Our new skyscrapers will head in the opposite direction—down into the oceans like strands of kelp and into the earth like searching roots. These buildings will give us a very different experience of the environment. What will living underwater and underground feel like? And how will it impact the body and the soul?
You can preview the sea-option at one of the world’s first underwater hotels from the Maldives to Shanghai. The bedrooms are like meditation chambers with a soft blue light, and the windows showcase schools of fish moving so hypnotically they will bring your stress level down faster than a tab of Xanax. Sleep should be no problem, either, since you’ll feel wrapped in a womb-like sea of undulating fluid. An awesome vacation, sure. But some planners think we ought to consider living undersea full-time.
The Shape of Water
Parisian architect Vincent Callebaut has proposed a futuristic village called Aequorea to be built off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. This undersea community would accommodate some 20,000 people, with space for apartments, hotels, sporting arenas and research laboratories. Each “building” extends 1,000 feet down into the ocean yet on its surface–at water level—is a greenscape drenched in sun and devoted to growing food.
How will we build these seascrapers? Using 3-D printing and a material, called algaplast—a hybrid of algae and recycled plastics found floating in the world’s oceans. Aequorea runs on solar, wind and, of course, water power. And Callebaut’s description of this watery Utopia reads like an eco-fantasy novel for young adults. In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne showed the same deep fascination with the ocean nearly 150 years ago:
Verne went on to rhapsodize about the ocean’s natural decor. “It was marvellous, a feast for the eyes, this complication of coloured tints, a perfect kaleidoscope of green, yellow, orange, violet, indigo, and blue; in one word, the whole palette of an enthusiastic colourist!”
Living under the sea may be visually stimulating—but what other effects will it have on us over time? Will bunking beneath the ocean mean that we live only by artificial light? If so, what will this do to our wake and sleep cycle, our heart rate, metabolism, and appetite? Recently the BBC asked a marine scientist what living in an underwater research lab was like—the broadcasters heard a lot about wetsuits, chafing, and social interactions in the cafeteria, but little more. Since stays at the lab are limited, and range from 10 to 30 days, there’s no long-term data on how underwater living might impact our bodies or our sense of time.
The Underground Matrix
Earthscrapers are yet another option for land use, but they have some negative psychological associations to overcome. While American pioneers built houses into the mounds of hills (good insulation), the notion of living completely underground seems a bit sinister. We feel anxious and uncomfortable in dark, enclosed spaces because they remind us of ancestral graves and burial mounds.
Then there’s the underground city of Zion in The Matrix films — the last outpost on a decaying earth. In science fiction, we have a long tradition of associating underground with words like “oppressed” or “evil.”
In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells assigns the sunny paradise of Eden to the Eloi–a beautiful but idle people–while the Morlocks toil like slaves in the bowels of the earth.
“Above ground,” Wells wrote, are “the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour.” This is part of a long-range plan of exploitation. “Once they were there, (the Workers) would no doubt have to pay…for the ventilation of their caverns; and if they refused, they would starve or be suffocated for arrears.”
Tomorrow’s subterranean cities will differ greatly from the ones Wells described. They are far more likely to be built for the Haves than for the Have nots–and to upend that old saw, “the higher the floor, the higher the rent.”
The visionary architecture firm BNKR has proposed a 65-story deep inverted pyramid a thousand feet beneath Mexico City’s central square. This complex features a museum, 10 floors of housing, another 10 of shops, and some 35 floors of office space—and a large central column open to the sun and air.
The project was developed in response to Mexico City’s strict zoning regulations, allowing no structure more than eight floors high, and the urgent demand for retail space and centrally located residences. While there are still more regulations and construction issues to be sorted out, this is a bold reimagining of urban space–one that will require us to rethink our knee-jerk response to living in the basement.
Learn more about these futuristic structures from B1M, the world’s leading resource on construction.