When you hear the word tunnel, you think of infrastructure and cars. You think of a transportation means, a dark banal passageway. You think of them as structures, but you forget to see their value as architecture. So, what if I showed you proof that tunnels are much more than that. What if I showed you that tunnels could be modern, innovative, playful, inspiring, and architectural. 

Ten examples of modern tunnel architecture, ranging from temporary exhibitions to architectural statements, will surely be enough to change your mind. 

1. Tunnel of Light – MAD Architects

Spanning more than 760 square kilometres, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field consists of a tunnel meant to revive cultural interest in the area. That comprises 200 villages and showcases their artworks, tying people from various backgrounds together. The uniqueness of this tunnel lies in how it contributes to spatializing and comparing cultures, intertwining history and present, and immersing all within the surrounding nature. (ArchDaily, 2021)

Indeed, panoramic views over one of Japan’s three great chasms leave one breathless. However, what brings modernity and the architectural genie is its renovation by MAD architects into a multi-experiential pathway that playfully reinforces the relationship between architecture, culture, and nature through different nodes along the tunnel. (ArchDaily, 2021)

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Tunnel of Light Node – ©Nacasa & Partners Inc.
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Tunnel of Light Node – ©Nacasa & Partners Inc.

2. Poly Grand Theater, ShanghaiTadao Ando

The Poly Grand Theatre, located between two waterways, comprises five tunnels piercing through, connecting the structure with its surroundings, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside. Each tunnel contributes in a different way to the overall experience. The first two tunnels encountered on the way from the entrance to the main theatre are the following: a six-story high vertical cylindrical lobby and a horizontal cubic foyer tunnel. The three remaining tunnels are for special occasions programs: two performance venues and the main foyer. (Gibson, 2021)

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Poly Grand Theater Tunnels – ©Yueqi Jazzy Li
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Poly Grand Theater Central Tunnels – ©Yueqi Jazzy Li

3. The Weave Project

This tunnel is a London Fashion Week installation meant to immerse adults back into their childhood while viewing the exhibition from different angles. The woven, electric-blue twisting mesh and rope set this playful tone, creating a truly modern tunnel architecture experience. That is to say that tunnels are not necessarily concrete and rigid structures. (Hitti, 2021)

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The Weave Project Tunnel –  © Numen/ For Use

4. Interference: An Interactive Tunnel By Kollision 

You cannot mention modern structures without referring to technology. This modern architecture tunnel aims to highlight the urban dynamics of social interactions. Indeed, an interactive lighting system in the tunnel walls engages people with their surroundings as motion sensors activate different light dynamics according to the number of people crossing the tunnel. So, when a person enters the tunnel, the surrounding panels turn on. (Architizer, 2021)

The motion-activated lighting then follows the person as they walk through, only to plunge the tunnel back into darkness once they exit. Accordingly, a playful environment of interacting lights will be created by highlighting the path of all the people crossing the tunnel, reflecting a connection between all who share this path. (Architizer, 2021)

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Interference: Movement Sensor Light Tunnel – ©Kollision

5. COSMETEA Pop Up Store 

This pop-up shop for a tea cosmetics brand in shanghai channels a modern tunnel architecture to immerse customers in a unique experience. The idea behind the design is to create a ‘time tunnel’ with mirrors, LED lights, and a large window that invites the surroundings inside. 

Crossing the tunnel, you go through a series of circles that aim to gradually transport you to different times in the past, like a time travel experience. This atmosphere is made possible by the visual and sensory playfulness of the modern tunnel architecture and the exhibited items. ‘The circular tunnel is like a wormhole that transcends time and space and enables people to briefly escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life’ NAX architects share. (Katsikopoulou, 2021)

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CosmeTea Pop Up Shop Entrance View – ©Raitt Liu
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CosmeTea Pop Up Shop: Side Tunnel View – ©Raitt Liu

6. Tokyo HouseBy Japanese Architect Makiko Tsukada

Makiko Tsukada designed this modern tunnel house as a way to bring the street in. Located at a T-junction, the tunnel shape clears the ground floor and intends to extend the road physically and visually. 

This completely changes the indoor space experience as you feel like the inner and outer space relationships are inverted. Indeed, quoting the architect: “From the bedroom box, one can see the view of the entire ‘tunnel-uchi’ space as if seeing an exterior view from a rooftop.”  (Frearson, 2021)

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Tunnel View as Street Extension © Shinkenchiku-sha
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Blurring Boundaries between inside and outside – © Shinkenchiku-sha.

7. Suspense, Massachusetts – Sophia Chang 

Poché. Being behind the wall of an unknown area. That feeling is what this modern tunnel architecture installation is all about. The unconventional fabric space with a malleable architectural frame sparks curiosity and awareness of the interaction between body and space. 

