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Under the Rail: A new park is recharging Miami, Florida

The seed of what would become The Underline was planted as Meg Daly took her daily ride on Miami’s Metrorail. Daly noticed the maintenance corridor beneath the track was an uninterrupted piece of land spanning 10 miles across the city. If the property could become public space, Daly thought, pedestrian and bike pathways could connect a sprawling, auto-centric city in new ways. Seven years later, Phase 1 of The Underline opened. The first half-mile of the 10-mile-long, 120-acre linear park immediately became a destination for locals and tourists.  

Landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations was awarded the project, and HLB Lighting was selected as the lighting designer. Alejandro Vazquez, project manager for The Underline and a senior associate at Field Operations, describes the first phase as a “procession of rooms with different characters and activities.” 

The River Room offers views of the Miami River and city skyline and provides residents of the Brickell neighborhood with a connection to the river and a quiet, contemplative space for respite. The active Urban Gym offers a variety of physical activities, from yoga to basketball. The two-block-long Promenade is one of the busiest spots in the park. Filled with pedestrian commuters entering the Metrorail station on one side of the Promenade and a series of social spaces keep this area bustling. The Oolite Room pays homage to the limestone geography of the region. Coral stone outcroppings and garden areas define this space as one for strolling, relaxing, and enjoying nature. A bike trail and pedestrian path connect these four distinct zones.

Connecting the spaces along the half-mile of The Underline are Arne area lights from Landscape Forms design partner Urbidermis. “Arne lighting is one of our favorite site elements,” Field Operations’ Principal Isabel Castilla says. She explains the unique role the lights play in the park: “The park is flat. There are no canopy spaces, few tree plantings, nothing that could impede the trains running above or rail inspection. The light poles are the only vertical element in the park. We knew we wanted a series of elements that maintained the singular character of The Underline. The fixtures have a simplicity but also a strong character. They are functional and beautiful, and they’ve become something iconic within the park.”  HLB lighting designer Simi Burg adds, “The lights provide a continuous rhythm and act as a branding element for The Underline.”

Arne’s performance features appealed to both Field Operations and HLB. With The Underline’s variety of spaces, lighting needed to illuminate appropriately for the activities within the destinations. “Arne gave us one vocabulary and an extremely successful fixture that was versatile but also uniform in its design,” says Castilla. “Arne’s flexible multi-head fixture allowed us to create different lighting schemes with a consistent language across the park,” adds HLB lighting designer Eddy Garcia. “Arne provided the optics we needed to minimize light trespass, and its outputs gave us the tools to light well without overlighting.”

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