Finding the Sun Underground

It’s still in the works, but an innovative duo has figured out a way to turn an abandoned underground parking garage into a lush, green, sunlit garden. Seeing the sun isn’t normally something we associate with being underground, but according to Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, it’s a possibility with boundless potential.


“All of a sudden you have this idea beginning to emerge where you can take this ancient disused space underneath the city and actually turn it into a public space, a garden really, for everyone to enjoy,” said Ramsey.


Ramsey is an architect and principal at RAAD Studio, and Barach is a former VP of strategic partnerships for PopTech. The two have raised over half a million dollars for their pet project “Lowline,” which if completed could turn a disused, dusty space beneath NYC into a beautiful public garden.


Ramsay has a background in engineering—he used to work for NASA—and has come up with an innovative solution to the lack of light underground: fiber optic cables attached to remote skylights. By connecting the two together, the duo says they can capture sunlight far above and funnel it down underground, where it can effectively shine down on the garden. The sun’s UVA and infrared rays are filtered out by the skylights’ glass surfaces, but the light is sufficient to activate plants’ necessary photosynthesis.


“We looked to the way that they build space telescopes to actually cobble together a mesh of flat pieces to create a very completed curved surface, and that curved surface is calibrated to actually deploy the light,” explained Ramsey.


Both innovators know that this is not a quick project. Barasch even quit his job at PopTech last March to devote himself full time to the project. “It’s very big in terms of its integration with the overall ecosystem of the space, the neighborhood, the subway line, the community and the city and we want to do this right,” he said.


Even if the two raise enough money to complete the project—an estimated $50 million for construction—they still have a few hurdles in their path. It would take five to eight years to complete construction, and before they could even begin they’d need to work with the city, MTA officials, and the state government to gain control of the space. But they’re determined to do so.


“It taps into this thing that every human actually just needs which is public space and some semblance of being outdoors as well as being inspired by making the city more beautiful, more livable,” says Barasch.


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