Claiming the forgotten

A lot of the ways we use light is to mimic the day. We illuminate the corners forgotten by the sun and create inhabitable spaces during the night. And often light can take on a life of its own, revealing a previously unseen dimension of a surface or influencing the atmosphere and hue of an entire space. A great deal of our existence is spent in the light and the sun itself is an element that we rely upon to sustain life. As we live in denser urban fabrics, we not only share our space, we share our experience of sunlight. Urban spaces are beginning to be designed in a way that factors in escape – escaping into the potential sunlight.

These new means of urban escape are popping up in the strangest places, whether it’s beneath highway underpasses or in a 112 year old cavern under the Manhattan metropolis. Entrepreneurs Dan Barasch and James Ramsey successfully crowd funded their subterranean dream jungle, Lowline, in 2012. It is an underground park in New York, covering some 4,600 meters square with lush greenery and is slated to open in 2020. Their whimsical landscape is wholly reliant on piping sunshine into the darkness of the underground dwelling.

Stretching the sun is not a new concept. Architecture is riddled with sun tunnels which bend light and coax illumination into otherwise dull spaces. Think of a difference natural illumination would make to one’s perception of a dark underpass. Light not only serves a practical purpose, but influences our impression of an environment. So what happens when we begin to inhabit the subterranean, where the sunlight does not live? We need to not only think about how these dark spaces become visible, but consider how the lighting technique influences our perception of the entire environment. Adding a layer of light, that otherwise isn’t there, automatically gives these places a new life.

The Lowline has teamed up with SunPortal, a UK and South Korea based start up that trades in daylight technology. Channelling the sun is an emerging category of lighting that utilises a system of focusers and mirrors. It is also being implemented for delivering daylight to tunnels and spaces that are otherwise without light. The project uses silver and glass sunlight collectors in the form of parabolic dishes. Their materiality helps to repel dust that would in the past dim the intensity of the lumens. The sunlight is then channelled into a pipe filled with optical lenses that reflects the light downward. Once the light reaches the level to be distributed, it is diffused through a fixture.

An atmosphere of light is layered in subtle complexity. The question then becomes – how do we design how we perceive light? Beyond illumination, we read the colour temperature and intensity of the light. These all contribute to our experience of a space and can influence the depth and detail that we take in. One would need to consider that something is lost in translation between the sky and the subterranean.

In a time of seeking alternative realms for humans to inhabit, we are attempting to recreate the chemical and biological environment of the Earth. To go beyond to places that would otherwise be untenable to human life. The technology being developed to facilitate the Lowline is taking one step closer to how humans can not only extend their biological life elsewhere, but can also influence how we consider the psychological implications of light in moments of darkness.

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