laba Studio URBAN UNDERGROUND 2013/14

laba’s main topic for the academic year 13/14


Geologists are familiar with the term obduction, where oceanic crust overthrusts continental crust at a convergent plate boundary. This is part of the process which formed the Alps and explains why the Swiss Alps once lay at the bottom of the sea. Swiss topography invites an exploration of above and below, exposure and concealment, inside and outside, solid and void, not only because of its geological origins, but also because of more recent developments. The Swiss mountains are known to be porous and conceal vast areas carved out for defensive purposes.
As architects, we are trained to think in three, if not four dimensions including time. But our initial research has revealed that an understanding of the third dimension, the vertical, has inevitably concentrated on its upward portion only. Western society has an ambiguous relationship with the underground. 

Although housing valuable resources, nourishing agriculture and offering protection from climatic extremes, it seems that the underground has been culturally stigmatised and dedicated to the disposal of waste and the installation of infrastructure.
However, as increasing pressure on resources below ground is matched by spatial pressure above ground, the lower portion of the vertical dimension comes into focus and an opportunity to investigate this relatively uncharted territory is presented.

The underground also contains many architectural challenges. Apart from the coordination of a complex of existing installations, underground space represents an inversion of the classical figure and ground, solid and void relationship. The constructed object as such does not exist, rather the architectural act is the creation of space itself. This leads to further questions of defining zones such as inside/outside and public/private within an underground space. Here, certain senses are heightened, making the quality of the spatial articulation critical, in particular in terms of light and orientation. laba, (laboratoire Bâle) of the EPFL, will investigate these issues.
Download the project description (PDF, 3 MB).