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2012 – The Psychology of Living Underground – The Basics

Living underground is not a new concept. In fact, the generation and utilization of underground space has been one of humanity’s drivers for a sustainable future. As early as 1931, human ingenuity imagined and designed plans for the “depth scraper”, a 35-story building resembling a skyscraper of the type familiar in American large cities, which was to be constructed in a mammoth excavation beneath the ground. It was proposed as a residential engineering solution for surviving earthquakes in Japan.

We have numerous examples of underground projects, such as Rapid Transit Systems like the Tube, underground malls, deep underground airport terminals, to name a few.

It is obvious that part of humanity’s survival planning has to include utilization of underground space, the expansion of which has been under nano-speeds due to numerous technological challenges, as well as the huge socio-human factors which need to be explored. Any underground “undertaking” has to consider the psychology of living underground and how to best design accommodations that do not negatively impact the aboveground quality of life standards. Needless to say, safety planning and disaster prevention within the confines of limited underground space technology are challenging. The challenges are exacerbated when space becomes even more limited, as in a case of a survival bunker.

Underground Psychology

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

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

“…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.”

Research has been conducted in various specific areas of concern, such as 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.

Some of the issues facing humans above ground can be extrapolated and expected to have an impact, albeit to a higher degree of severity, while living underground. To name a few, claustrophobia, light sensitivity, general fatigue, eye fatigue, disturbance of circadian rhythms, insomnia, headaches, etc. These are just some of the potential ailments and stressors for which very little is known due to lack of experimental or real data.

Given the above-mentioned social issues, and the lack of evidence-based data to address these issues, we are left with the necessity of applying existing knowledge from above ground experiences to resolve underground problems. Some of the tactics would seem trivial, such as showing compassion to each other’s concerns, being forgiving to one’s mistakes, helping each other as needed, and so on. Hence it would seem that an effort to educate and promote social interaction would produce good results and reinforce some areas of public concern while living underground.

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