So, you are forced to indulge in the experience as if blindfolded. Oblivious of where you are going and how the structure is divided, but appreciating moments within the experience: new places to sit, contemplate, walk, and watch. (Frearson, 2021)

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Suspense Tunnel Plan – ©Sophia Chang
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Tunnel Venture: Suspense – ©Anita Kan
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Poché Experience: Suspense – ©Anita Kan

8. FUSIONNER 3.0 – Kotaro Horiuchi

This modern tunnel architecture installation encourages a different approach to walking through the tunnel form. Indeed, the form consists of a succession of shapes, with varying scale and form, hanging from the ceiling, thus creating numerous gaps in the sides. Accordingly, the side punctures create several access points and a multiplicity of experiences within one single axis. 

The fact that it is elevated from the ground opens the door to new forms of interactions with space: crawling, sitting, or laying down under the layers of paper. This installation served as an exhibition space for student work: “You were able to experience the air spreading in it and discover models hidden between the papers”, the architect Horiuchi said. “You could gather, discuss, enjoy the moment and even lie down.” (Howarth, 2021)

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Fusionner 3.0: Layered Tunnel – ©Kotaro Horiuchi
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Fusionner 3.0: Project in between layers – ©Kotaro Horiuchi

9. Wink Space – Masazaku Shirane and Saya Miyazaki

This unconventional and kaleidoscope-like modern tunnel architecture installation creates a unique yet variable environment. Indeed, the invigorating tunnel experience relies on the origami-like composition of mirrors, connected with zippers. That creates a multi-faceted, reflective inner surface that changes as a person walks through it. What adds to the permeability and uniqueness of the structure is the added interest that comes with having some surfaces open and close like windows. (Zhang, 2021)

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Wink Space Tunnel Kaleidoscope – ©Masakazu Shirane

10. NEST Playscape Brooklyn Children’s Museum Rooftop

This example is proof that tunnels can be fun for children too. Indeed, the Nest modern tunnel architecture playscape allows for permeability of uses and challenges the conventional use and directionality of a tunnel as kids not only use the interior space but the outer envelope is also used as part of the program. (Beall, 2021)

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NEST Playscape – © Arion Doerr
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NEST Playscape: Walking on a Tunnel – © Arion Doerr

These ten examples prove how diverse and rich a tunnel experience can be: varying shapes, blurring boundaries, piquing curiosity, and awareness of interactions between people and space. Just by modifying simple parameters like materiality, directionality, access points, you can give a whole new life to a seemingly conventional element. All in all, there is no limit to creativity, and architecture seeks richness in every structure, no matter how banal it may seem.


  • ArchDaily. 2021. Tunnel of Light / MAD Architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/963906/tunnel-of-light-mad-architects> [Accessed 11 July 2021]. 
  • Gibson, E., 2021. Tadao Ando’s Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre captured in new photographs. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2017/01/13/poly-grand-theatre-tadao-ando-shanghai-china-yueqi-li-photography/> [Accessed 11 July 2021]. 
  • Hitti, N., 2021. Anya Hindmarch and Numen/For Use create woven network of blue tunnels at London Fashion Week. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2019/02/19/anya-hindmarch-numen-for-use-weave-project-london-fashion-week/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].
  • Architizer. 2021. Interference: An Interactive Tunnel // Kollision – Architizer Journal. [online] Available at: <https://architizer.com/blog/projects/interference-4/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].
  • Katsikopoulou, M., 2021. ‘cosmetea’ pop-up shop by nax architects appears as reflective time tunnel on the streets of shanghai. [online] designboom | architecture & design magazine. Available at: <https://www.designboom.com/architecture/cosmetea-pop-up-shop-nax-architects-reflective-time-tunnel-shanghai-03-02-2021/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].
  • Frearson, A., 2021. Curving concrete creates tunnel through Tokyo house by Makiko Tsukada. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2014/04/09/tunnel-house-by-makiko-tsukada/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].
  • Frearson, A., 2021. Sophia Chang installs stretchy fabric tunnels through a gallery. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2013/12/22/huge-fabric-cocoon-sophia-chang-extended/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].
  • Howarth, D., 2021. Kotaro Horiuchi creates a paper hideout for Fusionner 3.0 installation. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2014/08/20/fusionner-3-0-paper-tunnel-installation-kotaro-horiuchi-japan/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].
  • Zhang, J., 2021. Immersive Kaleidoscope Tunnel Built Inside a Shipping Container. [online] My Modern Met. Available at: <https://mymodernmet.com/masakazu-shirane-saya-miyazaki-wink-space/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].
  • Beall, K., 2021. NEST Arrives on the Brooklyn Children’s Museum Rooftop. [online] Design Milk. Available at: <https://design-milk.com/nest-arrives-on-the-brooklyn-childrens-museum-rooftop/> [Accessed 11 July 2021].

Myriam Soubra is an architecture student at the American University of Beirut. She is minoring in urban studies and art history. She loves the multidisciplinary aspect of architecture and is interested in how different fields could enhance the design process and the design outcome.

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