Saturday, August 13, 2011

underground explorers

Rosalind Williams describes the underworld as a technological achievement. In Notes on the Underground she writes that the descent below the earth's surface was a quest for scientific truth and technological power. The subterranean world of modern industry began to be built in the late 1700s in the form of canals and railroads. The second stage came in the last half of the nineteenth century with the creation of networks to support this industrial metropolis: sewers, subways and lines of communication.

"As Mumford pointed out in early drafts for Technics, in the nineteenth century city planning began to involve not only the disposition of the surface but also an 'underground system of functions [that] form as it were the physiological apparatus of the new city ... the modern city plan involves a co-ordination of the super-surface city with the sub-surface city.' As some more recent historians of technology say, the modern metropolis is a 'networked city'" (p52)
As an example, Williams writes that Paris developed "a system of multipurpose underground galleries", large enough for other networks to be suspended from the roof of the sewers such as water lines, gas lines, and of course, pneumatic tubes (p72). Tourists came to see these spaces, 'les egouts de Paris' being recommended in Baedeker. Similarly, modern day urban explorers hunt around the pneumatic networks and underground infrastructures of cities, marvelling at the technological achievements of the past and present, tourists of subterranean wonder.

Image from manu_le_manu's Flikr album.

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