Meghan Edwards | September 12, 2013
"In retrospect, starting my own firm at the tender age of 26 was probably a pretty rash decision," James Ramsey begins. By 2008, when his fledgling RAAD Studio was just starting to take off, he continues, "I felt as though I could almost see the wave of the recession coming, as my existing projects finished, and the phone sat ominously silent." He took advantage of the downtime by experimenting with optical daylighting systems-drawing on his undergraduate experience working at NASA—and ended up building a functioning prototype of a fiber-optic skylight.
The eureka moment came when he discovered an abandoned underground trolley terminal a stone's throw from his New York office. "What emerged was the concept of apark, ‘sunlit' and filled with lush greenery. It gave me goose bumps," he says. To gauge politicians' and community members' interest in turning the 1½ acres of Metropolitan Transportation Authority property into Delancey Underground, he began working behind the scenes with the help of social-networking executive Dan Barasch and money manager R. Boykin Curry IV. (Curry happens to be the husband of Kemble Interiors's Celerie Kemble.) Renderings were suddenly all over New York Magazine, which nicknamed the proposal the Low Line in a riff on the High Line elevated park, also a reinvention of transportation infrastructure. "It's become a movement. It gives me a purpose and a dream," Ramsey says. He, Barasch, and Curry have founded the Underground Development Foundation to raise funds.
In the meantime, RAAD's business surged in 2011. The staff has tripled in size.