Subterranea | Excavating spaces from the depths of the mind


H.Th. Wijdeveld. 15 Miles into the Earth [1944]. Source: Nederlands Architectuurinstituut

H. Wijdeveld designed his project 15 Miles into the earth in 1944, a design for an international geological research centre in a shaft in the earth at a depth of 15 miles as part of his series of large-scale, utopian projects in which he was seeking for a new relationship between mankind, nature and culture, as the Netherlands Architecture Institute described his work. But it seems that this large-scale underground utopian projects are back, as we can see in some recent projects that are a manifestation of how cyclical our history is, no matter if we talk about economy, politics or in this case, architecture.

For his project Subterranea, architect Rick Gooding created more than 30 meticulous pencil drawings, each depicting an imaginary underground realm. Winding tunnels and labyrinthine passageways are rendered by hand, resolving into dense, intricate patterns. We can read at the Wedge Gallery:

In an era of digital representation, Gooding celebrates the precise and beautiful craft of manual drafting. He works without rulers or measuring devices and carefully constructs his drawings using the most basic architectural drafting tools: a straight edge, a 314 pencil, and an eraser and erasing shield. Gooding works exclusively in black and white. The simple palette occasionally produces Escher-esque qualities. Subversive flips of figure/ground and slips in optical logic confuse the readings of these rigorously constructed drawings.

Reading this, maybe we can think that Gooding’s eerie illustrations are a kind of manifesto not only on the validity of Utopias, but also on the way they are represented and communicated.


Subterranea by Rick Gooding. Courtesy of Woodbury University School of Architecture


Subterranea by Rick Gooding. Courtesy of Woodbury University School of Architecture

This kind of architectural proposals can also inspire comparisons to Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin work on the decade of 1980 for the group known as The Paper Architects. There has been a interest in the past years, between all the renderization of architecture on the fact of how the drawn work affects the course of architectural thinking. So maybe this relationship between drawing and utopias is not a coincidence, we can see through this subterranean examples, how drawing is used to express a philosophical gesture, a forward-thinking approach. Alberto Pérez-Gómez and Louise Pelletier wrote on the book Architectural representation and the perspective hinge:

Projective drawing need not to be a reductive device, a tool of prosaic substitution. Projection evokes temporality and boundaries. Defining the space between light and darkness, between the Beginning and the Beyond, it illuminates the space of culture, of our individual and collective existence.

From Raymund Abraham to Aldo Rossi, we have seen how utopias were expressed through the art of drawing. This is the same inspiration we found on the project Preserving the Erased: Didactic Architecture by Brandon Mosley, that we first found at BLDGBLOG. As Robert Smithson once proposed the land reclamation of the Bingham Copper Mining Pit now Mosley, motivated by “the inevitable nature that mining imposes upon the landscape, which left mountainous piles of toxic waste, vast underground voids and the imminent threat of subsidence”, proposes to use architecture as a didactic tool, a tool that can help to communicate that the memories of a place can be a reminder that the extraction of the earth’s resources carries with it repercussions that can be detrimental. The idea of an underground building to inhabitat abandoned mines or pits has been discussed here before, and we found Mosley’s project more than provocative on these speculations.


Preserving the Erased: Didactic Architecture by Brandon Mosley


Preserving the Erased: Didactic Architecture by Brandon Mosley

“Was I to believe him in earnest in his intention to penetrate to the centre of this massive globe? Had I been listening to the mad speculations of a lunatic, or to the scientific conclusions of a lofty genius? Where did truth stop? Where did error begin?”
– Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

The human fascination of going underground can be understood by reading Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and the same fascination can be seen in some architectural projects such as the 65-storey building which plunges 300 metres below ground or the project Rhizome Tower, where architects intend to start the same travel that Verne proposed in 1864. The poetry behind this idea reminds us the Oxygen House by Douglas Darden, where the main objective was that the owner requested to be entombed in the house. To fulfill this requirement, Darden designed an underground house divide in two operations system:

During Life:
Operation I Visitor is screened by nurse.
Operation II Nurse releases facade, visitor ascend stairs.
Operation III Abraham [owner] receives visitor.
Operation IV Visitor descends by lift.

After Death:
Operation I Oxygen tent is dismantled. Abraham is wrapped in tent membrane.
Operation II Abraham’s body is removed and buried in base of lift.
Operation III Willow is up-rooted; replanted in drum base.
Operation IV Drum-torso is dismantled; relocated over well-spring.


Oxygen House by Douglas Darden

At his Notes from the Underground, Dostoyevsky wrote about our deepest toughts : “We’re stillborn, and have long ceased to be born of living fathers, and we like this more and more. We’re acquiring a taste for it. Soon we’ll contrive to be born somehow from an idea. But enough; I don’t want to write any more “from Underground”…”

Is it hand drawing the best way to express utopias? Maybe, when expressing our most profound desires and dreams, let’s call them utopias [or to be born from an idea, as Dostoyevsky wrote it], we don’t need to turn on the computer to render it. It’s enough to take a pencil and start digging… to scratch them out of our mind and the depths of our souls.

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Related info:

[1] The exhibition Subterranea: Drawings by Rick Gooding will be on exhition from January 10 to 28, 2012 at Woodbury School of Architecture’s WEDGE Gallery.
[2] Rick Gooding’s drawings also reminded us the work of Mathew Borrett
[3] Other project by Douglas Darden, The Clinic for Sleep Disorders

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