Design beneath our feet – a comparison on Rome and London
Mark Andrew Kelly – 5th October 2015 – Week 1 : Rome Fellowship
Beneath our feet and the hustle and bustle of urban life, exists an interconnected network of streets. Trench and Hillman’s book ‘London under London: A subterranean guide’  has descriptions and maps of the community tunnels beneath our feet. In the Italian capital the Romans built underground rooms, interconnected paths between wealthy homes and entertainment venues like the coliseum. Currently these large subterranean paths and spaces are left vacant and unaltered. Association Roma Sotterranea offer tours to Cloaca Maxima, the first sewer system and below the Vatican to the secret paths. Recently BBC’s reporter Andy Dangerfield wrote about underground city streets in London. The Birmingham Mail has recently discussed underground tunnels beneath their city centre streets including the Royal Mail tunnel that runs from The Mailbox to New Street Station. There are miles of unused existing infrastructure under Rome, London and Birmingham.
In Rome there are underground rooms and tunnels built to transport and communicate between people, including Mithraeum of Circus Maximums, the Vatican Necropolis and the Basilica of San Clemente.  Across the ancient city, building materials were quarried from hillsides and villas were constructed above, leaving large cavernous spaces which were used for slave burials and unmarked graves. The Italian newspaper Roma Today reported a sink-hole at Roma Termini station, where the surface construction materials cracked to reveal a large subterranean cavern as shown on the BBC. There are other areas where the Ancient Romans built the first working underground sewer tunnels around Marcus Cornelius Cethegus in 160 BC, then this was later developed by Nero in the mid first century AD and Pope Sixtus V in the late sixteenth century (A. Sura, Duke University, 2010). However London did not build a working sewer until 13 July 1870, Paris in 1370 under Rue Monmarte and Birmingham in 1850s, some 1,950 years later. The Romans fed water from up to 50 miles away on precise gradients into underground aquifers below hypocausts to provide underfloor heating to wealthy Roman homes like in Pompeii in 1stC B.C. Similar Ancient Roman subterranean aquifers were built below the baths of Caracalla in concrete, to heat spa water for baths on the surface. Concrete which could set under-water, allowed concrete pile foundations to be built in rivers and harbours, allowing water, food, troops and trade to travel efficiently across the empire and connect to the Silk Road from Asia Minor. When the Roman Empire fell in 410AD, so did the knowledge of under-water setting concrete and the underground caverns below the Roman city. In the mid-twentieth century, Mussolini built an underground wartime bunker and key communication paths around the subterranean Italian capital city. Around the same time Birmingham built underground blitz defences under the Public Library and strategic underground passages to disseminate key supplies during the Blitz Bombing. London's use of Clapham underground station as a bomb shelter is well documented, however less is known about the Anchor Exchange BT tunnels in Birmingham which send mail parcels across the capital underground to sorting offices without traffic. Birmingham shares a similarly fascinating system of underground key telecoms network tunnels to support the thriving manufacturing industry above ground.
These subterranean spaces have had significant embodied energy which was invested generations before, yet the spaces are currently left unoccupied and vacant. As architects and designers these European cities have a rich layering of history which is demonstrated in these passages. The subterranean history can provide architectural redevelopment opportunities for architects and designers with retrofit investment, which is less costly and energy-intensive than new-build underground infrastructure. Smart thinking and political support is required to re-inhabit these spaces and re-purpose our subterranean spaces for future generations benefit. Underground passages provide quick access around the city and design opportunities.
 There are junctions Richard C. Trench, Ellis Hillmanhttp://www.goodreads.com/book/show/243112.London_Under_London
 https://classicalstudies.duke.edu/uploads/assets/08_CloacaMaxima.pdf Amol Sura, Duke University, Spring 2010
 Cadbury, Deborah (2003). Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. London and New York: Fourth Estate. pp. 165–6, 189–192. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_sewerage_system)