Charlotte van der Woude

Charlotte van der Woude

Landscape Architecture

Discovering London's underground landscape as a potential new nature

Since ancient times, people have been closely connected with their surroundings. When settling down and finding a place to live, humans would always find strategic spots in the landscape to build a home. The topography, the presence of water, trees and the type of underground landscape shaped our first settlements. Restrictions and opportunities, in terms of resources and climate, resulted in a particular use of the surrounding landscape and it resulted in knowledge of the place, but above all a sense of belonging and identity.

Today, some of these settlements have changed radically and turned into ever-expanding cities. The connection with their subterranean and original landscapes has become blurred and can hardly be experienced. Layers of concrete and asphalt have covered the landscape’s rivers and soil. Not only does this affect how people experience the city, but it also reveals how our cities respond to current problems like climate change, the degradation of biodiversity and decrease in water supply.

As a result of this, it seems that we need to travel far to find ‘nature’, but what if we look more carefully at our nearby surroundings? Is nature still present? Isn’t it just covered beneath all these artificial city layers, beneath our feet? Is nature closer than we think? If it still is present in our underground landscape, can we try to integrating these hidden structures into the city?

In order to find answers to these questions, this project investigates the city of London, where many of the former tributaries of the Thames are now buried beneath layers of concrete. Like many other cities worldwide, these tributaries were the starting point for people to settle down, but because of heavy pollution in the industrial era, they have been turned into underground sewage systems that date back to the Victorian times. This graduation project tries to discover if this hidden structure could be a chance to create ‘new nature’; one that cannot survive the harsh city life on top, but which can facilitate a whole new type of habitat: a fragile nature to be discovered under your feet.

Graduation committee: Mirjam Koevoet (mentor), Ricky Rijkenberg and Paul Achterberg. Additional members for the exam: Philomene van der Vliet and Peter Lubbers.

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