Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Underground as Unintentional Archive

Found here.
Philosophy has a physical effect in New York. Everyone is trying to make his or her mark on the town, and that's evidenced literally throughout the city - in the form of everything from high-end advertisements that cover entire building facades to tiny, consistent mustache graffiti. Even our litter and noise pollution is in its way a record of our existence. Something perhaps about the unlikeliness of being noticed amps up our urge to issue notice.

In this sense, it is unsurprising to point out that these collections of marks-on-the-world tend to congregate and compile in the city's underground. Some of this is due to drift, or the amount of daily time we spend  under the street here and in other metropolitan areas around the world, but I believe some of it is a hold over from supposedly long-lost instincts. From the caves at Lascaux to Plato's allegory of the cave, enclosed spaces have held a fascination for our creative impulses since our first recorded expressions. In many ways it just makes practical sense - underground is generally considered a safe repository, as far as global environments go.

What can be surprising is when the underground serves as an archive or record without conscious effort. In many ways, we can uncover a strange archival topography underground, just by remaining observant. One of my favorite pastimes while waiting for the train is spotting remnants of the The French Connection New York amidst all the now-a-days You've Got Mail glitz. (Or for that matter, spotting the Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 underneath all the Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.) Whether you're a New York diorama artist creating a personal quasi-geological record of Canal Street, or simply a vandal exposing last week's new release under this week's newly-plastered poster, the layers of the underground are too many and varied to count.

Sometimes, whole rooms preserve whole eras. This can give us a glimpse of turn-of-the-century architecture, or even help us pinpoint the frozen year when a section was converted into unintentional archive. The possibilities are pretty endless, and who can say? In a few hundred years, our means of commute might prove our most extant public record for anthropologists. So I say: Keep making your mark.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tunnels = Choices

The analogy is pretty clear: choice A versus choice B. Perhaps one of the reasons the "dungeons" is in Dungeons & Dragons is because, in addition to being easy to map and plot, tunnels also provide some very clear decision-making and problem-solving scenarios. In fact, I'm often surprised at how linear a game's dungeon map will be. Most people probably just don't want to waste work that might never be experienced, and I can appreciate that; but everyone loves finding Easter eggs, and even the storyteller ought to be surprised once in a while.

Still, the basic choice of tunnel 1 or tunnel 2 is a pretty great one, assuming the stakes are high enough at the time of choosing. I'm a pretty thorough sort - I loathe never getting to find out what lay behind the unchosen door, and so I try to in such a way that I can scout out every corridor. This can be infuriating to those more intuitively inclined, which I secretly relish, because intuitive people are constantly getting the drop on me. I'm that irritating guy who plays chess by taking so much time to contemplate moves that the other person is driven to distraction.

Some will argue that tunnels are a little irrelevant outside of a role-playing game, but I disagree utterly. Even if there weren't a plethora of fascinating contemporary tunnels, the physical form of a tunnel is easily perceived in any number of situations. Sometimes there are tunnels made of crowds of people (a familiar problem in New York City) or of a given person's inability to see more than two or three choices. The idea of a "lesser of two evils" is pretty neatly encapsulated (literally and figuratively) by a pair of tunnels. Either way you choose, you're still underground, still committed to one time and place. The limitation of options not only serves to crystallize decision-making, but can inspire more creativity. That's not even to explore the effect of constraint upon the stakes of a situation or story.

There's something of a tendency in contemporary films to raise the stakes by expanding the horizon: Our hero not only has to overcome her alcoholism in the course of two hours, but SAVE THE KNOWN UNIVERSE. Yet the opposite choice can serve to ratchet up the stakes for all involved. This is an area in which a certain brand of science fiction film excels. I'm hardly the first to notice the omnipresence of corridors in sci-fi genre movies, and while they may technically be the exact opposite "underground," their effect is the same. By limiting the choices, our characters' plights are far more uncompromising. It's also great for pace - everything becomes directional and intentional, and literally picks up pace as the climax approaches (Kubirck aside).

(It's also of course, incidentally, great for economy. I'm learning this personally as I work on my first sci-fi film. Wall panels and portals can be moved around, reconstructed, turned upside down, relit . . . the possibilities are endless. Which is a pretty neat parallel between plotting a movie set and plotting an adventure map. Economy's a valuable virtue in both environment and storytelling.)

