The Post-terranean Mega Subtropolis – Final Thesis Review 2013


My project is based on the idea that the current amount of built territory, being preserved is growing exponentially; In the past, only ancient monuments received legal protection to be considered historic; today buildings that are 30 years old are regularly listed as such. About 12 percent of the built environment now falls under various regimes of natural and cultural preservation. This has left the future of many major cities frozen in context.

In cities with a particularly high preservationist ethos, such as San Francisco, we can imagine that 100 years from now this condition has increased exponentially.


Preservation here has rendered the city as we know it in an embalmed state , where new developments in the upward and outward direction have been significantly restricted. Facing a population increase of more than 3 billion people, we find ourselves in an interesting dichotomy where on one side progress asks for modernization and on the other side we freeze context.


Finding themselves in a stalemate between the city’s rich historical fabric and its future growth and progress, a series of guidelines were implemented that would allow for both to coexist. The plan was to create a subterranean twin city: one that would enable a multiplication of the ground to occur in densely populated areas, creating a new frontier for real estate growth and inhabitance, invisible to the city’s skyline.


The presence of an existing underground subway system would act as the project’s infrastructural spine connecting the City’s densest housing district with its congested commercial downtown district.


Grid+ Obstacles

Between the existing transit network below and layers of the city’s existing infrastructure above, space is divided into parcels using a grid system, for which units are able to be eaten up in three dimensions.


These parcels are significantly smaller units than the typical plot size, which could enable  a new types of vertical aggregations of space to occur.


The newly available land has led to a new type of real estate speculation: led by the large development conglomerates and cost of underground construction became heavily subsidized by the City.


Subterranean space as we know it has unfolded in a fairly benign manner: buildings were seen as a series of grafted limbs to an infrastructural sub-surface level, which holds networks of subway tunnels, sewers, pipes, and wires. In theory, this binary separation of infrastructure from inhabitable space would allow the surface would be liberated for parks, housing, schools, and other less utilitarian functions.


The same concept is pushed even further, as the capitalist sprawl of office parks, retail outlets, and seedy motels  that can be dominant in our cities would now able to exist under ground. So in  a city obsessed with holding on to the the remnants of its past,  this system would allow capitalism to continue in this way – and this has materialized to an extent in dense parts of Asia for example.


It became clear that there were two distinct opportunities for potential territories for expansion and growth under ground.

1. This use of space under existing infrastructure: streets and sidewalks

And 2. The inversion of existing building sites where possible


A proposal for which sites could utilized in the project were outlined, and these would allow for access into the lower city through a series of surgically removed parts of the urban fabric: buildings considered seismically unsafe (multistory buildings built before certain structural codes changed), and current abandoned buildings or sites.


Zoning would begin to happen in section, as the existing way of arranging the city through a horizontal plane became all but obsolete. Because of their orientation to natural light, these inverse courtyards would house the large residential Sections, but would also become access portals into the lower city below. They would also potentially become foundations for building skyward.


These courtyards act as a way finding device for navigation both above and below, and have become a new building typology.


They would allow for vertical connections through pedestrian and vehicle lifts into the lower levels and also for light and air to reach these lower depths. The city was arranged based on the natural need for sunlight and ventilation rather than traditional more arbitrary ways of urban planning. Voids---animation

Over time, these voids begin to agglomerate, manipulating the existing surface of the city to create a new urban landscape. Subtraction here is seen as a type of harvest, becoming a de-densification of the surface city but also a positive tool of space making under ground.


Alternative ways of accessing the lower levels would be from traditional subway-style entrances and potentially from inside existing buildings whose facades have been preserved.


Access becomes particularly important to the underground city, as it provides not only circulation and way finding, but also relief in terms of open space, light and air.


Legal factors such as mineral rights (which are similar to air rights, where the ground below existing structures would technically be the property of that particular party) would indicate the that space under existing streets to be property of the City itself. The act of excavation, or tunneling beneath these public zones, would allow for a network of connective subterranean galleries to be housed under the existing city streets. With an infrastructural and parcel division system in place – private program  can agglomerate adjacent to these spaces as they would above ground.


These galleries would connect the city to the existing subway network, and would eventually be lined with the enormous complex of administrative offices, hotels, and endless rows of shops. As a street is, by nature, these cavernous public spaces are seen as less of a designed space, but more like a lack of built space, delegated by zoning regulations as a public amenity. Because of the enormous volume of these galleries, they act as an artificial environment – a complete takeover of the built environment.


New programmatic and spatial freedoms are able to  exist the further you descend from the surface level, as the physical obstacles from city infrastructure becomes less of an challenge – open terrain presents itself over time. In these completely subterranean spaces, spatial relationships can occur vertically, in this case resulting in a series of stacked neighborhoods or compartments of program.


In summary, with the combination of preservation regulations that have restricted the city’s growth in the face of a rising population and the presence of an existing subterranean infrastructural system (the subway), the underground becomes a place of programmatic, economic, and spatial freedom, becoming a place where architecture (and capitalism) is all encompassing. The surface city becomes a historic and environmental counterpoint to this technological underworld below: a place of nostalgia, history, and of nature and escape. It becomes liberated by the introduction of the underground as a frontier for urban growth.


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