December 20 2012

A Review: The BLDGBLOG Book Chapter 2: The Underground

Geoff Manaugh’s BLDGBLOG book attempts to frame the world as consisting of architecture, resultant of design choices, as legible texts similar to a work of literary fiction, and perhaps most importantly, open to the possibility of rebuilding. With his personal interests at the fore (including a penchant for novelistic allegory and acoustic quality of space), Manaugh delves into an analysis of underground structures.

A sewer tunnel in Montreal

The vast tunnels below the earth’s surface could be as smooth and abstract as urban infrastructure, with the geometrical rigidity of channels, transit lines, and sewer pipes, or as organic as rocky caves in Afghanistan, forged over eons of geologic time. In some cases this distinction between the abstract and the organic is less clear-cut, with artificially climate-controlled Johannesburg mineshafts, dug so deep that even the rock is hot to the touch, or the sclerotic, layered tunnels of London, where infrastructure, channelized underground waterways, and secret WWII bunkers intersect.

An underground shelter in London

Manaugh introduces these vastly different examples to encourage consideration of the unseen spaces below ground, both in terms of possibilities and pitfalls. The idea of a hollow Earth, with capillary-esque passages and voids, encourages archeological exploration, but is fraught with unanticipated peril. Toss in some appropriately well-lit photos of sewers, and Manaugh has effectively suggested we should think about what is underground. The readers are left wondering to what end this speculation leads, as if Manaugh’s food for thought is less of a discursive feast about the role of design underground, and more of series of small tastes of a wide variety of rapidly introduced topics generating little sustenance. As one might expect from a book that evolved from a personal blog, Manaugh’s topics have less of a cohesive vision or argument and are only given the lightest speculative treatment.

This makes The BLDGBLOG Book a page turner, but in contemporary design discussions we can ill afford the luxury of this idle musing, and must turn instead to solving the dire challenges we face.

Has considering an unfamiliar topic helped you to adopt a new approach to a problem?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Andrew Kinaci

After graduating from Princeton University with an A.B. in Architecture and a Certificate in Urban Studies, Andrew Kinaci set out to the Midwest to break out of the insular world of academia, and into the direct service of non-profit work. After a year working on Chicago’s West Side with a social enterprise specializing in re-entry employment training for ex-felons, Andrew now works for an organization conducting energy audits of multi-family affordable housing buildings. He will be blogging about the many ways Chicago is seeking a more sustainable and equitable urban future.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2012 at 8:59 pm and is filed under Architecture, Engineering, Infrastructure, Social/Demographics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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