Unveiling the Depths: An Exploration of Underground Urbanism with Mahak Agrawal

03.07.2024, All Things Urban Team

At All Things Urban, we thrive on uncovering new niches and exploring unexpected angles that offer fresh perspectives on urban living. Today, we delve into the fascinating world of underground urbanism—a field that is redefining how we design, utilize, and inhabit our cities. In this interview, we speak with [Mahak Agrawal](https://www.linkedin.com/in/mahakagrawal2505/), an expert in the field, to gain insights into the significance, challenges, and potential of utilizing underground spaces to create more sustainable and resilient urban environments. Join us as we journey below the surface to discover how underground urbanism is shaping the cities of the future. # Before we dive deeper, could you help us understand what underground urbanism is and its importance in today’s urban development? Underground urbanism refers to the planning, design, and utilization of underground spaces within urban environments to address various challenges and opportunities associated with contemporary urban development. It encompasses a wide range of applications, from transportation and infrastructure to commercial, recreational, and residential uses. The importance of underground urbanism in today's urban development cannot be overstated. Here's why: - **Maximizing Land Efficiency**: With growing urban populations, space above ground is becoming increasingly limited. Underground urbanism allows cities to utilize the space beneath the surface, alleviating pressure on surface-level infrastructure and resources. - **Sustainable Development**: By placing infrastructure and amenities underground, cities can preserve green spaces, reduce energy consumption, and mitigate climate change impacts. - **Resilience**: Underground spaces provide solutions to urban challenges such as extreme weather events, congestion, and overcrowding. They strengthen urban resilience and ensure continuity of essential services. - **Quality of Life**: Underground parks, recreational facilities, and cultural venues offer alternative spaces for leisure and social interaction, enhancing urban living. - **Future-Proofing**: Innovative design and technology in underground spaces can adapt to evolving needs and technological advancements, ensuring cities can accommodate future growth. In summary, underground urbanism is a strategic approach to urban development, creating sustainable, resilient, and livable environments for current and future generations. {{Pic1}} #How do underground projects contribute to making cities more sustainable and resilient against climate challenges? Underground projects play a crucial role in making cities more sustainable and resilient against climate challenges in several ways: - **Micro-climate regulation**: Underground spaces maintain stable temperatures, reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating the urban heat island effect. - **Flood Mitigation**: Underground stormwater systems, like reservoirs and storage tanks, help manage rainfall and reduce flooding risks, protecting urban areas from inundation and safeguarding infrastructure. - **Preservation of green spaces**: Developing underground facilities for transportation and utilities preserves valuable surface-level green spaces, maintaining biodiversity, improving air quality, and enhancing ecosystem resilience. - **Critical infrastructure protection**: Placing critical infrastructure underground protects it from extreme weather events, natural disasters, and climate-related hazards, ensuring uninterrupted functionality during emergencies. - **Sustainable Transportation**: Underground transportation systems, such as subways and tramways, offer low-emission alternatives to surface-level modes, reducing traffic congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. - **Carbon Sequestration**: Underground carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies enable cities to sequester carbon dioxide emissions, reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Overall, underground projects offer innovative solutions for making cities more sustainable and resilient. By leveraging the inherent advantages of underground environments, cities can enhance their adaptive capacity, reduce vulnerability to climate risks, and create more livable and sustainable urban spaces for future generations. {{Pic2}} #Reflecting on your professional journey, what led you to your current path in underground urbanism, and why do you think it’s crucial for our cities' future? My journey into underground urbanism has been shaped by a combination of factors, including my background in urban planning, a passion for sustainability, and a fascination with innovative solutions to urban challenges. As I navigated through various roles and experiences in the field of urban development, I became increasingly intrigued by the untapped potential of underground spaces and their capacity to address pressing urban issues in novel ways. One key factor that led me to my current path in underground urbanism is the realization of the inherent limitations of traditional surface-level development. As urban populations continue to grow, cities face mounting pressures on land availability, infrastructure capacity, and environmental sustainability. Recognizing the need for alternative approaches to urban development, I began exploring the potential of underground spaces as a viable solution to these challenges. In 2018, I met domain experts Antonia Cornaro and Han Admiral north of the Arctic Circle in Bodo, Norway for a conference. I came to know more about [ITACUS]()https://about.ita-aites.org/wg-committees/itacus). Four years later, I was appointed the Steering Board Member of ITACUS. Additionally, the interdisciplinary nature of underground urbanism appeals to me, as it requires collaboration across various fields, including designers, engineering, environmental