Underground and Sublime: How the Subterranean Context of a City Embodies a Unique Spatial Experience

Underground and sublime

“The high gained from such subterraneous geographic expedition is so bally intense, there’s no demand for a goblet in this wonderland. Unequalled by anything on the surface degree, the bowls of the metropolis are a sight behold.” ( Graphotism, 1999 )

Modern infinite, in context of the metropolis and the experience of a metropolis inhabitant, has been reduced to a generalised position that can be described as ‘verticality’ . Gaston Bachelard ( 1969 ) presents his theory on verticalness through the mutual opposition of the basement and the loft, which in bend brings unequivocal penetrations into the really different phenomenological waies the imaginativeness perceives ; the House in our eyes is a concentrated building, constructed with upward impulse. It becomes an independent volume which provides us with a psychologically concrete nature. But within the house, infinite is opposed by the reason of the Attic and the unreason of the basement.

If the House serves as a metaphor for a City, the rules are the same in that the Attic is representative of the rational attack taken to urban spacial design. Henri Lefebvre remarks in his book The Production of Space, “Verticality, and the independency of volumes with regard to the original land and it’s distinctive features, are, exactly, produced” . Equally long as we adhere to Verticality being the cardinal axis of the urban environment, our eyes lift above the immediate specificity of district on which it is built, ensuing in a homogeneous built environment, therefore an abstraction of world.

The basement on the other manus, in the instance ‘The Underground’ , is perceived as a lost dimension, one which is defined by abstraction, but Bachelard points out that the phenomenology of populating a ‘cellar’ infinite places the dweller in a harmonious province with subterraneous forces and the unreason of digging. The position of a metropolis inhabitant on their immediate environment, one time populating an belowground infinite, is returned and further deepened, to the point that the imaginativeness is limitless within the foremost ‘dark entity’ .

The essay will research what, why and how the subterraneous context of a metropolis embodies a alone spacial experience through an question into the Sublime. The relation of Sublime theory to civic substructure embedded in the metropolis resistance will supply the evidences to oppugn whether the thoughts of the Sublime are relevant, particularly in the instance of infinite designed without architectural theoretical purposes. Can infinite be more strictly empyreal if it isn’t deliberately designed to be empyreal?


“Whatever is fitted in any kind to excite the thoughts of hurting, and danger, that is to state, whatever is in any kind awful, or is familiar about awful objects or operates in a mode correspondent to terror is a beginning of the sublime ; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion the head is capable of feeling.” ( Burke, 1990 )

Bachelard ( 1969 ) uses a short narration to explicate his theory on how belowground infinite ab initio induces a sense of fright in the topic provided by C G Jung in his book Modern Man in hunt of a Soul.

“ Here the witting Acts of the Apostless like a adult male who, hearing a leery noise in the basement, hastes to the Attic and, happening no burglars at that place decides, accordingly, that the noise was pure imaginativeness. In world, this prudent adult male did non make bold venture into the cellar.”

The Underground is depicted as the more awful in the comparing of elevated infinite and subterraneous infinite due to the degrees of witting idea used to apologize fright. In which, brings us to a cardinal trait of the Sublime. Fear is an apprehensiveness of hurting or decease, therefore rendering the organic structure nullified of its powers of moving and concluding when subjected enter the resistance. ( Burke, 1990 ) Yet this poses a paradox when we consider different scenarios that involve the rite of come ining an belowground infinite. In some occasions, for case during wartime, adult male seeks the protection of the resistance to avoid hurting or decease. The sand trap outlook takes a figure of distinguishable signifiers, from which it is deserving noticing on their deficiency of basic design considerations including comfort, airing and visible radiation. This natural disposition towards subterranean brooding roots from the earliest signifier of shelter for adult male, the cave, and yet even now the design of belowground sand traps isn’t clearly different from a of course happening cave, proposing that we besides portion a sense of security alongside fright.

