HomeUndergound Atmospheres. Renewing the debate

HomeUndergound Atmospheres. Renewing the debate

Undergound Atmospheres. Renewing the debate

Ambiances souterraines. Quel renouveau du débat ?

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Published on Monday, March 01, 2021


This special issue of Ambiances aims to highlight shared topics and possible bridges between actors who usually operate on different scales. We encourage reflections questioning the stakes and methods of the construction of inhabited space in its verticality by reintroducing the question of the underground, not as a soffit but as a living and evolving interface. The issue invites researchers, practitioners of the operational world and designers from different fields, who will share their work on the questions of undergrounds and ambiances – built, experienced and lived by humans – by highlighting case studies, in-situexperiences and new methodological tools. This call is organised around three, non-exclusive thematic lines open for articles from urban studies, architecture, engineering, humanities and social sciences.



Cities are moving underground. Cultural centres, data centres, organic urban farms, logistic centres are multiplying inside the bowels of metropolises worldwide, as realised/imagined equipment after the development/reappropriation of underground spaces. Such abundance echoes with the sophistication of projects, meetings of international professionals1], as well as publications in special issues of architecture journals2], which also demonstrate the buzz animating debates on the matter among professionals and scientists. The concept of underground spaces has emerged over the last twenty years (Admiraal & Cornaro, 2018) as a unifying issue for the professions working with the Urban (e.g. architects, engineers, geometricians, geographers). For a long time considered as a “residue” of the city, neglected by actors, bereft of natural light and air, underground spaces have responded to the needs for storing and burying vital functions of the city (all sorts of networks) or, in some cases, for climate protection (e.g. Montreal). Therefore, for a long time, the underground remained the domain of engineers, military officers, accommodating security installations, parking areas, technical galleries (utilidors)and various urban infrastructures (Goel, Singh & Zhao, 2012). As for urban planners, they have long imagined a retrieval of this common ground often involving the imagination around futuristic cities3]and less so the trial and updating of knowledge and techniques inherited from vernacular architecture (e.g. water reservoirs, troglodyte dwellings).

The end of the 20thcentury and the processes of metropolisation and urban sprawl now make global cities face issues regarding the densification of their functions. The underground is expected to prove itself as a structuring space of metropolitan life. It emerges as a promising response to the unsolvable shortage of land in dense areas, but also to the issues of energy performance, management of resources and mobility (Malone, 1996). From a perception of the underground as a bindingspace, we are now witnessing, in France and abroad, a renewal of the vocabulary and of the policies4]willing to connect the undergrounds to the grid of urban vital functions. However, despite this effervescence, the updating of the regulatory and operational tools has not yet started. The high cost of underground construction, the complexity of operational montages (type macrolot), the risks induced by the recognition of a common land to be shared and the absence of exhaustive census call for a careful reading with multiple dimensions (e.g. environmental, social) of underground spaces, as well as a revision of the analysis and design vocabularies.

Questioning the underground in its ability to welcome, please, affect, comfort also means recognizing an old debate (structure, land, safety) with topical issues, such as the hybridisation of public spaces, the tourist attractiveness of cities, the role of the senses in the urban experience… This special issue aims to open a debate on an updated reading of the underground space and its role in the construction of urbanity (Levy, 1994). We use in particular concepts of ambiance and experience (Malpas, 1999), which have been present for over forty years in humanities and social sciences in France (Amphoux, 2003) and in Anglo-Saxon research (Buser, 2014). How can a multi-sensorial approach of underground spaces shape modalities of production, practices and design of those places?

The debate remains open and comes alive with the recent evolutions of the global health crisis that has deeply shaken social interactions in closed and open sites. Cities have always been built with a direct connection to their underground. The remnants of chambers of historical cities5](Lavagno & Schranz, 2007), the re-use of natural caverns, of the many vernacular architectures6], of engineering work, show that humans have always inhabited the underground, either out of necessity (Ming, 2017) or out of ambition. While this universe remains to this day little studied, it expresses rooted reservations – linked to the technique, but also to the cultures and lifestyles. In what conditions can we imagine an underground life like we experience on the surface? The vertical stratification and the promotion of underground architecture (Meiss & Radu, 2014) ensure a gain in land, but they also allow to create efficient shortcuts to connect activities in the city7]. How can we nowadays rethink the new forms of proximity, the durability of the constructions, the superimposition of functions, the three dimensionality of studies (Harris, 2015)? Beyond questions regarding constructability and functions, the underground city calls for deep changes connected to the structuration of social lifeitself8], traditionally organised around spaces on the ground.