science, and urban planning. Looking ahead, I believe by unlocking the potential of underground spaces, we can create more sustainable, resilient, and livable urban environments that meet the needs of present and future generations. From mitigating the impacts of climate change to enhancing quality of life and promoting economic vitality, underground urbanism offers a promising path towards building cities that are truly fit for the challenges of the 21st century. #Could you share a standout project that illustrates the potential of underground spaces for sustainable urban development? Oh, there are several brilliant projects across the world. For instance, Montreal in Canada, Helsinki in Finland have some of the most expansive underground network of multi-purpose facilities which not only free up space aboveground but also provide shelter during extreme conditions. There are in-fact too many standout projects in operation and many more are in various stages of planning, design and implementation, such as the Lowline project in New York. But, one notable project that I recently explored is Marina Bay Sands in Singapore stands out as a remarkable project that demonstrates the potential of underground spaces for sustainable urban development. While the iconic three-towered structure above ground is renowned worldwide for its architectural grandeur, it's the innovative use of underground spaces that truly showcases its commitment to sustainable urban development. One of the most notable features of Marina Bay Sands is its extensive underground infrastructure, which plays a crucial role in supporting the functionality and sustainability of the development. Below the surface, Marina Bay Sands houses a vast network of underground facilities, including shopping complex, casino, convention centre, metro station, parking garages, service tunnels, utility corridors, and storage areas. Key aspects that highlight the sustainability and urban development potential of Marina Bay Sands' underground spaces include: - **Land Optimization**: Underground infrastructure maximizes land efficiency and preserves surface-level space for public amenities and green spaces, crucial in land-scarce Singapore. - **Sustainable Design**: Incorporating energy-efficient lighting, water-saving technologies, and eco-friendly materials in its underground infrastructure. - **Enhanced User Experience**: Efficient circulation, convenient access, and seamless connectivity in underground spaces enhance functionality and usability. - **Resilience and Safety**: Underground facilities provide a secure environment for critical operations, ensuring continuity during disruptions. Marina Bay Sands demonstrates how underground spaces can contribute to vibrant, livable, and sustainable urban environments. {{Pic3: Marina Bay Sands }} #For those interested in joining this field, what career advice can you offer? What skills or disciplines are in high demand? For a career in underground urbanism: - **Gain a Strong Educational Foundation**: Pursue a degree in a related field such as urban planning, architecture, civil engineering, environmental science, or geology. A solid educational background will provide you with the necessary knowledge and expertise to understand the complexities of underground urbanism and contribute effectively to projects in this field. - **Develop Technical Skills**: Acquire technical skills relevant to underground urbanism, such as knowledge of geotechnical engineering, structural design, construction management, and underground infrastructure systems. Familiarize yourself with software tools commonly used in the industry, such as CAD software, GIS tools, and simulation software for underground environments. - **Stay Updated on Emerging Technologies**: Keep abreast of the latest advancements in underground construction techniques, materials, and technologies. Stay informed about innovations in areas such as tunneling methods, underground excavation technologies, sustainable building materials, and underground energy systems. Continuously seek opportunities for professional development and training to enhance your skills and expertise. - **Cultivate Interdisciplinary Knowledge**: Underground urbanism is a multidisciplinary field that requires collaboration across various disciplines. Develop a broad understanding of related fields such as sustainability, resilience planning, environmental management, and urban design. Cultivate strong communication and collaboration skills to effectively work with professionals from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. - **Gain Practical Experience**: Seek internships, co-op opportunities, or entry-level positions in companies or organizations involved in underground urbanism projects. Gain hands-on experience working on real-world projects, collaborating with multidisciplinary teams, and applying your technical skills in practical settings. Look for opportunities to participate in research projects, volunteer initiatives, or professional organizations related to underground urbanism. - **Build a Professional Network**: Through industry events or join professional organizations and associations relevant to underground construction, urban planning, and sustainable development. Focus on connecting with experts, mentors, and potential employers in the field. Pursuing a career in underground urbanism requires a combination of technical expertise, interdisciplinary knowledge, practical experience, and a commitment to lifelong learning. By developing a strong educational foundation, acquiring relevant skills, staying updated on emerging technologies, and building a professional network, you can position yourself for success in this dynamic and impactful field. {{Pic4}} *Are you working in a unique field of urbanism and eager to share your insights? We'd love to hear from you! Email us at [email protected] with the subject line "Blog Story / Urbanism Fields."*