Here at DIGITAL bungalow we love a taste of the weird and wonderful. So, we’re happy to have Tim Newman, Brighton-based seeker of the strange, lover of obscure content and Director of Lazerhorse.org, guesting for us today. Welcome to his world …
People have been constructing and living in homes underground for thousands of years. Across the globe, from Tunisian Berbers living in hand carved extended caves to Hobbits in middle earth; from the Amundsen-Scott south pole station to future Big Brother dwellings on Mars. Could this be the future of habitation in London? Maybe so. Land costs money, and London’s cost per square millimetre is rising by the second. Perhaps underground living is the answer?
Building underground is nothing new but what are the benefits of moving shop a touch closer to the earth’s core? Well, the positives are many: resistance to severe weather, a nice retreat from the noise of the city, constant temperature and the heating bills are rock bottom. Sounds good doesn’t it? On top of that they can be created more cheaply because construction work is subtractive rather than additive, and whatever you excavate can be reused or recycled. One housing project in Nottinghamshire developed five one story earth dwellings with 19 metre south facing conservatories. Each cost just £90,000 to make. Not bad at all. In case you need another reason to move in, home insurance premiums are lower too as you are less accessible to the good old fashioned cat burglar.
There’s a common misconception that these types of houses would be damp and dark. In reality you have specialist ventilation installed which deals with the problem of damp and modern light tubes or sun pipes mean that you can actually have a pretty bright space to inhabit at very low cost. One danger is flooding, but there are specialist pump systems that can be installed in case of such a watery event.
Before you get too excited, these types of property are a bit tricky to come by, you can’t just stroll into an estate agent and take your pick. Underground houses are most commonly inhabited by the person who constructed them, and as such they are less likely to want to move. This may change with time though, humans infest London like a plague of property eating locust, so something has to budge. In Russia currently there is more development below ground than above, and countries like Japan and China are already eagerly burrowing down in places where land prices are at a crushing premium.
Although underground houses are not a common site in London per se, there has been a huge boom in so called “mega-basements” over the last few years. People who operate at the top of the property food chain and live in listed buildings can have planning permission issues. The new cool is to dig down and create or extend the basement you already have. The city’s rich are building tennis courts and swimming pools beneath their beloved homes and because the extensions underground are effectively invisible, planning permission is no problem at all.
This trend of excavating out basements actually started in the late 1980s, on Fulham’s Peterborough Estate and has now been passed on to top-end bankers, business magnates, footballers and film stars. Derek Taylor, head of development control for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, says: “Ten years ago, there were virtually no applications to dig large basements.” In the past three years, the borough granted 461 “digging-down” applications, rejected 42 and 66 are pending. So whether you’re thinking of burrowing your own cave, or moving into someone else’s, it seems that underground living may well be the next destination for Londoners. If your estate agent in Fulham can’t provide a cave, she can probably point you in the direction of the nearest mega-basement.