There is besides the passion of wonder, even though it is the simplest of our passions, which can overmaster our frights and coerce us to follow the way to find. “When danger or strivings press excessively early, they are incapable of giving any delectation, and are merely awful ; but at certain distances, and with certain alterations, they may be, and they are delightful” . ( Burke, 1990 )

In kernel, it is the thoughts of hurting that are much more powerful than pleasance, therefore the thoughts of the empyreal emerge through awful experience, but necessarily our brushs result in pleasance. The journey undertaken by human existences with the wonder to dig deep into the unknown, the stairss taken to make a finish, particularly into deepnesss of the belowground apart from any above land spacial experience as the topic is confined from all about. A longing for the safety of the surface indicates feelings of anxiousness and claustrophobia, which could hold desperate effects, but it is precisely this fright that accordingly produces the extreme highs which will ever be attractive to the topic. ( Carlyle, 2000 )


“Adjusting to the extremes of silence and deafening noise, bright corridors and flip black stairwells and basically developing an confidant cognition of a labyrinthine system in which were one time ignored [ go ] gaps to underground frontiers.” ( Carlyle, 2000 )

The rite of traveling belowground entirely is empyreal ; as we descend into darkness our senses are aroused, awakened and heightened. Our attending to minute inside informations is increased within a confined infinite, like the sound of a rat scurrying along the tracks of the London Underground ; the physical boundaries are existent, seting the senses under unbelievable emphasis, go forthing the imaginativeness to widen into the overpowering darkness bring oning a strong sense of fright over normally undistinguished events. ”When we know the full extent of any danger, when we accustom our eyes to it, a great trade of the apprehensiveness vanishes.” ( Burke, 1990 )

These all being corollaries of our human nature, we are nonvoluntary to these effects which in all facets are linked to Sublime Theory. Edmund Burke in his book A Philosophic Enquiry into the Beginning of our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful, the distinctive features of the sublime are set out in parts and subdivision clear uping the theory of our passions and their genuine sourced. In relation to architecture, he supplies concise direction and review of the nature of empyreal infinite, but it is the direct personal experience and feelings he describes, the beginning of the sublime, which I endeavor to compare with the phenomenology of Underground infinite.

“Stepping outside our prearranged traffic forms and established finishs, we find a metropolis laced with liminality, with border districts cutting across its bosom and making into its sky. We find a 1000 disappearing points, each unique, each alive, each pregnant with wealths and admirations and time.” ( Cook, 2009 )

Modernity has brought a huge clandestine underworld into metropolis degrees, cluttered with wrestling conveyance tunnels, telecommunication lines, the mail rail, sand traps and vaults. All of which are excavated from the Earth, falling into darkness, off from any beginning of natural visible radiation, which incurs that all light is unnaturally substituted. Shadows engulf infinite, making these disappearing points that Michael Cook, an urban adventurer who runs the website Vanishing Point, talks about in Geoff Manaugh’s The BLDG BLOG Book. The vanishing point besides refers to a point of eternity, which in Sublime footings refers to a delicious horror. Upon looking down a conveyance tunnel, in belowground civic architecture, there is no light lighting the terminal, there is merely darkness, which presents the pheonomenon of eternity, therefore our imaginativeness is free to widen to our panic, or pleasance. Ideas are able to reiterate in our head about boundlessly, like “if you hold up a consecutive pole, with your oculus to one terminal, it will look extended to a length about incredible.” ( Burke, 1990 ) So even though the existent dimensions of an belowground tunnel make a sense of claustrophobia, they besides comprehend enormousness in the head of the object, non merely through the semblance of eternity but besides the cognition of the labyrinthine system that they inhabit. At this point, the entryway and the flight seem inexplicable, but the consequence of eternity on the imaginativeness switches hurting to pleasance.