Of course, there's also the ultimate cruel twist to all this choice-inspired tunneling. The metaphor so apt, its identification is in its own colloquialism: the Dead End. That famous assonance implies the utter cessation of choice. As the story-teller, we can decide whether this physical feature is an opportunity for the characters to show great resolve and overcome, or whether perhaps it lives up to its name and means an ultimate end to the exploration. When it comes to confronting inevitability, the dead end can prove nice and unconquerable. Sometimes, death and the dead end even coincide exactly.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

700 Year Old Underground Cave Homes For Rent in Iran | Inhabitat - Green Design Will Save the World

Via Inhabitat

700 Year Old Underground Cave Homes For Rent in Iran | Inhabitat - Green Design Will Save the World: "Architecture
700 Year Old Hobbit Cave Homes For Rent in Iran
by Yuka Yoneda, 08/03/10
filed under: Architecture

If beachfront property or vacation rentals near prime tourist attractions are no longer cutting it for you, consider checking out a very different type of getaway home. These incredible underground houses carved from natural rock formations local to Kandovan, Iran are available for rent and even for purchase. They might seem like a new gimmick to attract tourists, but these inherently low-energy houses are actually 700 years old!
Photo credit: Streakr

700 Year Old Underground Cave Homes For Rent in Iran, cave home, underground home, low energy living, green design, ancient home, eco design, sustainable design, sustainable architecture, green architecture, passive house, passive cooling, iran, ancient house, eco architecture, kandovan, desert home

Located in northeast Iran at the foot of Mount Sahand, the mound-like homes are carved from volcanic rock, meaning that most of the materials needed to construct them were already located on site. Technically, the dwellings aren’t true underground homes since a portion of them sits above ground, but since much of the living space is buried, inhabitants can expect cooler temperatures during the day without having to jack up the air conditioning (and saving a lot of energy).

As you can see, the style of the homes isn’t as primitive as you might think since a lot of additions have been made in the last 700 years. There are modern doors and windows mixed in with more ancient looking carved out rooms and openings. While the area might look like its from prehistoric times, it’s actually a hoppin’ resort locale with hotels, restaurants and a special mineral water famed for its healing properties.

Via Dornob

Photo credit: Streakr

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011


"Equipment for cave exploring includes: a spare telephone, a telephone trumpet... cords and plumb-line for sounding purposes, a measure, some medicines, a flask of rum...knives, thermometer, barometer, pocket compass, paper squared off for topographical drafting, pencils, provisions, and some incense or Armenian paper, which is burned in case there are dead animals putrefying in the depths" - Édouard-Alfred Martel, 1898

Monday, September 27, 2010

Speaking of Morlocks: The Malta Catacombs

From Drow elves to the devil himself, we rarely imagine good-natured, caring folks when we imagine secret underground races. Generally speaking, if it comes from the ground, we loathe and despise it. Perhaps we're compensating for some internal self-awareness of our more soil-bound genetic ancestors? Whatever the cause, it makes for some dang fine horror. The tales from the Maltese Catacombs may have more to do with superstition and poor history preservation than secret races, but they still get my imagination piqued.

via Listverse
The Malta Catacombs
Malta01 01
"In 1902, in the town of Paola on the island of Malta, workers making way for a new housing development stumbled across a vast subterranean complex that dated back to Malta’s prehistoric period, some 3000 years ago. The sight has since became a UNESCO world Heritage site, and was officially named the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. A more extensive archaeological survey of the site was undertaken, and it became clear that all was not as simple as it seemed. Over 30,000 human skeletons were found in burial chambers dotted across the site, including men, women and children. Many skulls had unusually widened craniums and baffled scientists in terms of ethnic origin. Stories began spreading that it was tangible evidence of a subterranean human species.
"The islands earliest inhabitants engaged in human sacrifice to appease their god of the underworld, who they believed dwelled beneath the island itself. The name they gave to him roughly translates as ‘Serpent’. When Saint Paul was shipwrecked on the island as recorded in the bible, he documented this, and even claimed to have been bitten by the serpent himself. He also spent a great deal of time there converting the people from their primitive worship of a reptilian deity to Catholicism. It is believed, by some scholars, that the human sacrifices were involuntarily cast down into the catacombs, to be devoured by the serpent and prevent the islanders from incurring his wrath.
"Rumors of a cover-up, by the Maltese government and other authorities, are rife with stories including the scrubbing of texts and ancient drawings from the catacomb walls, and the mysterious and sudden death of the sites first head archaeologist. The underground complex still hasn’t been fully explored. A British embassy worker in the 1940’s, gave an account of foraying into the sites lowest room on the last level, after convincing the tour guide to allow her access to an area usually off limits to the public. Upon entering a small portal in the wall she claimed to have seen 20 reptilian beings covered in white hair on a ledge across from her. One raised his palm and subsequently her candle extinguished. She made a quick exit but upon returning some days later she was told that the guide who had shown her the portal had never been employed at the site and no such portal existed."

Monday, July 12, 2010


James M. Tabor on supercaves - the deepest, baddest caves on Earth. Talking about the physiological effects, he notes:

"Another thing is that each human brain has a unique tolerance for darkness. Some individuals reach their limit after a certain number of days or certain number of feet below the surface, and then they have an attack called The Rapture, which is like a panic attack on speed. I’ve interviewed people who’ve experienced it and they say it’s like a panic attack but multiplied a hundred times in intensity..."