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The Respite Below: Among Teams Developing the Lowline Shines Two Industry Stars

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Article by: Greenline

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Plant oasis - John Mini, vice president of operations at John Mini Distinctive Landscapes, points out a design component of the Lowline project which seeks to create a subterranean park on Manhattan's Lower East Side. (PHOTO COURTESY JOHN MINI DISTINCTIVE LANDSCAPES)

It’s been roughly two months since Mark Mini and Andrew Engel shared with a TPIE audience the horticulture experiment they are part of  which utilizes mirrors to reflect sunlight down into an abandoned trolley line to grow plants on Manhattan’s east side. The pair are contributing their horticulture design expertise to the ambitious repurpose project seeking to create an underground public space. And, according to Mini, things are about to kick into high gear. 

Mini and Engel of John Mini Distinctive Landscapes, a Manhattan-based design firm, are gearing up to assist in taking the project from the warehouse where they’ve been conducting test trials, to the underground location known as the Lowline. The mission? To create the first underground park with flora supported by natural sunlight, according to Mini. FNGLA’s Kate Clary caught up with Mini for a project update:

FNGLA: So, catch us up-to-date with the Lowline project since TPIE. I understand there’s now a countdown until you take the project from the warehouse to the underground location?

Mini: Yup. The Lowline Lab’s final weekend just passed. The lab was open for a year and a half in an abandoned warehouse which simulates the underground space. The lab phase was a success! We proved the solar technology could deliver sunlight underground to support plant life, that visitors would be positively impacted by such a project and we engaged the community. We also learned a ton of interesting horticulture bits.
Now that the proof of concept phase is complete, we’re on to the underground project. We’ve shifted gears onto the lessons learned from the lab and how we can use them to effectively design the underground space. Right now the Lowline is targeting a completion of the underground park by 2021.

FNGLA: How exciting! Switching gears a bit, what was your impression of TPIE? You got some pretty awesome questions during your session. Were you surprised that people were so interested in the nuts and bolts of the project?

Green work - With an "open to the public" completion date of 2021, Mini and Engle are in for the long haul as the experiment phase completes and the real work of greening America's cities begins. (PHOTO COURTESY MARK MINI)

Mini: TPIE was fantastic this year. There was a buzz that I hadn’t felt in a few years. My take is that the economy is going in the right direction and plants are in! Everyone wants to find ways to bring nature to the places they live, work and play. And thus everyone from those manning the booths to the attendees had incredible energy. 
I’m glad that same buzz carried into our presentation. To be honest, Andrew and I were a bit nervous that there would be some skepticism. I mean building a park underground with cutting-edge solar technology. It sounds kooky! But, we were thrilled with everyone’s response to the project! We felt they were inspired by the idea of finding new and creative ways to bring green to our cities and that they’re interested in how this project can serve as a precedent.

FNGLA: Any news on the direction of the project?

Mini: Yes, all positive news! The Lowline team officially secured the underground space. Over the next couple years, the Lowline team and partners will be tasked with fundraising, community engagement and design milestones to ensure the project moves in the right direction.  

FNGLA: That is great news. What did you learn from the project’s time inside the warehouse? Has it changed the direction at all of the project in any way?

Mini: We learned a ton from the lab. From how we dance fabricated light with natural sunlight to what plants will thrive in this unique environment to how we can utilize slopes and sunlight to create first of kind planting designs.
The lab learnings will influence the direction of the project. Right now our team is helping build the lab’s research report. This report will be shared with the city, the community, and all those involved in designing the future site. The lessons learned in this report raise several exciting design challenges.  

Mark Mini and Andrew Engle were featured speakers at FNGLA’s event the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) in January speaking on their role with the Lowline project. This interview is a follow-up to their presentation which left many in the audience wanting more detail and information. Mark can be reached at markmini@johnmini.com and Andrew at andrewengle@johnmini.com.

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