Since the beginning of humankind, what is called subterranean architecture, exists. It is, in fact, finding shelter in the underground. This concept was once used in order to create caves, refuges, tunnels; as an answer for the most primitive needs. Today, subterranean architecture is mystique. It has a certain intrigue to it, playing between fear and fantasy. Discovering and uncovering new sensations, playing on this possibility of creating new congregated yet separated spaces. 

This article will take you through a quick visit to some subterranean architectures around the world!

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Derinkuyu: One of the oldest subterranean architectures

Derinkuyu is an underground city, constructed around the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, in ancient Turkey. Behind its large volcanic stones of the Cappadocia region, around 20,000 people found shelter. One could encounter a range of functions: wineries, oil presses, storage rooms, stables, chapels, and refectories. 

It is said that Derinkuyu had a depth of 60 meters, equaling 18 levels-deep. Nowadays, archeologists have uncovered about 600 entrances to this underground city. What is fascinating is the presence of courtyards alongside residences.

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Chengdu’s underground city of knowledge: Fangsuo Bookstore

You can encounter Fangsuo bookstore in the underground of a commercial street located in Chengdu. Interesting no? The project was built by Chu Chih-Kang in 2015 and covers an area of 5280 square meters. The architect wanted to create what he calls a “modern underground,” inspired by the history of a famous Chinese Buddhist monk of the Tang Dynasty, Xuanzhang. What inspired Chu Chih-Kang was primarily a space that helps elevate reflection. Therefore, he thought of this bookstore as a place where the ritual of knowledge will be prominent—a nesting space where people would find their inner peace and tranquility. 

The whole bookstore scene is brought up together thanks to raw materials and old construction techniques, trying to mimic an ancient depository. 

The architect thinks of this bookstore as being the embodiment of human culture, history, and wisdom. He uses some elements of the universe, like constellations, for instance, to emphasize the idea of looking forward to an unknown future while cherishing, understanding, and reflecting on the past. 

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Stockholm’s White Mountain

The Pionen White Mountain is an office building built by Albert France-Lanord Architects in 2008 and covers 1200 square meters, going 30 meters deep underground. Vita Berg Park’s granite rocks provide shelter for the client, who’s an internet provider. Superb nest! 

The architects thought of the granite rocks as being living organisms, around which the humans will accommodate. It is the perfect symbiosis between plants, geology, water, humans, light, and technology. What was interesting during the conceptualization of this project was the choice of lighting: it shouldn’t allow the loss of time. Because yes, indeed, in the underground, one might be trapped by time! Albert France-Lanord Architects claim that their explicit references come from science fiction movies, especially “Silent Running.” 

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New York’s Lowline 

The Lowline is a park under construction in the undergrounds of New York. The project’s name is a game, rezoning back to the Highline project: an old railway converted into a park. The co-founders of the Lowline project are James Ramsey and Dan Barasch. They suggested that the system of “remote skylights” would help to direct natural light into the underground. 

Lowline’s construction started in 2019 and was expected to end in 2021. However, Ramsey and Barasch confirmed in 2020 that the project is on hold due to the lack of funds. 

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Le Parc des Célestins, a parking in the heart of Lyon

Le Parc des Célestins or Le Parking des Célestins is an underground parking, located in Lyon, France. The construction of this building ended in 1994 and wanted itself to be an artistic intervention in a crowded city full of cars.  The project answered a call made by the mayor to generate an artistic oeuvre in the vehicle’s town. The architects of this oeuvre are Michel Targe and Jean-Michel Wilmotte. What inspired Targe and Wilmotte the most are the wells of Tuscany. 

The Parking des Célestins is an intervention that is aimed at replacing the existing parking. The project has a depth of 22 meters, with a diameter of 51 meters. It offers around 440 parking lots and organizes itself in 6 levels and a half.  Look how remarkable this space is! 

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A Sublime Statement 

Subterranean architecture, commonly known as underground architecture, forms a new opportunity to discover in our design world today. One should keep in mind that this concept is as old as humankind, dating back to ages before the year 00. In our nature, as human beings, we never invent something new. We just innovate, accommodate, modify, and appropriate what we already know deep inside our history. 

Subterranean architecture forms a sublime statement, reinforcing the connectivity to the physical roots of the earth. It offers new opportunities to uncover new sensations and spatial experimentations. As we saw in the examples above, underground architecture can be seen under a massive umbrella of options and interpretations. Let yourself be immersed in the frightening yet secure world of secretive world fantasies.


Dima Fadel is a passionate and curious architect, constantly seeking new knowledge. She graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Architectural Studies from the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts in Beirut last summer, and is currently pursuing her MSc in Integrated Architectural Design at La Salle, in the urban laboratory of Architecture: Barcelona.