Friday, June 19, 2009

Subterranean Psychology

“Many of the problems associated with living in subterranean habitats are not technological ones, but rather are related to the degree of social acceptance of the concept and to the individual’s perception of the space.”

-Golany, 1996

(Image from Geo-Space Urban Design, Gideon S. Golany & Toshijo Ojima)

Psychological and physiological issues are not uncommonly cited as one of the “problems” associated with human use of underground space. It is indisputable that technological factors are paramount in the creation of subterranean habitats. As indisputable is the reality that public perception of human's limited role in relation to underground space will persist in the idea of such developments being seen as 'futurist' and visionary or impossible.

Perhaps alongside funding, it is general conceptions of underground space, and notions of where humans are “supposed” to live, that prove to be one of the most constraining factors for acceptance of subterranean models. Fortunately, it seems there is substantial niche interest in subterranean buildings and related projects that would demand a high rate of human occupancy. Marketing these ideas to the masses has never really been a goal anyway.

Moving beyond the psychology of public opinion, however, is the much more relevant range of issues relating to the psychology of actually inhabiting underground space.

Just over 3 decades ago, in 1977, Birger Jansson et al report in Planning of Subsurface Use (Swedish Council for Building Research):

“…there has hardly been any research carried out directly aimed at plotting the implications for human beings of spending time and working underground….

it can be stated that the physiological effect on the human organism of time spent underground has been investigated to a very incomplete extent.”

Such statements can be found mirrored in numerous books and papers devoted to planning and design for the underground since this publication in the seventies.

Research has been conducted in specific niches concerning issues of safety as well as the various physiological and psychological responses of humans working in windowless and/or underground sites. Yet a greater understanding of different human responses to frequent occupation of a subterranean space is still lacking.

What are these range of effects so key to understanding the capacities of humans in their time spent in underground space?

To name a few, claustrophobia, light sensitivity, general fatigue, eye fatigue, disturbance of circadian rhythms, insomnia, headaches. These are just some of the potential ailments and stressors.

Experimental habitation projects for humans in largely underground facilities would offer not only new models of living (and perhaps survival) but also a critical move forward in understanding the rhythm, psyche and physical response of humans in this space. This could serve to further enrich the marriage of underground design concepts with understanding of human psychology, and sometimes complex response, in subterranean space.

1 comment:

dan said...

This is a very interesting blog and I wish you good luck with your research and findings.

- Danny Bloom
Polar Cities Research Project

my polar cities, designed by Deng Cheng-hong in Taiwan, will be sited both above ground and underground, so we will be watching your work, and learning from it, with rapt attention!

I also recommend your posting comments at the new York Times dot earth blog run by Andrew revkin there