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Below Ground Level
By Ernst von Meijenfeldt

October 31, 2002 /
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Below-ground-1.jpgPhoto: Christian Richters

This book illustrates what happens when inventive architects recognize and make use of unsuspected architectonic qualities of the space under the familiar surface of the earth.Chairman of the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects BNA

The challenge of building below ground level sheds new light on all aspects of architectural and urban design. Any space that involves descending from our typical above-ground environment is a provocation to our sensory perceptions.
Such hidden spaces evoke latent images of mythical dimensions, and they confront us with the clash between nature and artifice in our built environment.
This book explores the character, use and design of underground space as a space of its own.

Below-Ground-2.jpgPhoto: O. Alamany & E. Vicens/corbis
The Yao Dong

The Yao Dong is a kind of submerged patio house.  The patio, a rectangular hole in the ground, is roughly eight by 10 meters wide and six to seven meters deep. The Yao Dong is perfectly consistent with the Chinese style of living, strongly introverted in character and focussed on the family.

Whole villages are dug out in this way in a sort of draughtboard pattern.  People have lived in Yao Dongs since at least 5000BC.

Below-Ground-3.jpgPhoto: Christian Richters

The transparent pyramid in the inner courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris by Ieoh Ming Pei.

Below-Ground-4.jpgPhoto: A.Furudate/Kozlowsky/Guy Jordan
Musée des Graffiti in Niaux, France by Massimiliano Fuksas

Below-Ground-5.jpgPhoto: Timothy Hursley
Law Faculty Library at the University of Michigan by Gunnar Birkert & Associates

Below-ground-6.jpgPhoto courtesy Hans Hollein
Hans Holleins winning design for the Augusteum Guggenheim Museum in Salzburg, Austria

In religious buildings, light entering from above has a powerful significance.  Two subterranean churches in Helsinki and Brasilia emphasize the poles of heaven and earth.  Both have been submerged into the ground and given dramatically designed light roofs./Ernst von Meijenfeldt

Below-Ground-7.jpgPhoto: Pentti Harala Ky
The Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki, Finland by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen

Below-Ground-8.jpgPhoto: Pentti Harala Ky
Interior of the Temppeliaukio Church

Below-Ground-9.jpgPhoto: Robert Hart
Cathedral Metropolitana in Brasilia by Oscar Niemeyer

Taking the underground into consideration makes it possible to organize functions on top of each other. The potential result is an intense, vital city, undisturbed by heterogenous infrastructural elements.  Underground building is even the driving force behind the current updating and renewal of our cities, as here the current urban dynamic can unfold more freely than in many an overground intervention./Ernst von Meijenfeldt

Below-Ground-10.jpgUnderground building by OMA opening up for daylight and view.

Below-Ground-11.jpgUnderground building by OMA opening up for daylight and view.

All over the world the underground (subway) has become a model of innovation. From the Jubelee Line in London to the Fosteritos in Bilbao, to the newly inaugurated Copenhagen Metro and on and on....

Interviews with many renowned designers including Norman Foster, Emilio Ambasz, Floris Alkemade of OMA, Francine Houben of Mecanoo, John Carmody and other convey the views of the architects themselves on the subject. Various essays reflect on the cultural aspects, planning conditions, design considerations, technical requirements and sustainability aspects of building below ground level.

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Publisher: Birkhäuser

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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