Bringing Sunlight to Light an Underground Garden
PHOTO: The Lowline is a proposed park in an abandoned underground trolley yard in lower Manhattan, lit with sunlight through fiber optic cables.

(Kibum Park/Raad, LLC)

Imagine an inviting green park with tall, shady trees and wide swaths of grassy lawn where you can hear live music or see theater or simply sit quietly soaking up the noonday sun.

Now, imagine that all underground in an old disused parking garage … but still with trees and grass in the bright sunlight - a little less bright, of course, on cloudy days.

This paradoxical vision is already halfway to becoming a reality in downtown Manhattan, a dream made possible partly by fiber-optic technology that can capture sunlight on high rooftops and literally pipe it down to shine further from big underground "skylights."

Dan Barasch and James Ramsey envisioned it all in 2008 when they teamed up with an idea to transform an abandoned trolley terminal, a 1.5-acre lot underneath the Williamsburg Bridge and next to the Delancey St. subway station.

They dubbed their underground park the "Lowline," a nod to Manhattan's popular Highline Park that transformed another swatch of urban blight - in that case an unused and overgrown elevated rail bed.

PHOTOS: Lowline Park Project

Since they teamed up, Ramsey, an architect and principal at RAAD Studio, and Barasch, formerly VP of strategic partnerships for PopTech, have raised more than $500,000 for the project, including a Kickstarter campaign that totaled $155,000.

This past September, Ramsey and Barasch also staged an exhibit at a warehouse on Essex Street, just above where the proposed park would exist, in an effort to show the public what the Lowline could look like.

But lighting the underground space is a challenge and that is where Ramsey's background in engineering comes in; the former NASA employee turned architect had already been working on a way to collect and funnel light when he approached Barasch about the idea of an underground park.

Ramsey and Barasch explain their concept and in more detail here:

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