Greatness of the dimension has a powerful impact on the sublime, particularly in consideration to architecture. But it can be perceived in many ways, much of them opposing. For illustration Norberg-Schulz in his book Genius Loci describes “The Mountain, therefore, belongs to the Earth, but it rises toward the sky. It is ‘high’ , it is close to heaven” , and the cosmic relation it has in connexion Eden and Earth, connoting that the monumental graduated table of a mountain making out to the Eden is genuinely empyreal. On the other terminal of the spectrum, Burke explains the degree of minuteness’ mentioning to such things as the ‘infinite divisibility of matter’ . We are every bit confounded by smallness as enormousness.

Although in footings of belowground infinite, illustriousness of dimension has its most dramatic consequence through alternate significances. Vastness of extent, in footings of length, tallness and deepness in peculiar, exaggerate perceptual experiences of the sheer measure of such infinites, even though we can non see them, which has a profound consequence on the head. Once we explore them for ourselves our civic agreeableness map are made tangible, and we know that, “Every clip we turn on the pat, draw the concatenation, pick up the telephone, there is an belowground motion ; a gurgle of H2O, an impulse along a wire.” ( Trench & A ; Hillman, 1985 ) As the beds are peeled away the venas of the metropolis are revealed, seting the belowground kingdom on a graduated table similar to the starry heavens in its impressiveness. ‘The great profuseness of things which are splendid’ , creates the widespread vision of the sublime. ( Burke, 1990 )

The most surpassing property to Underground infinite is darkness. Darkness being the most productive of the sublime, and the Underground being unable to tackle the power of the Sun, it descends into a fearful province overwhelmed by darkness. The theory of the empyreal stresses the importance that when you enter a edifice, to do objects most dramatic, they should be every bit different as possible to the object we have been most familiar with, which implies that our ocular variety meats must be put under the most stress to heighten our perceptual experiences of the sublime. ( Burke, 1990 )

This can be farther assisted by the nature of shadows which bring a degree of obscureness into drama. Burke uses characters of fright in human existences ; “how greatly dark adds to our apprehension, in all instances of danger, and how much the impressions of shades and hobs, of which none can organize clear thoughts, affect heads, which gave recognition to the popular narratives refering such kinds of beings.” Shadows reinstate the feeling of presence, but in a confined infinite lucidity is scarce and they become abstracted in the oculus of the topic, instantly striking panic in their bosom. ( Burke, 1990 )

Other than this type of visible radiation that may make a sublime atmosphere, the antonym of darkness, that is light that obliterates all objects through its pure appendage, will hold the same consequence as complete darkness. An illustration of this is a bolt of Lightning. It moves with such quickness and brightness, that our senses are overcome. Therefore, upon come ining a infinite a speedy passage from visible radiation to darkness or frailty versa, recreates this consequence in an atmospheric environment. ( Burke, 1990 )

Apart from the effects visible radiation has on the oculus of the topic, it is the combination of vision and sound which achieves the highest grade of the sublime, and is relevant to the design of tunnels. A tunnel is constructed by uninterrupted repeat which sight perceives as one point multiplied to eternity. “The oculus vibrating in all its parts must near near to the nature of what causes hurting, and accordingly must bring forth an thought of the sublime.” This is besides relevant to the sound of the Underground. Within the confines of all environing solid stuff walls, sound reverberates around the infinite, garnering impulse and arrives at the topic with inordinate volume, which has the ability to overmaster the psyche, suspending it in action and to make full it with panic. ( Burke, 1990 )


“The tree drawn on the land by their shadows made the most profound feeling on me. This image grew in my imaginativeness. I so saw everything that was the most drab in nature. What did I see? The mass if objects detached in black against a visible radiation of utmost pallor.” ( Vidler, 1992 )

Modern architecture, particularly in the attack to belowground architecture, has often attempted to free itself of the threatening darkness which is so imperative to the theory of the sublime and voluminous in the nature of belowground infinite. This is due to a modernist theory led by Le Corbusier in the 20th century, which takes a stance on urban design as a corporate. Dark seemed to be a parasite to architecture and it was thought that transparence would “eradicate the sphere of myth, intuition, dictatorship and above all irrationality.” Architects concentrated on opening up metropoliss to circulation, visible radiation and air, labeling the profession as the ‘light-bringers’ when it came to planing belowground infinite in peculiar. ( Vidler, 1992 )

A specific illustration of this modernist theory being apparent in current architectural pattern is the Canary Wharf London Underground Station by Foster+Partners. Which I will compare with another modern-day resistance station, the Westminster Extension by Michael Hopkins to underground infinite taken with mention to sublimate theory.

