Have you ever wondered how you are leading more and more efficient lives in your city due to the constant changes occurring in its urban fabric? Areas which seemed remote or were difficult to access are now more connected than ever and quicker to reach. While the economic and social conditions of a city play a role in its development, there are a few other factors that also affect the lifestyle of the city’s residents. One of the primary factors is the transport network- how the city is connected to its suburbs, how the roads are interlinked for efficiently reaching distant places, and so on. Here are some examples by which the movement within and around the cities becomes more efficient by integrating a better road network within the urban planning process- through bypass roads, subway systems, metro lines, etc. 

It is a vicious cycle of interdependence wherein the mass movement of people in cities from the outskirts or nearby areas creates the need for better road networks, and the building of better road networks enables further urbanization

The first-ever subway system was built in London in 1860. The “tube line” soon made its way into London’s underground tapestry and inspired many cities around the world like Budapest and Paris by 1900, to adopt underground networks for transportation, which, in turn, helped in reducing congestion of traffic on the roads. With constant technology innovation, each new system integrated better and more efficient planning systems. In the present times, innovators like Elon Musk can envision ventures like The Boring Company wherein a futuristic metal elevator lowers Tesla to an underground labyrinth of roads, in which individual cars are transported at high speeds to avoid traffic and associated collisions. 

Some examples of how road connectivity and transportation play an important role in transforming the lifestyles of the citizens are as follows:

Bypass Roads | Underground Culture 

A bypass road avoids the built-up area, town, or village to enable the movement of traffic from the periphery without interference from the local traffic. It helps to reduce congestion in the built-up area and improves road safety. It is apt where there is the continual unacceptable impact such as noise, fumes, and vibration from the heavy truck traffic. Apart from making the surrounding areas more accessible to the residents, it also opens up opportunities for businesses like stores, restaurants, etc., or additional land for commercial development or factory location which could encourage economic growth. 

Underground Culture and Architecture - Sheet1
Hwy 27 Bypass at SR 378 to be relocated & realigned with a new traffic light_©Dean Wilson

Subway or Underground Tube

Subways are usually made up of several cars operated on a multiple unit system that helps to transport a large number of passengers within the urban and suburban areas. Charles Pearson, as a part of the city improvement plan for London, proposed the first subway system. 

It was built using the cut and cover method- that is, by making trenches along the streets, with bricks on the sides and a brick arch or girders for the roof, restoring the roadway on the top. Later in 1890, the first electric underground railway was opened. The tube stations served a dual purpose of commuting as well as air-raid shelters during both the world wars.

By 1896 in Budapest, the subway design evolved by using single cars with trolley poles, and a more efficient construction system was established by replacing the brick arch with a flat roof with steel beams to in turn form a shallower trench.

The Paris metro was opened in 1900. Owing to the wider streets overhead and the improvisation of cut and cover method, vertical shafts were sunk at regular intervals, side trenches were dug and masonry foundations were placed immediately under the road surfaces to support the wood shuttering. This helped to construct the roof arch with less disturbance to the street traffic.

The subway systems may have differences in terms of design, method of construction in relation to the context in which they are built, but they are one of the best solutions for catering to the rapidly increasing population in different cities around the world. 

Underground Culture and Architecture - Sheet2
Underground Culture-1992 stock Tube train at Lancaster Gate station, London_©Tom Page

Basements | Underground Culture

Basements are typically those floors of a building that are partly or entirely built under the ground level. They are usually used as utility spaces or storage spaces and sometimes even as a whole floor that comprises living or activity areas of a house. 

Some of the primary geographical factors on which the use of a basement depends are climate, soil, seismic activity, building technology, and real estate economics. They can be easily constructed in areas with relatively softer soils and be restricted in earthquake-prone zones. However, they may be essential to provide shelter against violent winds in tornado-prone areas. They can help to reduce costs of heating and cooling as they can be used in the form of earth sheltering.

The different types of basements cater to a variety of functions and utility spaces. For example- 

An English basement, also known as a daylight basement, is contained in a house where at least part of the floor goes above ground to provide reasonably-sized windows. Daylight basements can be used for several purposes—as a garage, as maintenance rooms, or as living space. The buried portion is often used for storage, laundry room, hot water tanks, and HVAC.

On the other hand, an underground cellar, most commonly found in the older houses in the United Kingdom, is a room below the ground floor that is used for the storage of coal or wine.

Apart from the above-mentioned uses, basements are also used for parking, activity rooms, home theatre or an indoor swimming pool or a gymnasium, and many more purposes. 

Underground Culture-Vineria Wine Cellar_©Nick Paniashvili

The above examples show how these different forms of underground culture in architecture, though less spoken about, play their part in making our daily lives better. While metro or subways systems increase connectivity for their users, the basements play an important role in making the projects more efficient in terms of design by allowing its users to hide away the utilities underground or create more space for storage and so on. Underground culture in architecture is an actively explored field, but it should be given more acknowledgment by the public at large. 


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ArchDaily. (n.d.). Gallery of Vineria Wine Cellar / NS Studio – 4. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/939746/vineria-wine-cellar-ns-studio/5ebf40bbb35765106b00092d-vineria-wine-cellar-ns-studio-photo?next_project=no  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2022].


Shaymi Shah is a published author and an architectural content writer by profession. Through keen observation about architecture and life around her, she weaves narratives through her writing as she wants to make people, even outside the fraternity, realize the importance and fundamental need of design in our daily lives.