We are here today to celebrate Think Deep UK’s first anniversary. It was a very successful year for TDUK, which is a quite unique organisation, composed of a voluntary group of built environment experts committed to put together different disciplines such as urban planning, architecture and underground space.” That was the message from Petr Salak, TDUK’s co-founder, who explained during the summer reception at Aecom’s offices in Aldgate Tower, London in June what has been done and what they are going to do over the next year.

“We started with the right foot last year connecting people, who don’t really talk each other. We ran three workshops on Social, Future Infrastructure and Planning in 3D,” says Salak, project manager at Dr. Sauer and Partners.

“We aim to inspire a mixed audience, thus we always invite different people to each workshops. For example, when we ran Future Transport we invited students from Edinburgh University who are working on Hyperloop as well as people from academia; consultants, contractors and city councils”.

Loretta Von Der Tann from University College London adds: “I think that the next step is to disseminate what we have done over the past year to consolidate that knowledge in to the next workshops.”

TDUK has already planned two workshops on design principles and another on policy and legislation for the next year. “We prefer workshops rather than presentations, as we can invite the right people and to make them interact each other,” says Salak. “Of course we have to put a limit to the attendees because it wouldn’t be productive if we have more than 25 people. We would like to focus on institutions such as the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) because it would be great if they could spread in their network our ideas and to consider them when they have to plan urban spaces in cities. This already happened with the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) and some other international organisations. I would like to do the same but on a local level, influencing British organisations such as RTPI, Great London Authority and New London Architecture.”


Isabell Dedring, formerly London’s deputy mayor for transport, highlighted the benefit of the TDUK’s plans.

“In London there are all different transport modes. The Greater London Authority has planning, housing, transport all together in one place,” she says. “There are people who are working on the same topic in the same part of the city but planners wouldn’t always talk to the housing people and they wouldn’t interact with transport people. Even if we are sitting in the same place, it doesn’t mean that we are talking each other across disciplines, so the advantage of the TDUK is to bring a whole range of disciplines together and working on problems that cities are facing together.”

Martin Gray from Steel Associates adds: “It’s raising the awareness between the government and the industry about the value of the underground space. Rather than only building above ground, we can also looking underground and try to establish opportunities to maximise that benefit.


In terms of exploring the underground, TDUK looks not only at tunnels but also other spaces. “We are exploring different underground scenarios like shopping centres, storage places and even houses,” Salak says. “If there is a smart underground space with a clever lighting system, big mirrors or light shafts to transfer the natural light underground, I think that it’s definitely possible to live underground.”

Regarding the natural fear to build underground spaces, Salak adds: “We understand that it’s not in our DNA to look underground and many people don’t care and seem not interested in it. But we want to make people feel safe and comfortable so they won’t notice that they are actually underground. Thus, we would like to show our plans to politicians and urban planners to make them aware of what could be done to improve our cities.

“An example is Singapore, which is building universities that are up to 70 per cent below the surface. That’s good because you can save energy. If you go underground, temperature regulation is easier, for example.

“There are many examples of living underground around the world. It’s important to think about underground space in a smart way where you don’t lose touch with what is happening above ground.”

Anther example is the Lowline, which is a project to use solar technology to illuminate an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City. The result is an underground park, providing a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments.

The Lowline held in 2015 the “Shaping the Lowline” exhibit, where works from the newest class of Young Designers was displayed and the community was invited to provide input. “Although funding and planning approval are yet to be finalised, the project appears to have strong public backing,” Salak says. “Once opened, probably in 2021, the Lowline could act as a game changer in people’s perceptions of underground public spaces.”


Underground development is currently viewed as problematic and potential benefits are not highlighted sufficiently. The challenge to balance individual preferences, community benefits and national interests is acknowledged as is the trade-off between long-term benefits, and short-term costs.

Developing an evidence-base of the social benefits and impacts is considered key, to explain the value of underground space utilisation and to make the benefits more visible.

In this way the full potential of underground development, which may have a higher initial cost but greater long-term benefits and fiscal impact, can be realised. The principal drivers that currently exist to evaluate social value for large infrastructure projects tend to be focused on cost and risk. This approach is too restrictive, as from the outset of a project the social value assessment becomes intimately linked with the cost-benefit analysis and the design life of the scheme. As such, only the tractable, evidence-based social benefits can be easily accounted for.

TDUK suggests that social value frameworks must be flexible enough to incorporate qualitative measures of value across different timescales such that plans are made for long-term benefits and broader societal needs of future generations.