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Posted in Ecoculture
13/10 2016

Lowline: the project

The Lowline is a plan to use innovative solar technology to illuminate an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City. The project’s vision is a stunning underground park, providing a beautiful respite and a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments.

The proposed location is the one-acre former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, just below Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The site was opened in 1908 for trolley passengers, but has been unused since 1948 when trolley service was discontinued. Despite six decades of neglect, the space still retains some incredible features, like remnant cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings. This hidden historic site is located in one of the least green areas of New York City— presenting a unique opportunity to reclaim unused space for public good.

Designed by James Ramsey of Raad Studio, the proposed solar technology involves the creation of a “remote skylight.” In this approach, sunlight passes through a glass shield above the parabolic collector, and is reflected and gathered at one focal point, and directed underground. Sunlight is transmitted onto a reflective surface on the distributor dish underground, transmitting that sunlight into the space. This technology would transmit the necessary wavelengths of light to support photosynthesis, enabling plants and trees to grow. During periods of sunlight, electricity would not be necessary to light the space. In September 2012, the Lowline team built a full scale prototype of the technology in an abandoned warehouse in the Lower East Side, for the “Imagining the Lowline” exhibit. The exhibit attracted thousands of visitors, was heavily covered by the press and ultimately served as a proof of concept.

The project “Lowline” are inspired to use technology to improve the lives of city residents, by creating more of the green space we all need. The Lowline aims to build a new kind of public space— one that highlights the historic elements of a former trolley terminal while introducing cutting-edge solar technology and design, enabling plants and trees to grow underground.

To explore our vision in greater detail, we commissioned a preliminary planning study with Arup, the global engineering firm, and HR&A Advisors, a leading real estate, economic development and energy-efficiency consulting firm. The study concluded that the Lowline was not merely technically feasible, but would also vastly improve the local economy and the adjacent transit hub. Once built, the Lowline would be a dynamic cultural space, featuring a diversity of community programming and youth activities.

We envision not merely a new public space, but an innovative display of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century. And along the way, we intend to draw the community into the design process itself, empowering a new generation of Lower East Siders to help build a new bright spot in our dense urban environment.

Bringing Sunlight Underground

Co-Founder James Ramsey, his team at Raad Studio,and Korea-based technology company Sunportal designed and installed optical devices which track the sun throughout the sky every minute of every day, optimizing the amount of natural sunlight we are able to capture. The sunlight is then distributed into the warehouse through a series of protective tubes, directing full spectrum light into a central distribution point. A solar canopy, designed and constructed by engineer Ed Jacobs, then spreads out the sunlight across the space, modulating and tempering the sunlight, providing light critical to sustain the plant life below.

Here’s a quick overview of the completed solar technology installation, and how it all works.

TESTING SOLAR TECHNOLOGY

SYSTEM A The newest and most powerful “remote skylight” model is this two-part system. A highly reflective panel tracks sunlight and sends light to the secondary collector. One meter diameter parabolas condense the light into a super-intense beam thirty times the brightness of the sun.

SYSTEM B A smaller one-part system concentrates light in a parabolic dish, focusing the sunlight to a specific point before distributing it below the roof’s surface.

PROTECTIVE TUBES Inside, overhead tubes with precision lenses and mirrors send the sunlight to a central distribution point. The plastic tubes simply help protect the mirrors from dust, but the light is essentially traveling through empty space.

LENSES Multiple lenses in the tubes act to both refocus light as well as spread it out

MIRROR BOX Mirrors act to reflect the light to the desired location. At the center of the box, a mirror is simply shifted to toggle between electrical light and natural sunlight as needed.

IN LINE LIGHTING In cloudy or night time instances, a set of auxiliary lights can be turned on. The auxiliary in-line lighting is powered by 3 HID PAR

(high intensity discharge parabolic) lights for each solar collector.

SOLAR CANOPY The canopy serves to modulate and temper the sunlight. Light reflected onto the parabolic ceiling canopy creates a ratio of diffuse light to direct light that emulates the natural condition of the sky.

LANDSCAPE An undulating terrain intersects with various levels of light intensity. Dozens of plant species have been carefully placed to correspond to these variations in light. Since the Lowline Lab will be open for multiple months, we will test the efficiency of the technology over time, as well as the general viability of various plant species.

To determine which plants best thrive underground the Lowline teamed up with a group of experts,led and Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Growing Plants

The Lowline Lab landscape, designed by Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen and built by John Mini Distinctive Landscapes, is composed of over 3,000 plants and dozens of unique varieties, spread across 1,000 square feet. The Lab gives us the opportunity to study plant life in the same type of environment as the future Lowline, and will help determine which types of plants will grow best underground.

Embarking upon what is essentially a whole new field of horticulture, the team looked at variables related to temperature, humidity, light levels, water needs, color, and texture.

To create a sense of verticality and to reach different light levels, plantings inspired by stalactites and stalagmites literally drop from the canopy sky and push up through the ground. The planting area is essentially a high tech sandwich, designed to minimize erosion and provide necessary nutrients for plants. The various layers include a drainage drip pan, padding materials for topography, custom light weight soil for good drainage and root ventilation, and soil stabilization fabric.

Lab Community

We’re excited about all the science and technology that has gone into creating the Lowline Lab, and we want to get our community engaged in the process of building the Lab. The Lab will be a live open experiment, free for all members of the public to visit every weekend. During the weekdays, we are expanding our Young Designers Program to include educational sessions at the Lowline Lab, bringing thousands of kids into the space to learn all about the science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) behind the Lowline. We also want the Lab to serve as an intergenerational community hub, inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds to study and understand the transformative power of innovation.

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