Something’s growing under the New York asphalt. In what was until very recently an anonymous warehouse in the Essex Street Market, a jungle is now flourishing: trees, ferns, moss and even a pineapple bush. And all thanks to designer James Ramsey.
This area of over 450 square metres is the Lowline Lab, where Ramsey has created a technology so sophisticated that it is capable of capturing sunlight and channelling it inside through a series of tubes. The system is based on the creation of a remote skylight which tracks the sun across the sky every minute of the day, thus optimizing the amount of light it can capture. Then, a series of tubes channel the light inside the warehouse to the central distribution point where a solar panel, designed and built by the engineer Ed Jacobs, extends the sunlight across the space.
This technology will transmit the light wavelengths necessary to initiate photosynthesis, allowing plants and trees to grow.
Yet the Ramsey laboratory, which since it opened in October 2015 has been visited by more than 100,000 people and attracted the curiosity of numerous institutions, is also being used to test a much more ambitious project: using its innovative solar technology to light up an abandoned tram terminal on New York’s Lower East Side to transform it, once completed in 2021, into the first underground public greenway in the world.
With this initiative its creator aspires to use technology to improve the life of the city’s inhabitants by creating more green spaces. The result will be a public park and cultural centre with a range of educational and leisure activities, where the historical features of the old tram terminal will coexist with avant-garde design and solar technology.
As far as Ramsey is concerned, The Lowline is not just a new public space but an innovative showcase of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century, and help other communities to move forward in creating green areas in their cities.