Summer Thesis Research & Experimentation : Initial Proposal

The underground city of Derinkuyu, via BLDGBLOG

The subterranean environment is often perceived as a site of unforeseen threat, secrecy, and risk.  The vision of a solid ground beneath our feet is mundane and predictable,  it is the thought of an inter-tangled network of cavernous tubes, abandoned subway tunnels, graves, and infrastructural cavities that fills us with ambivalence and fear. Science fiction has portrayed the underground as an alternate world that hides subterranean monsters but also riches (Murikami’s Hardboiled Wonderland, Journey to the Centre of the Earth).  The underground can also be seen as a metaphor for a level of society that is literally living beneath us, one among the vermin and feces we hide beneath our streets. Just as the penthouses atop a skyscraper represents wealth and status, the homeless living seven stories below the New York subway represents poverty at an almost subhuman level.

In a way, the buildings of cities such as New York and London can be perceived as a series of grafted limbs, hooked up and connected to a  utilitarian series of infrastructural pipes, tunnels, and transportation networks, most of which is unmapped and unexplored but sometimes inhabited by people on the fringe of society. The tunnels underneath Chinatown in San Francisco are rumored to currently hold a variety of illegal underground activity (in both the physical and figurative sense), from gambling police officers to the illegal smuggling of people and goods. Underground circulation tunnels between Mexico and the U.S. allow for illegal aliens and drugs to pass political boundaries. The underground has the power to inspire a terrestrial paranoia, as if the ground were to open up it could potentially reveal a world for which we have no maps or societal values. The cover of ground allows a subculture to flourish, one which allows hijackers to live beyond the realm of the political state. My proposed thesis would examine the notion of spatial “hackers” or outlaws, who physically take over subterranean space in order to conquer or isolate themselves from mainstream political nation-states, as well as the perceived tensions and fears associated with these networks.

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