Underground Information Chambers —a protoecology to preserve our most valuable data

There has been a renewed interest on underground shelters, infrastructures and projects in the past months. But, why are we going back to subterranea once again? From underground infrastructures to international underground laboratories, the idea of exploring the entrails of the planet is at the same time, poetic and provocative. As David Macaulay points on his book Underground:

Beneath the buildings and streets of a modern city exists the network of walls, columns, cables, pipes, and tunnels required to satisfy the basic needs of its inhabitants. The larger city, the more intricate this network becomes.

But when talking about information, the idea of creating an underground space it’s quite understandable: it represent a safer space, with the right temperature and designed to protect our most important data to be preserved for the future. The project Underground information chambers [mining 01100100 01100001 01110100 01100001] by Eva Papamargariti and Maro Tsagka takes place in the mountain of Penteli, famous for its flawless white marble, which was used to build the Acropolis and other ancient monuments.

From ancient times until today, marble quarries operated in various locations. Today, the only active quarry is located in Dionysus. Initially, mining was opencast, while in 1993 began the excavation of the underground mines. Papamargariti and Tsagka argue that the mountain is a good place for creating the proposed underground chambers, because the gradual removal of marble blocks created inside the mountain empty cavities consisting of galleries and chambers. Specifically, two underground mines have been formed, each of which has different characteristics in morphology. That is because mining only follows a general design plan and the vault’s shape depends on the quality of marble found in each front.

Floor Plan. Level 2

Floor Plan. Level 4

They explain that the project tries to heal the wounds that quarrying has caused to the landscape, suggesting uses of public nature for these underground chambers. Furthermore, it organizes pedestrian and car traffic of the opencast quarry so as not to hamper mining operations there, which has been set to continue operating normally. Regarding the first vault, which appears much more subdivided than the second, marble mining has stopped due to discontinuities in the marble texture. They add:

The proposal focuses on filling the empty cavity of the second vault [which appears to have more single spaces and fewer levels], by creating infrastructure for receiving and processing analog, printed material [books, newspapers, magazines, maps, etc.] for their conversion into digital format, their digital storage and archiving, which coexist with areas accessible to the public for a multitude of activities. We set that mining activities in the second vault stop at this exact moment.

When talking about data preservation in the era of data-loss-paranoia, we can say that it is almost impossible to save our complete digital heritage. Jim Barksdale and Francine Berman describe the fact whit this example:

Current estimates are that in 2006, 161 billion trillion bytes —161 exabytes— of digital data were generated in the world —equivalent to 12 stacks of books reaching from the Earth to the sun. In just 15 minutes, the world produces an amount of data equal to all the information held at the Library of Congress. While it is unrealistic to think that we will be able to preserve all the data produced solely in digital form, NDIIPP convenes top experts to help decide which at-risk content is most critical and how to go about saving it.

So, if we wonder which data should we keep and how should we keep it, Papamargariti and Tsagka points that in this project, the analogue material which is received for digitization, comes from public or private collections. Since it has been digitized and stored in the digital library, the degree of access to content is determined, after consultation with the copyright holders. One can have access to digital library either as a visitor of the quarry, through the digital reading room, or as a user of the Internet from any location, entering and logging in the website.

Vault 2. Floor Plan

Section 1

On the book Data Mining: Know It All the term Data Mining is described as the science of extracting useful information from data sets or large databases. According to these definition, the project Underground Information Chambers conceptually responds to the need to protect and maintain the information, in order to ensure access to it, not only in the present but also in the future.

Considering the existence of a digital library very important and based on the archetype of the cave as a crypt, which is considered a safe place to store anything precious, even sacred, led us to the installation of the digital archive in the vaults of the quarry. This vault constitutes an assembly of information, a node in order to enable its subsequent distribution. The process of marble extraction, the exposure of the material, created the holes for the reception of the new “material”, the collection of information which are expecting their new extraction.

Section 3

Section 6

We have seen other projects which reuse abandoned mines and focus on the potential of vast underground voids. In the past years it has also emerged concepts such as “landscape as infrastructure“, which aims to reformulate landscape as a sophisticated, instrumental system of essential resources, services, and agents that generate and support urban economies. Three contemporary streams of development including urban ecologies, bio-industries, and waste economies are explored briefly to discuss future fields of practice. In this context, we find really interesting the approach of the mixed uses of the “Underground Information Chambers” as a potential infrastructural project:

Visitors are free to visit all areas of the second vault, except the digitalization lab and the digital data storage room where only employees have access. One can find the following areas: information points about the activities taking place in and out of the vault, which provide e-forms for the visitors who wish to get their own material digitalized, a digital reading room for consulting the archive, a viewing platform of archival audiovisual material of various subjects from external sources, projection points of internet material relating with the material that is being digitalized at the given time, real time monitoring chambers of external spaces, an aerial standing and viewing platform for the observation of activities and procedures inside the vault and a café.

On the graphic Infrastructure Lifespans created for the forthcoming book “Landscape Infrastructure: Urbanism beyond Engineering” by Pierre Bélanger, emerges the question about how should we rebuild this kind of infrastructures, and with this project maybe we have a possible answer. If we think that man-made and natural systems simply coexist, becoming part of the same nature [as it always have been], we can see that this kind of projects should easily transform the concept of “landscape-as-infrastructure” in to the new one “nature-as-infrastructure“, creating what Bélanger calls “protoecologies”… a protoecology to preserve our most valuable data.

– The project Underground information chambers —mining 01100100 01100001 01110100 01100001 is a student project supervised by Aristides Antonas and Εva Manidaki.

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