Saturday, 26 March 2011

Underground Building Design

Since I am designing a subterranean library in my design work, I felt it necessary to look at precedent studies of other libraries and similar buildings (archives/storage) that also sit underground. Subterranean library depositories are quite common, the book lists Harvard University Library (below), Minneapolis Public Library, Cornell University Library (New York, below), Michigan University Library (the book is American) and so on. The main book depository for Cambridge University neighbouring my site is also underground. I hope to create a tunnel/passage between my map depository and the existing book depository at the library. 

Nathan Marsh Pusey Library (Harvard), Massachusetts 

Cornell University Library, New York

There are immediate advantages and disadvantages to building underground, environmental, psychological and physiological. All three I feel are important to my scheme:

The main advantage seems to be minimal visible impact on site. Depositories are huge buildings, that would only be warehouses if built above ground. On a site next to a grade 1 listed building (Cambridge University Library) I wanted to minimise the impact. Another is that libraries are public buildings, therefore require public space around them. By building the majority of the structure underground, this will in theory create a large space above ground for the public. 

The environmental benefits are particularly important to my design, the main one being that it is easier to achieve climate controlled conditions underground. Energy use, reduced heat gain and heat loss due to the thermal massing of the ground surrounding the site, isolation from noise and vibration, fire protection, security and maintenance are all associated with being positive for a building underground. 

The psychological considerations, however, I find much more interesting. 

Lack of natural light, lack of views, claustrophobia and disorientation are the common arguments against building underground. But since my building is based on disorientating people, is based on labyrinths, on the exploration into the unknown (i.e. cartography, map making) then I do not see disorientation as a negative effect. In fact I see it as positive feature, adding to the exploration of the archives and my initial design concepts. 

Another thing I find interesting is the perceived psychological effects underground:

"Users of windowless or underground buildings often complain of poor temperature and humidity control and a lack of ventilation or stuffiness. Generally, none of the problems should be any different for a below-grade or windowless building than they are for a sealed, climate-controlled conventional building. Thus, in addition to the actual ventilation air change rate provided, perception of ventilation by occupants is important. If awareness of the superior internal environment control of an underground building is clearly apparent to the occupants, some offsetting positive attitudes may develop."

The corridors in my design are most closely associated with 'B: Atrium' below. The links to the surface, the light pipes and wind catchers may help reinforce this positive environmental viewpoint to users of the building.

The image below is the Civil and Mineral Engineering Building at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Aside from being a beautifully detailed sectional perspective (something I plan to do at the end of this project) it seems like the most appropriate building use for a mainly subterranean building because of its purpose.

People tend to feel that underground building types are okay for certain uses, for instance an underground building would be unsuitable for perhaps an office or house, whereas storage, archives, even restaurants may be more suitable to be built below ground level. i.e. People need a good reason to go underground in the first place. 

People tend to fear going underground because they associate it with nuclear bunkers, with collapsing coal mines... undesirable places. So by clearly promoting the positive characteristics of subterranean design, I think I could help achieve the trust of potential users of the map depository.

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