Canary Wharf London Underground Station is by far the largest station to be built in the recent Jubilee Line Extension act due to the context it uses, that being the former West India dock, therefore it benefits from the handiness of infinite. The sheer size of the infinite advocates illustriousness of dimension, yet its horizontal proportions don’t comply with empyreal theory. The edifice boasts its length bing to the tallness of the Canary Wharf Tower to Burke ( 1990 ) “an hundred paces of even land will ne’er work such an consequence as a tower an 100s paces tall.” Although the uniformity to plan, with equal proportions and design based on insistent entities, enhances the subject’s experience of enormousness within infinite. It besides shows similarities with the architecture of Gothic Cathedrals in that the technology on show is evocative of the winging buttress.

In the survey of visible radiation and design inside informations, the station doesn’t seem to encompass any facets of natural belowground infinite by throw outing darkness from every cranny in the design. First of wholly, the chief focal point comprises of 3 swelling glass canopies whose premier map is to pull daylight deep into the infinite. But the dimensions of the infinite prevent these from holding a important consequence all twenty-four hours long, therefore the acceptance of bright unreal lighting reduces any transitional effects between the exterior and interior to about nil.

In comparing, the station at Westminster begins with a significant descent into the deepnesss of the resistance, which has a ritualistic journey reminiscent of falling into a immense cavern. The difference here is in the dimensions of the infinite which is of verticalness, about falling off from street degree, past the subterraneous substructure, into the shadows of the underworld. This is augmented by the honestness of its building which contributes to the dramatic ambiance through sheer hardiness of technology. The unreal lighting used has been smartly situated in order to move functionally and atmospherically. The visible radiations act like a beacon that directs riders out of the station, as if they are returning to the daytime of street degree, but they besides create an astonishing atmosphere by projecting infinite consists of criss-crossing stations and beams between the falling shafts, which catch the visible radiation in apposition, which besides conflicts with the framing of a bird-eye position on the station floor. Percepts of the infinite are improbably phenomenological, prosecuting the topic with the architecture and successfully switching the position from street degree to the resistance.

In my sentiment the rules in which Michael Hopkins Architects have based their architecture upon, to a great extent implement the theories of the sublime into a rationalized design tantrum to function as a functional infinite, but besides an improbably atmospheric experience for the topic. On the contrary, Foster+ Partners’ attack to belowground infinite tantrums in with the to the full rational attack of modernist theory, which alternatively of tackling the qualities of visible radiation and rites that go in tandem with the experience of the resistance, transparence has claimed its triumph.

Thereby, through an extended concurrence between empyreal theory and belowground infinite, in peculiar the civic architecture of metropolis degrees, many differentiations have been made that nexus empyreal theory to infinites that we have discussed, doing it enormously relevant. What distinguishes the infinites I have talked about from Architecture is its irrational nature in the fact that Earth is excavated to make a functional infinite. There is no seeable form to take into history when noticing on aesthetics of belowground infinite as one is surrounded by Earth. But it is exactly this that makes the irrational infinite of resistance more strictly empyreal than Architecture that tries to animate what irrational infinite has. Even though Westminster station applies much detailing with purpose to work empyreal traits, it will ne’er transgress the threshold, due merely to the fact that the rational procedure designers apply to plan, retreats from organic idea. The design of civic comfortss is apparently free from rational idea because there is no demand to take the human experience into consideration. Therefore, it may stand as its ain separate entity, suspended in the resistance, beautiful because it has been designed to be beautiful.