The LowLine acquired rights from the the city’s Economic Development Corporation to start planning a project and potentially build on the unused land. First put forth in 2011 by architect James Ramsey, principal of New York–based Raad Studio, the proposal is for an urban rejuvenation project that would turn a decommissioned, 107-year-old trolley station into New York’s first underground park. The project was approved by City Hall on July 13, after an eight-month bidding process, in which the innovative urban renovation project was the sole entry—making it a painfully obvious choice for city officials. Ramsey and the design team behind the project only became aware of this after it was approved, to their surprise.
“This is a hugely significant milestone for us,” says Ramsey, who has been working towards getting the site designation for the last five years.
This is the first set of approvals for the New York–based initiative, which makes the team behind the project the designated developers of a 1.5 acre-space, located at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge. In addition to Ramsey, the Raad Studio team includes Dan Barasch, co-founder, executive director, and community outreach expert; Robyn Shapiro, deputy director; Ed Jacobs, engineer and industrial designer; Kibum Park, architect and partner at Raad Studios; and Sangyun Han, architect and project manager at Raad Studios. The landscape designer for the project is Signe Nielsen, FASLA, principal of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, working with John Mini Distinctive Landscapes.
The team and its project must meet certain fundraising and development requirements within the next year in order to maintain this approval. According to Ramsey, the expectations include raising as much as $10 million, completing a design inferred from public feedback, and hosting 5-10 public sessions, in addition to quarterly meetings. To achieve the funding, Ramsey says they will look to donations (The LowLine organization is also a nonprofit), grants, and crowdfunding platforms.
The venture has been a favorite for global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, based out of Brooklyn, which promoted the now-built prototype of the grand project: the LowLine Lab, located on the Lower East Side about two blocks from the future site. The Lab was created to test both the feasibility of a larger project, and to promote it among the city’s public. According to Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson’s ARCHITECT article in 2013, the project was posted back in February of 2012, and asked for $100,000. The goal was met in eight days, and surpassed soon after. By the end of the campaign in April of that same year, backers pledged up to $155,186.
Ramsey is also known for inventing the Remote Skylight, a crucial element within this project that allows the site to harvest sunlight from above and transfer it underground with a multifaceted optic system. Since this site is underneath the busiest street in Manhattan (making it impossible to drill holes into the ground), the designers will approach the sidewalk level to install what Ramsey estimates could be 100 solar-powered lights, creating a system to funnel sunlight and provide photosynthesis for the plants.
“We’ve actually picked the most challenging and ambitious site for ourselves here,” Ramsey jokes in regards to the heavily condensed area he refers to as the “gateway to Brooklyn.” The site is also a neighborhood that has historically and culturally been neglected. And while the designer recognizes how difficult this project will be, he also admits that it is the very reason it should be done.
“It delivers a critically needed amenity to an area that doesn’t really have them,” he says.