This special issue aims to highlight shared topics and possible bridges between actors who usually operate on different scales. We encourage reflections questioning the stakes and methods of the construction of inhabited space in its verticality by reintroducing the question of the underground, not as a soffit but as a living and evolving interface. The issue invites researchers, practitioners of the operational world and designers from different fields, who will share their work on the questions of undergrounds and ambiances – built, experienced and lived by humans – by highlighting case studies, in-situexperiences and new methodological tools. This call is organised around three, non-exclusive thematic lines open for articles from urban studies, architecture, engineering, humanities and social sciences.

1) Building the ambient space underground

In the private sphere in the past years, there have been many emerging operations proposing a structure of “new generation” programmes9]and of new uses (O’Sullivan, 2015) to take over the undergrounds. Beyond large-scope urban operations, such as La Défense or Les Halles in Paris, some architectural realisations confirm the interest in projects questioning the ground-underground relationship10]. These examples show that fundamental questions in architecture and urban planning (centrality, reconversion, economy of means, diversity of uses) find a fertile soil in the underground. Moreover, they invite professionals to explore subtractive approaches that break with some traditional references, such as landscaped integration. Initiatives by certain metropolises worldwide aim to question mono-functionality and broaden the scope of intervention over a larger territory to anticipate urbanisation and save non-built surfaces (e.g. Helsinki, Amsterdam). These approaches express a desire for proactive policies regarding the underground. An underground urban planning (Barles & Guillerme, 1995) would thus find a role to play in post-industrial cities in order to restore the effects of 20th-century urbanism (sprawl, effects of cuts in the urban fabrics, bristling of natural spaces in dense areas). How could the underground world, as a natural and experienced milieu(Buser, 2014) nurture the construction of urban ambiances (Catania Kulper & Periton, 2015)? From the previous, prevailing anthropisation and erratic colonization approaches regarding the undergrounds, we are nowadays leaning towards a movement demonstrating a change of paradigm in the management of resources (Parriaux, Blunier, Maire, Dekkil & Tacher, 2010). The current projects increasingly consider the underground in its biological and memorial wealth, as well as in its fragile and evolutionary dimension. Proposing methods to understand the undergrounds as potential urban amenities drives us to question this space as a resource for the making of urban landscape.

Questioning the construction of undergrounds via ambiances invites us to reflect about synergies of actors, the renewal of operational approaches and tosearch to understand these spaces as possible resources of urbanity. This theme calls on contributions questioning ambiances as a tool for the construction of urban, peri-urban and landscape environments. What conceptual and operational approaches can we come up with to re-contextualise the debate on potential programmes and spatialities of underground spaces?

2) Practicing and living the underground

Assuming that the use of undergrounds will be intensified and diversified in the coming years, this second line invites us to explore potential bridges between the construction of ambiances and the practicesof underground places. From the trivial task of moving objects to the cellar, to the basementsin American buildings11]and daily journeys in subway corridors, the cinematic art has paid tribute to the activities that have long been practiced underground in a trivial or temporary way (Hunt, 2019). Questioning underground practices (visits, trips, entertainment) through the prism of ambiances encourages us to pursue their role in individual behaviour patterns, flow management, monitoring, accessibility of the places, their habitability. How is the experience of underground places influenced by age, gender or culture? How can underground ambiances correlate with the uses, their intensification or mitigation? How can we address the disorientation created by the lack of references (Cui, Allan, Taylor & Lin, 2012) or compensate the loss of natural ambiances generated by seasonor geographical particularities?

Traditionally, practices of underground spaces were thought through the successive stacking of “embedded” functions and networks. Focusing on the way internalised spaces are bodily experienced (Davidson & Milligan, 2004) invites us to break with this reading mode and to introduce not only the olfactory dimension (Alarcón, 2013) but also the affective one (Buser, 2014) and time. Beyond temporary practices (e.g. passing, crossing, entertainment, parking), the underground is also practiced in a more continuous way by people who work and live there12].

This theme invites us to call in ambiances to cross traditional questions regarding the use of places (pathways, orientation, signal) with questions regarding emotive spaces (partition, oppression, immensity, enclosure). Questioning underground practices to the test of experiential concepts calls us to question the conditions of experience of the underground in light of interrogations regarding social hierarchy and spatial justice (Elden, 2013). How can concepts of ambiance and experience offer methodological tools to access life stories, reveal access-related conflicts or controversies on the occupation of the undergrounds? We invite researchers from various fields to share their empirical or theoretical works, field testimonies, new survey methods, and to explore other approaches to study practices of the undergrounds highlighting the connection between ambient space and human behaviour.

