As Above, So Below

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Fig: 1 – Subterranean Cave (Credit-FaunaFocus)


Subterranean Architecture is not a new concept, as humans have ventured and sought shelter in caves and caverns. Man and animals alike have exploited the protective properties of land and soil long before recorded history, developing simple means of dealing with harsh climates and hostile environments on surfaces.

Ranging from polar cold regions to arid deserts, subterranean dwellings offered refuge from extreme variations in atmospheric temperatures. While some regions adapted to underground shelters, some came up with efficient means of construction to protect themselves on the surface. Underground spaces were then used as places to hide from major threats in the form of tunnels/bunkers.

The tunnels of the Cappadocia Region of Turkey led scientists to an underground city. It is said that the city was used by the Cappadocians as a long-term hiding place during wars. Due to long stays, it became a self-sustained city with complex water channels and air shafts. Thus, Subterranean architecture has always existed in some form or the other but in our modern world, the typology was only explored in the 70s.

Fig: 2 – Inadequate space for any kind of infrastructure (Credits-Luke Micheal)


Subterrain architecture was brought into mainstream architecture in the 1970s in the form of the Underground movement. Underground Architecture or “terratecture” is a marriage of buildings and the natural environment. The movement was inspired by the belief that our cities are over urbanized and unnatural to live in.

Though this movement saw the concept translating into art galleries, libraries or recreational spaces, it quickly dwindled and is now used either for private constructions or as a theoretical concept. Over urbanization and population remains an issue that is increasing every year. By 2050, the current 8.4 billion will have increased to 9.7 billion and a massive 11.2 billion by 2100. Today, cities are expanding at an accelerating rate, but over the years there will be no places for expansion, and the future will see stagnant cities.

While this future estimate is an alarming issue it is also an opportunity for creative thinking for exploring and redefining our existence on land. Can we re-explore this future by offering solutions now? And can these be right under our feet?

Fig: 3 – Houses for art-Wrightwood 659 (Credits-Tadao Ando)


The general outlook of architecture throughout history gives us a reflection of the needs of people and their adaptation to it. Similarly, underground places were used for protection from extreme climates or enemies or threats. Architecture and infrastructure in present times have also evolved with the needs of today's generations.

Urban areas are now hotspots for the latest developments in the economy, living and recreation. Although the demand for development is outpacing the spatial limit of cities. In turn, the existing open and green spaces are now being utilized by the needed infrastructure. It has led to an imbalance in built and natural environments.

This has created several issues like pollution, degrading biodiversity and much more, in and beyond cities. Moreover, due to the haphazard and capitalist development of cities, they have more infrastructure to support the economy than the health and social well-being of its citizens. Can we provide a solution to the existing urban infrastructure that balances the built and natural environment and also acts as a social and recreational space for the people?

Fig: 4 – Conceptual underground park (Credits-CEBRA)


While the city infrastructure and planning is a result of a much deeper rooted problem-solving, the growth of cities is inevitable.

In such an ever-expanding future, how will we protect the existing open spaces while also providing better infrastructure in growing cities for public use?

Can subterranean architecture help us in doing so? Can we provide an underground space that accommodates public spaces and in turn preserves the above open land?

Brief: Design a subterranean recreation and public park. The design aims at providing a space that would act as a park/public square, but underground while maintaining the surface landscape.

Activities and infrastructure for playing, buying, eating and recreation are to be provided

The above open surface will act like an open park but with no infrastructure.


The following objectives can be a point of beginning to the convenience of this design. Participants are to design retail shops/stalls/activities for about 200 visitors daily and form their program outline.

Materials and Construction: Explore, question and ideate the concept, constructional techniques and materials for building underground.

Functioning: Basic planning, light, ventilation according to the region’s climate and topography.

Surface: Address the technical aspects and landscape transformations on the surface while designing underground.

Life cycle: It should be able to sustain its form and function for the distant future.


Phoenix is dominated by its suburban sprawl, from 1990 to 2000 the city has grown by 47% to over 3.5 million people and is expected to increase to 7 to 8 million by 2030. As the city lies in the desert and expanding rapidly, the effect of urban heat islands haunts the city’s health and atmosphere.

While there are plenty of open spaces, they are either used for parking or are reserved for housing/infrastructure projects. Thus, the site selected is a recreational park, which can be the beginning of subterranean construction to preserve open spaces and let cities breathe.

Area:12,660 sqm
Height restriction: 6 metres (below ground level) and 2 metres (above ground level)
Coordinates: Nuestro Park