Building Down

15 May, 2012 | ArchitectureEnvironmentLifeTdp

Watching a TED talk video presented by Bjarke Ingels -- who works at BIG, a Danish architecture firm -- with a friend of mine, it raised a question I've had for a while about buildings in the UK: why don't we build down?

I don't know anyone who has a basement, which is strange for a nation as populous as ours, certainly one that is (relatively) land poor (actually, we only rank as the 53rd most densely populated country, though that is the UK rather than England, which is close to 30th). In London it seems basements were all the craze (back in 2009 at least) to expand your home as there was no other way, but it doesn't seem done much anywhere else.

I'm not just talking about homes either, what about commercial buildings, why aren't they adding floor space and parking below ground so they can better utilise the space above?  I'm not the only nutter inspired thinker to propose making better use of space below the surface either, just look at this design for an 'Earth-scraper' from an architect in Mexico.

With the desire for parking seemingly endless, I would have thought it was stupid not to include a subterranean car park to provide space for people using the building and make more efficient use of the landmass (instead of building a car park beside it, for instance).

Obviously there's additional cost in adding basements, but it's much cheaper to do it before you build something than to retro fit it, yet I've never seen a house offered with a basement, new or old.  Compared to the cramped space and inaccessibility of a loft you'd have thought a basement would be a great alternative, giving your an entire floor that isn't (as much) at the mercy of the ambient temperature.

Maybe we have the wrong sort of geography for basements (although we're geographically stable and if they can do it in London, which is a clay-lined depression with a river running through it, I can't see why we aren't doing it elsewhere).  Then again, maybe it's just an attitude, we've never built them so we assume there's no demand for them and because no one has ever had one no one demands them.