3) Images and imagery of the underground worlds

Representing depth has puzzled artists, engineers, explorers since the 17thcentury. Undergrounds have inspired fictions and imagery (Harle, 2015), as they were spaces that were little itemised and studied, while generating overwhelming feelings for those who accessed such places. In the 20thcentury, the underground of the industrial city is linked to work, darkness, isolation and fear. This binary vision of society between spaces giving access to fresh air and others devoid of sun will be overthrown after the war, with the challenges of re-building cities and the numerous technological advances regarding constructions. Over the years, the image of the underground fluctuates between a search for a rational representation and the projections made by different societies according to their economic and political contexts. While the imagination regarding undergrounds was long linked to sad, humid, maze-like ambiances, it is also linked to feelings of refuge and protection. Debates on the reinvention of undergrounds and their integration to the structure of urban spaces (Bourdin, 2017) thus call for a reinvention of representation tools (Bélanger, 2007) and a renewal of urban imaginations. From Paul Maymont’s axonometric views to master schemes marking land availability (e.g. Helsinki) and to very recent experiments of cartography of public transportation users’ journeys13], the representation of undergrounds sways between functionality stakes and stakes of desirability of the places. Such desirability, conveyed by images, conditions the attendance to the undergrounds and, as such, its success in programmatic (entertainment spaces) and investment terms. The research on imposing urban ambiances unsettles the traditional perceptions of central places[14], but it also contributes to revealing the strata that belong to the memory of the city. Analysing the historical and contemporary representations, as well as the forms of re-enchantment of these underground spaces calls for a work on the values that are associated with them and their deciphering. What role would the image toolplay in the renewal of perceptions of the underground space and its conception? This theme is open to contributions regarding the concepts of image and imagery in new modes of representation and of languages of communication regarding the undergrounds. Considering that the usual look of professions dealing with the underground comes from outside of the represented space (elevations, plans), we call on readingsof the underground spaces that come from the human body and its interactions with the sensitive environment.

Submission guidelines

Manuscripts in English or French, between 30.000 and 50.000 characters (spaces included)

  • Announcement of the call for submission: 10 February 2021
  • Submission deadline: 12 April 2021

  • Reviews sent to authors: 10 May 2021
  • Revised papers due: August 2021
  • Publication: December 2021

For formatting, follow authors guideline:

Send manuscripts to: journal@ambiances.net

Coordinators of the issue

  • BAHRAMI Farzaneh, Ph.D, assistant professor in Urban Design and Mobility, Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen.
  • GUINAND Sandra, Ph.D, urban-planner and urban geographer, visiting professor at the department of geography and regional research at the University of Vienna and associate researcher of EIREST (Interdisciplinary Research Group on Tourism) Paris1-Sorbonne.
  • KANELLOPOULOU Dimitra, architect-engineer, Ph.D in geography and planning (Université Paris 1), assistant professor at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Paris-Malaquais (ENSAPM) in the Cities and Territories field, member of LIAT and associated member of the UMR 8504 Géographie-cités.
  • LABBÉMonique, architect, founder and manager of theAteliers Monique Labbé, former chair of the Comité Espace Souterrain de l’AFTESand executive director of the Ville 10D-Ville d'Idéesnational research project.
  • PARRIAUX Aurèle, geologist, hydrogeologist, Professor emeritus, Faculté de l’environnement naturel, architectural et construit (ENAC), Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

Further reading

Admiraal, Han , & Cornaro, Antonia. 2018. Underground Spaces Unveiled: Planning and Creating the Cities of the Future. London : ICE Publishing.

Alarcón, Ximena. 2013. Creating Sounding Underground Digital Creativity. vol. 24, no3, p. 252-258.

Amphoux, Pascal. 2003. Ambiances urbaines et espaces publics. In : Capron, Guénola &  Haschar-Noé, Nadine (eds.). L’espace public en question : usages, ambiances et participation citoyenne. Toulouse : Université Toulouse Le Mirail. p. 50-56. (Ecole Doctorale Temps, Espace, Société et Culture, n°3).

Anderson, Ben. 2009. Affective atmospheres. Emotion, Space and Society. vol. 2, n° 2, p. 77-81.

Barles, Sabine &Guillerme, André. 1995. L’Urbanisme souterrain, Coll. Que sais-je ? no533, Paris : PUF.

Belanger, Pierre. 2007. Underground landscape: The urbanism & infrastructure of Toronto's downtown Pedestrian network.Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology.vol. 22, no3, p. 272-292.

Bourdin, Alain. 2007. Des ambiances à l’offre urbaine. Espaces et Sociétés, n° 130, p. 169-174.

Buser, Michael. 2014. Thinking through non-representational and affective atmospheres in planning theory and practice. Planning Theory. vol. 13, n° 3, p. 227 243.

