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Revealed: winner of Going Underground ideas contest

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Rory Olcayto reveals the results of the AJ’s subterranean design competition, run in partnership with structural waterproofing manufacturer RIW

In February this year the AJ launched #goingunderground, an imaginative design competition in partnership with structural waterproofing manufacturer RIW.

The task was simple: entrants were asked to choose a landmark British building or structure – the Houses of Parliament for example, or the Angel of the North – and propose an underground project to sit beneath it.  The proposals could be political, witty, off-the-wall, or – for the braver competitors – maybe even practical.

The response was nothing if not varied. Entries were virtually impossible to compare. So, as a guide for the jury – which included AJ editor Rory Olcayto and Make’s Ken Shuttleworth – an essay by the late, great Philip K Dick was cited. Dick is the science-fiction writer whose stories inspired Hollywood movies including Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. In 1978 he gave a lecture entitled How to Build a Universe  That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later. Among its many messages was this very simple observation: if a fiction of any kind – a short story, a drawing, an architectural idea – obeys the rules it has set for itself, then the story, or world, it creates, will be coherent and can be considered viable, or even ‘real’.

So while some of the projects selected for the shortlist, and perhaps even our winner, may seem far-fetched, or even impossible, their execution, and the ideas behind them suggest a consistent ‘world’.  This, then, allowed the jury to select seven strong projects, which included one unanimous winner.  They were: a fun palace beneath the Houses of Parliament, a fracking rig in Whitehall, a skatepark beneath London’s South Bank, an engine room below the Gherkin, a bus station below Marble Arch, student housing under Somerset House, and our winner, a cemetery in Hyde Park.

During a celebratory lunch for the creators of all the shortlisted schemes, the prize – £1,000 of holiday vouchers – was awarded to The Serpentine Columbarium by MSMR Architects.  The London-based practice then surprised the room by announcing it was donating its winnings to charity.


Serpentine Columbarium by MSMR Architects

MSMR Architects - Serpentine Columbarium

This gorge carved around the side of the Serpentine’s Long  Water creates a space for people to remember the dead

The shortlist

Fun Palace of Westminster by Edward Crooks

Fun Palace of Westminster

Politics as entertainment in today’s leisure economy

The Gherkin Programme by Sean Cassidy

Sean Cassidy - The Gherkin Programme

The secret at the heart of the City of London: an underground space port

Can subterranean housing solve London’s housing crisis? by Tom Bestwick

Tom Bestwick

Sixty student residences in the ditch at Somerset House

Marble Arch Coach Exchange by Hannah Cordell

Marble Arch coach interchange

Art blends with infrastructure in a new bus station beneath Marble Arch

Underground Undercroft by Kieran Thomas Wardle


A new permanent home for London’s skaters

Urban Fracktures by Charlotte Wilson

Urban Fractures by Charlotte Wilson

What if shale gas exploration took place in central London?

The jury

Ken Shuttleworth, founder, Make
Mark Walker, managing director, RIW
Sarah Patrick, marketing manager, RIW
Andy Cassie, managing director, CIB Communications
Nick Gill, account director, CIB Communications
Rory Olcayto, editor, The Architects’ Journal

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Readers' comments (1)

  • What a wow of a competition! All competitors are to be congratulated on their efforts of the imagination.

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