Underground Trolley Terminal Re-envisioned as a Public Park

By now, I think we’ve all heard about the Highline in NYC, a successful adaptive reuse project that transformed an abandoned elevated train line into a public park.  The incredible popularity of the project has no doubt inspired other cities to take a look at abandoned infrastructure in a new way in hopes of imitating the creative project.

The LowLine takes the concept of reclaiming unused infrastructure for public green space one step further.  “If the High Line is a sand dune, the LowLine is the forest floor,” said James Ramsey, co-founder and lead architect behind the project.  LowLine proposes to use a former NYC trolley terminal as a public park – underground. Yes, you read that correctly the LowLine will be a park that is underground.

Lowline Prototype via CoDesign

This month, LowLine is exhibiting a prototype of their underground park in a NYC warehouse (if you’ll be in the area be sure to check it out!).  The photographs of the exhibit published by CoDesign are beautiful and provocative.  I fell for them and the project at first sight.  James said of the visual he created, “It’s like you’re walking in the forest, and you turn a corner and see a fallen tree illuminated in a shaft of light.”   To me the images are ruin porn meets enchanted forest – layers  of paint chipping and peeling  from brick walls, concrete ceilings, and other detritus giving way to a pristine, magical bed of moss and ferns, a tree-topped knoll, and a hovering cloud of mirrored hexagons throwing off light and rainbows.   It’s unreal.  So unreal, in fact, that it reminds me a lot of (and I’m showing my age and nerdy upbringing here) all those Holodeck scenes in Star Treck: The Next Generation.

Holodeck via Kooz Top Five

I also like this project because it’s green and it has the potential to reuse historic places in a new and innovative way.  Adapting an existing structure (historic or not) is almost always greener than building something new (particularly if demolition of an existing structure is required).   Building and demolition use fossil fuels (to bring supplies in/truck out debris and power heavy equipment), which creates air pollution. New materials use up resources.  The list goes on and on.

The former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal built in 1903 and shuttered in 1948, is the proposed site for the LowLine.  Despite 60 years of neglect, it retains  some of its original features including cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks, and vaulted ceilings. Though the LowLine proposal does not explicitly state that it will be incorporating these features into its park design, it is implied.  The depot was originally used as a depot for streetcars serving Williamsburg and the Lower East Side until trolley service was discontinued. It is adjacent to the JMZ subway track, which means that park patrons and subway users would interact in the space.  Using the former terminal will connect present-day New Yorkers with NYC’s transportation history, while using it for an entirely new and innovative purpose.  (I’m sure there are folks in the neighborhood who still remember the city’s street cars and using the terminal as a part of their daily commute!).  If the proposal become a reality and is successful, I think we can expect to see more people attempt to craft new and exciting spaces out of existing infrastructure.

What do you all make of this trend? Can an underground park work (some issues I can think of offhand are maintenance costs, humidity, and safety)?  Do you think the LowLine will become a reality?

For more photos and information, make sure you check out CoDesign’s article!





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  1. Pingback: This Week « Bricks + Mortar

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