants promised by the renderings.

However, after talking to the designers, it’s hard not to get excited about the potential this project can bring to the city, and it will be interesting to see where the project goes from here. After all, as the city’s populace continues to grow it will be important in establishing these new technologies that promote and accommodate increased urbanization. The companion installation sharing the exhibition space, Experiments in Motion, a partnership between Audi of America and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, has generated new ideas regarding said topic, including new insight into mobility and public space within the city. Their installation also helps to contextualize the Lowline exhibition within the warehouse space, circumscribing this “event space” within the city’s green network.

“Imagining the Lowline” is a free, interactive exhibition that will be open to the public, beginning September 15 through the 27. As a part of the exhibition, the Lowline has also partnered with the Lower East Side Business Improvement District’s DayLife series to create a street fair atmosphere and engage the local community during the weekends. More information about the exhibition is available here.

This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

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