Notes from the underworld: Excavation as architectural counter-history

Stefano Corbo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The deepest existing mines are at least four times deeper than the height of the tallest skyscraper-the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah (1008m). Both structures (mines and skyscrapers) require the same technological apparatuses: elevators, complex ventilation systems, telephones, electricity. But the connection between skyscrapers and underground spaces is not merely symbolic or illustrative. The construction of a super-tall tower requires tons of steel, concrete, glass, and aluminum. This implies the mining and exploitation of iron, limestone, bauxite, coal, and many other minerals. As a symmetrical counterpart of the vast vertical expansion that characterizes the global cities' skyline, subterranean spaces are a repository: an inventory of architectural forms and strategic intentions. Such spaces are not discrete and bounded, but rather are profoundly entangled with the world above. At the same time, underground structures only represent a limited portion of a wider and more articulated terrene: the Underworld. The Underworld can be read as an interpretative category that includes all those secret and hidden episodes--urban infrastructures, habitable environments, military and religious structures, architectural ruins, left-over spaces-that, despite their apparent marginality or their current state of conservation, have a relevant impact on our cities: because their role has been historically specular to the one played by the visible vertical architectures. In other words, the Underworld is not a state of exception; rather, it constitutes a complementary aspect of the capitalist and late-capitalist condition.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Infrastructure Design
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal Perspectives from Architectural History
EditorsJoseph Heathcott
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781003093756
ISBN (Print)9780367554910
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


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