When walking into the Lowline Lab—a demo of what will be the world’s first underground park—the first thing you notice is a distinctly earthly scent. That is a result of the dozens of plant species growing within the 5,000-square-foot space, located in a former market on New York’s Lower East Side. The demo, which will go for several months, allows visitors to get a peek into how the real Lowline park (set in an abandoned subway terminal just two blocks away) will operate once it opens to the public in 2020. James Ramsey, an architect from the New York–based Raad Studio, has devised a system that harnesses the sun’s rays via optical equipment positioned at street level, then transfers the light indoors through a protective tube, and finally diffuses it over the underground site.
For Ramsey, who as a teenager worked at NASA in a lab building pieces of satellite, the possibilities of the Lowline seem almost endless. So much so that Paris, Seoul, and Ankara, Turkey, among other cities, have expressed interest. “It’s not just an underground park,” he says. “We are working toward creating a new branch of horticulture. These are simply the first baby steps toward a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to subterranean gardening, and the reuse of abandoned space underground.”
Speaking to New York Magazine, Ramsey told reporters “We’re channeling sunlight the way they did in ancient Egyptian tombs, but in a supermodern way.”
Of course, before the real park can be built its designers need to make sure the technology that will power the Lowline actually works. That’s where the Lowline Lab comes in. The lab is a 5,000 square-foot warehouse that has been transformed into a proof of concept to show how the Lowline might function someday.