James Ramsey and Dan Barasch hope to build New York's first subterranean green space, the Lowline, in the former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal 30 feet under Manhattan's surface. The idea behind the Lowline? It's an inverted version of the High Line—the abandoned railway-turned-public park that sits 30 feet above ground—and Ramsey and Barasch invented fiber-optic “remote skylights” that concentrate sunlight at street level and filter it, which would sustain the plant life in an underground park. To fete the launch of the “Imagining the Lowline” fund-raising initiative, the project's co-founders hosted an “anti-gala” dinner and exhibit on September 13 at the Essex Street Warehouse, a site near where the Lowline will be located.
As the main focus of the evening was to educate the approximately 225 guests about the project, there was an exhibit with maps and the history of the Williamsburg Trolley Terminal, and area that showed how the Lowline will actually work. At the center of the dining space stood a real-life example—a moss-filled and tree-laden area complete with the honeycomb-shaped lighting source above. The feel of the organic exhibit was echoed throughout the design of the entire event, aimed to reflect the Lowline's aesthetic and “to challenge assumptions about what nonprofit fund-raisers should be, and to be authentic to both the site and the [Lower East Side] neighborhood, ” said Risa Heller, who oversaw the PR for the gathering.
The venue, a former meat market that lacks electricity and running water, posed a unique challenge for event producers Van Wyck & Van Wyck and the lighting crew from Bentley Meeker, led by Scott David. So the organizers focused on keeping the feel of the event as low-key as the Lower East Side neighborhood, the home of the eventual Lowline.
“We wanted to embrace the space and its history as a Lower East Side market, which we did by bringing in long reclaimed wood dining tables and fabricating bars from old barn siding. The tabletops were kept rustic and reminiscent of what one might find on a chef’s prep table or even a cutting board,” said Bronson van Wyck, whose team included project manager Emily Locke. Adding to the furnishings were exposed brick walls washed with green and amber lighting, candlelight, and centerpieces comprised potted rosemary, lavender, mint, geranium leaves, and olive branches.
Catered by Neuman's with a menu designed by Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton, the food was served family-style. It featured rustic eats like roasted whole rabbit. Prior to dinner, guests sampled bites from noted Lower East Side eateries Russ & Daughters, Katz's, the Pickle Guys, and Sigmund's Pretzels.
As an eye-catching way to draw guests into the event, Audi of America and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation teamed up for an “Experiments in Motion” exhibit. The installation, projected on the floor, showed the constant movement in Manhattan, which was updated in real time with the current traffic patterns. Mirroring the projections on the ceiling was a 45-foot-long steel model of the Manhattan subway grid that showcased maps never before available to the public.