New York’s First Subterranean Park: The Proposed ‘Lowline’ beneath Manhattan

lowline-park-manhattan (Image: Raad Studio, reproduced with permission)

Users of the Delancey Street – Essex Street subway station in New York may have noticed Delancey Orchard, a glass mosaic mural by Ming Fay. In his artwork, Fay considers how nature and humankind interact; so commuters walking past underground cherry trees surrounded by concrete is an appropriate subject for Fay. However, Dan Barrasch and James Ramsey are proposing to go a step further and grow a real mini utopia below the streets of Manhattan. Their proposal: the ‘Lowline‘.

williamsburg-trolley-terminal-new-york (Image: Raad Studio, reproduced with permission)

In November 2011, The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) asked how the Essex Street Trolley Terminal could be used commercially and pointed out that the space has remained unchanged since the streetcar closed in 1948. Formerly the Williamsburg Trolley Terminal, this vast haunting space sits quietly alongside the functioning Delancey Street – Essex Street subway station.



williamsburg-trolley-terminal-abandoned-3 (Images: Delancey Underground, reproduced with permission)

Dull and eerie, the site boasts vaulted ceilings, cobbled floors and original tram-track rails. Although potentially beautiful, the abandoned streetcar terminal doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to house a vibrant secret garden. But Ramsay’s (of Raad Studioremote skylight design, which uses fibre optics, domes and mirrors to capture sunlight and pipe it underground, offers an innovative solution.


imagining-the-low-line-2 (Images: Delancey Underground, reproduced with permission)

In September 2012, the Lowline held an exhibition to demonstrate how their system can allow plants to photosynthesise where sunlight cannot normally reach. ‘Imagining the Lowline‘ was housed within a dark warehouse on Delancey Street where a section of surreal futuristic ceiling supported plant life growing on an idyllic island of green space.

lowline-park-historic-image (Image: historic image of Williamsburg Trolley Terminal, screenshot via

The fact that this real functioning design produces a magnificently contrasting artistic image, makes the project all the more exciting. Plans to call the subterranean park the Lowline came from parallels drawn between this East Side project and the existing High Line – a linear green space running along the former West Side elevated railway line.

lowline-park-manhattan-new-york (Image: Raad Studio, reproduced with permission)

The ‘Delancey Underground‘ space is 60,000 square feet (1.5 acres). Ideas to make the proposed park self-sustainable include hosting retail outlets and providing a venue for social activities and cultural events. Notably, as well as being sheltered from bad weather, the fibre-optic cables within the space will prevent harmful UV rays passing into the extraordinary recreational setting.

Keep reading – explore more Abandoned Trolleys, Streetcars and Tramways, and check out these Defunct Streetcars at Red Hook, Brooklyn.



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