SKYSCRAPERS DOOMED by UNDERGROUND CITIES? (Jul, 1934)

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SKYSCRAPERS DOOMED by UNDERGROUND CITIES?

by WILLIAM JENNINGS

SAFE from bomb attacks—free from disease and changing temperatures—living in cities a mile beneath the surface of the earth—such is the dream of science for the man of the future, a not impractical dream which may doom the towers of Manhattan and every other large city to destruction.

Despite its towering skyline, the trend of building construction in New York City has been ever downward. Today the island of Manhattan and its surroundings are honeycombed with a vast network of underground facilities. There are more than 130 tunnels and underground areas in the metropolitan district; more than 2800 miles in the subterranean sewage system, and about GOO miles of subway trackage carrying 5,000,000 passengers every day.

With habitable space growing more scarce every year in the crowded centers, architects and scientists freely predict that vertical cities, built from the earth’s surface downward, may eventually supplant the skyscrapers of today. The reasons for their belief in the practicability of such a plan lies in the recent successful tests of a machine known as the “centrifuge” invented by Professor Philip B. Bucky, of Columbia university.

Explained in its most simple terms, Professor Bucky’s machine is a device into which accurate scale models of underground structures may be placed and whirled about in such a way that the centrifugal force equals the actual earth stress to which full sized construction would be subjected.

Built of the same materials as the structure to be tested, the model is placed on the centrifuge and whirled at speeds up to 4000 revolutions a minute until the centrifugal force tends to pull the model apart. A movie camera simultaneously records each revolution of the machine. When the film is run off on the screen it shows up the stress and strain under varying degrees of force up to the collapse of the model. Heralds New Building Era From these technical tests a new science of foundation engineering is expected to develop. Lack of a yardstick with which to measure the stresses of the earth has hitherto kept architects from planning extensive underground projects.

Testing depths up to 6000 feet, the centrifuge opens up an amazing, vista of life in the future. It will be possible to have business blocks under airports with the surface left clear for planes. Vast subterranean caverns could be constructed, capable of sheltering entire populations against enemy bomb attacks. Office buildings, factories, homes and theaters—all could be sunk into bedrock.

Life underground would be different only in the respect that conditions, under scientific control, would be more sanitary and healthful. Conditioned air would prevail and the sun’s absence compensated for by the use of ultra-violet lamps. The temperature would be constant at about 62 degrees. Coal bills would no longer worry the householder and bacteria would be killed.

Professor Bucky does not venture to make extravagant predictions. His centrifuge does not construct; it merely tests. The advantage of the machine lies in the fact that the safety of underground buildings may be absolutely proven by testing miniature models.

11 comments
  1. Tracy B. says: July 23, 200812:58 pm

    Sounds like story “Caves of Steel” by Isaac Asimov

  2. jayessell says: July 23, 20083:44 pm

    Tracy:
    Also the motion picture ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ after the city is rebuilt.

    I have an MP3 of Wells and Welles discussing the reaction to the radio version of their “War of the Worlds”.
    Orson was hawking “Citizen Kane” and HG mentioned TSoTtP.

  3. jayessell says: July 23, 20083:47 pm

    TSOTTC

  4. kar says: July 23, 20089:13 pm

    sounds cool but meaby is not too good for the mental healt

  5. Charlene says: July 23, 200811:38 pm

    It’s a lot easier to get people down ten flights of stairs in case of emergency than up two. Also, as World War II showed us, underground locations aren’t ‘safe’ from bomb attacks.

  6. Torgo says: July 24, 20086:17 pm

    Has anyone seen the opening of Metropolis? “Shift Change”

    I’m also reminded of Dr. Strangelove with the “mineshaft gap.”

  7. Green Eagle says: July 25, 200810:13 am

    I love the picture of the underground city. I think G. B. Piranesi drew some pictures of this place a couple of hundred years ago.

  8. StanFlouride says: July 25, 20084:47 pm

    “…and about GOO miles of subway…”

    Sure SOUNDS like the last time I was on a NY subway platform.

    (gotta love that text scan program for its random transpositions)

  9. raghu says: July 27, 200811:10 pm

    how can it be possible to live underground with out ventilation and lighting.

  10. jayessell says: July 28, 20085:13 am

    raghu:
    The illustration on page 47 clearly shows the ventilation system.
    The artist couldn’t show the electric lights, presumably on the ceilings.
    It would be like being inside a mall at night.

  11. Norbert F Von Hoffmann Jr says: October 8, 20091:08 am

    Polymers in their varying forms from organics all the way to chemical anti corrosive and strength bonding developed like concrete technologies only within a fibrous polymer base absolutely safe for human cohabitation with the material that would breathe upon and of itself and form porousness for spills while at the same time hardening for airlocking while resisting military domestic and urban attacks from above or within and could or would be the nucleus for the shroud that protects the people of the Core the shrouds or structural entities most sacred and prescious resource!
    Now despite concrete technologies the fact remains that with examples like 911 the pulverised dust from attacks accidents and age can and will rip and kill lung tissue within days leaving once young healthy people to become invalids and that is the danger of concrete most espescially in a confined space no matter how large the bowel of life may be underground the environment tailored for breathability needs only the destruction of concrete technologies somewhere to form its pulverised carcinogen with fast deadly force !
    The future is not concrete it is organic polymers like what we do that is blended to breathe resist ,harden ,have organic flexibility to roll with disasters not cave in to expose and obliterate so my point remains that intelligent design through polymers not concrete nor steel perhaps in cohesion but not dominant unless it is Organic and Symptomatic of the future promise of Prganic Polymer Sciences blended with the safety and future of mankind !!!

    Many Thanks Norbert F Von Hoffmann Jr Big Nickel Canada where the stacks outnumber the people …

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