Cui, Jianqiang;Andrew, Allan ; Taylor, Michael & Dong, Lin. 2012. The perception of accessibility and ease of orientation of underground pedestrian systems: a survey in Shanghai, International Journal of Urban Sciences. vol.16, no3, p. 301-320.

Davidson, Joyce &Milligan, Christine.2004. Embodying emotion sensing space. Introducing emotional geographies.Social and Cultural Geography, vol. 5, no. 4, p. 523-532.

Elden, Stuart. 2013. Secure the Volume: Vertical Geopolitics and the Depth of Power. Political Geography.vol. 34, p. 35–51.

Goel, R.K.; Singh,Bhawani&Zhao, Jian.2012. Underground Infrastructures Planning, Design and Construction. London : Butterworth – Heinemann.

Harle, Matthew. 2015. Fictions from the underground. City. vol. 19, no.4. p. 444-462. 

Harris, Andrew. 2015. Vertical Urbanisms: Opening Up Geographies of the Three-Dimensional City. Progress in Human Geography. vol.39. p. 601–620.

Kulper Amy Catania & Periton, Diana. 2015. Urban Atmospheres: An Introduction. Architecture and Culture, vol. 3, no2, p.121-126. 

Labbé, Monique.2016. Architecture of Underground Space: from isolated innovations to connected urbanism.Tunnellingand Underground Space Technology.no55, p. 153-175.

Lavagno, Evasio & Schranz, Laura. 2007. Recent development and utilisation of Underground Space in Italy. 11th ACUUS Conference – Underground Space: Expanding the Frontiers. Athens.

Lévy, Jacques. 1994.Urbanité : à inventer. Villes : à décrire. Les Annales de la Recherche Urbaine, p. 11-16.

Malone, Andrew. W. 1996. The Use of Underground Space in Hong Kong. Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology.vol. 11, no1. p. 57-64.

Malpas, Jeff.Place and experience: A philosophical topography1999., Cambridge, New York : Cambridge University Press.

Meiss, Pierre& Radu, Florinel.(dir.) 2004. Vingt mille lieux sous les terres: espaces publics souterrains.Lausanne: Presses polytechniqueset universitaires romandes.

Ming, Ye. 2017. A Million People Live in These Underground Nuclear Bunkers. National Geographic, February 16.

O'Sullivan, Feargus.2015. Bike Paths in Abandoned Tube Tunnels: Is the London Underline Serious?. The Guardian, February 5.

Parriaux, Aurèle ;Blunier, Pascal; Maire, Pierrick ;  Dekkil, Guillaume&Tacher, Laurent.2010.Projet Deep City – Ressources du sous-sol et développement durable des espaces urbains. Rapport de recherche PNR 54, Fonds national suisse FNS/ vdf ETHZ.


[1]See for example the international congresses of the Association Française des Tunnels et de l’Espace Souterrain.

[2]See n°264 of the AMC (November 2017), which presents a special issue on underground spaces.

[3]As those conveyed by studies/drawings by Eugène Hénard, Harvey Wiley Corbett, Paul Maymont.

[4]See the innovative urban calls for projects Réinventer Paris.

[5]See for example the remnants of Napoli Sotterranea.

[6]See underground habitats in France (Loire), Tunisia, Australia.

[7]See cities like Montreal, Tokyo, Shanghai.

[8]See Derinkuyu in Turkey.

[9]Hydrocarbon reservoirs, tree nurseries, mushroom growing rooms…

[10]See for example works by Ensamble Studio or Junya Ishigami.

[11]Floor of a building that is partly or completely under the ground level.

[12]See for example the residentsof Coober Pedy in Australia or the claustrophobic apartments in Beijing basements pictured in the “China’s Rat Tribe” collection by the photographer Sim Chi Yin.

[13]See the concept of “sensual stations” by the architect Jacques Ferrier.

[14]See the project proposed by the Dominique Perrault agency on the development of the forecourt of Notre-Dame de Paris.


  • Monday, April 12, 2021


  • underground space, planning, atmosphere, design, deep city, infrastructure, emotion, mapping, imaginary


  • Sandra Guinand
    courriel : urbagraz [at] tugraz [dot] at
  • Dimitra Kanellopoulou
    courriel : d [dot] kanellopoulou [at] paris-malaquais [dot] archi [dot] fr
  • Farzaneh Bahrami
    courriel : F [dot] Bahrami [at] rug [dot] nl

Information source

  • Dimitra Kanellopoulou
    courriel : d [dot] kanellopoulou [at] paris-malaquais [dot] archi [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Undergound Atmospheres. Renewing the debate », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, March 01, 2021, https://doi.org/10.58079/1649

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