Designing the Underworld - A workshop to reinvent the way we design and manage streets and the space below the surface

Wed, 07/12/2016 - 6:20pm - 8:10pm

Streets today are crammed with a chaotic spaghetti-like mass of cables, pipes and ducts.  It leads to an ongoing battle between utilities contractors and highway authorities.  Every time street utility works take place the surface of the street gets damaged, and there is a risk that the utilities owned by other companies will be damaged, and this is not to mention the grave risk to street-workers from accidentally striking gas pipes or electricity cables that happen to be in the wrong place, something that happens thousands of times each year, and leads to serious and sometimes fatal injuries.   The shove it in approach to utilities pushes up the cost of maintaining urban streets, and the unevenness in surfaces create trip hazards for elderly, blind and partially sighted people.

Streets could work a lot better if we adopted a designed approach, that used ducts, conduits and utilities tunnels, and other systems to enable existing utilities to be maintained, and new utilities to be introduced without having to dig up the street.  

  • We could replace the medieval of leave it on the street systems of waste collection, with underground waste containers, or pneumatic systems
  • We could distribute and recycle heat through district heating pipes
  • We could recycle grey water and introduce Water Sensitive Urban Design
  • We could plant more trees and help to offset climate change, air pollution as well as providing a more attractive environment
  • We could manage flood risk in a far more creative way, including street-based SUDS, rain gardens, and underground stormwater storage.
  • We could provide far better quality street surfaces, that would not need to be maintained.
  • We could save money. 

This workshop is an invitation to people from all disciplines

Bring your experience and knowledge of best practice, your insight and ingenuity, to see if we chart a way forward to better streets. 

The output of this workshop will contribute to a summit being held by Professor Chris Rogers at the University of Birmingham in February 2017 and events at Ecobuild in March 2017.

The event will comprise short presentations and group discussions. 

If you would like to make a short presentation, please email administration @