Architecture firm Gensler has received the London Planning Award for Best Conceptual Project for the “London Underline,” a proposal to turn the city’s disused Underground rail tunnels into a network of bike and pedestrian paths. Not only would the project address the problems of over-crowded commuter paths and disused infrastructure, but the Underline would harness the kinetic energy of everyone’s footsteps so as to be completely carbon neutral.

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Gensler explains “With current pressures on London to cope with future transport capacity for pedestrians, cyclists and tube users, London is in desperate need for new types of public and community space, as well as affordable retail, commerce and entertainment spaces. Subterranean spaces present an excellent option for new uses.”

Areas included within the proposal include the disused Piccadilly Line branch from Holborn to the abandoned Aldwych station along with a lengthy stretch from Green Park to Charing Cross. Parallel paths would provide separate arteries for pedestrians and cyclists, and the tunnels would be lined with cafes and stores.

Not only that, but Gensler envisions that the paths could be paved with slabs that would harness the kinetic energy created by the footfall of pedestrians. This could, the designers claim, allow the Underline to be completely self-sustaining and carbon neutral. Moreover, as Gensler co-director Ian Mulcahey told the Guardian “Could you turn that [kinetic] power into art pieces or advertising opportunities? Could you tie it all together, perhaps with sponsorship and naming rights, so that it’s a self-funding exercise?”

It’s a pretty extraordinary and ambitious proposal, and it looks a tad distopian—elements of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere come to mind—but it’s not the first proposal for subterranean urban public spaces. In 2011 designers James Ramsey and Dan Barasch proposed the Low Line a public park for NYC’s Lower East Side that would be housed in a disused underground trolley tunnel.

The Underline is undoubtedly, a pretty wild idea, but—even conceptually—it could be an exceptional tonic for London’s commuter woes. As Mulcahey told the Evening Standard “Now that London has reached the highest level of population in its history we need to think creatively about how to maximize the potential of our infrastructure… The adaptation of surplus and underutilized tube and rail tunnels could provide a quick and simple addition to our infrastructure network.”

+ Gensler

Via Huh. Magazine