Let's Design an Underground City

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Kingmaker
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Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Kingmaker »

Because worldbuilding shouldn't be limited to just worlds.

This topic was inspired by an attempt early on in the planning stages of a story I was writing about a conflict in an underground city, and by recently reading several articles about massive underground cities in Turkey (the one I stumbled across was a place called Derinkuyu - look it up).

My story was eventually revised, as I concluded after some thinking that an almost entirely subterranean city containing several million people simply wasn't logistically feasible. But now, knowing there was an underground city capable of housing 50,000 people, my curiosity is piqued again.

So given early 21st century technology, how would one go about building an underground city for (arbitrary number) 2 million people. The big issues that occur to me
-ventilation: people need to breath somehow, and 2 million people use a lot of air just standing around
-logistics: they also need to eat, and standard food distribution infrastructure might not work so well underground
-waste disposal: includes human waste, but also industrial waste and such.
-transportation: again, using regular transporation might not be the best idea underground.
-construction: down vs out, and how
-Why?: perhaps the biggest question of all. Why build an underground city when there is a perfectly good surface that you can use for construction instead?
And I'm sure there are others I'm missing.

I have some ideas of my own, but I'm curious as to how other people would solve these problems.

Some of my thoughts
-ventilation: at first I thought this might just be an issue of scale i.e. build bigger ventilation shafts. I'm not sure that's adequate though, so a more complex network for cycling the air supply might be needed.
-waste disposal: this might not be much different from how it's already done. Buried pipes pumping waste into the nearest large body of water is always a favorite.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Tangith »

-ventilation:
What about fans? My computer comes to mind, build a giant fan (blowing outwards), and a couple of ventilation shafts, and you have some form of air circulation. The air would be sucked in from the ventilation holes, go through the entire facility, and go out the back door.

-food:
What about mushrooms and some type of livestock brought from the surface to breed below. Roots?
-transportation: again, using regular transporation might not be the best idea underground.
Why not? You can still have roads and wagons underground. Mine carts / some type of tracked system? Okay this also brings to mind how they are going to get wood. It seems as though everything will have to be crafted out of stone and metal. Talking about metal and forge, if there is no wood, what about fire? Flint stones I would guess, but that might be a problem since it might be too dank and wet downstairs.

-construction:
Yeah that cathedral in your wiki link is sort of how I would imagine large rooms would look like, which reminds me of the dwarf halls in LOTR. Then the large rooms would be linked together through some sort of tunnel system.

-Why?:
Maybe the surface became unlivable for some reason. High radiation, high heat, too dry, etc.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

How do real-life bunker complexes in Cheyenne Mountain and such process their air?
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Magister Militum »

Well, it depends on the nature of the building. Small bunkers would use a Kearny air pump to provide ventilation via simple manpower, but something like Cheyenne Mountain would have a monster of a ventilation system. I'm not sure how well that would scale up, though, to the level of a underground city.

The biggest issue I see, besides ventilation, is the matter of logistics. You could simply ship in the foostuffs and suppliers from above ground, but it certainly would help if the city was somewhat self-sufficient. Perhaps the use of extensive hydroponics can be adapted in the lower levels? Water could also be an issue, but a system similar to the one Cheyenne Mountain, where a series of underground reservoirs are used for industrial sewage and general use, could be used. Transportation could be provided through a tram system, as well.

As for why, it really depends. In real life, the closest analogue to a underground city are places like the Canadian RESO, which connects much of downtown Montreal and can have up to half a million people during winter. Part of the reason for such large numbers is because it provides a convenient way for people to get about the city without having to deal with the cold. You could leave your apartment, catch the subway, and enter the office where you were work all underground. I would imagine that working on the challenges of developing an underground city would also serve as good practice for developing arcologies or space colonies, as well.

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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Kingmaker »

OMG teh Satan! :twisted:
You could simply ship in the foostuffs and suppliers from above ground, but it certainly would help if the city was somewhat self-sufficient. Perhaps the use of extensive hydroponics can be adapted in the lower levels?
I'm not sure about the actual feasibility of a self-sufficient city. I mean, how many cities today actually produce even a significant fraction of their own food. I'm not a doctor, but my intuition says none. I think water would be easier than food. After all, water flows through a pipe much more easily than meat.

One idea I toyed with for the question of why was that the city was built around a huge mining operation in some hostile environment. As the operations grew and the mines went deeper, the upper levels were converted into housing, industry, etc... while the miners kept going down.
Why not?
Regular transportation (i.e. trucks, trains, etc...) tend to spew shit into the air, putting an even greater burden on a ventilation system trying to provide breathable air for millions of people.

On the subject of transporation, I imagine that trams and subways could be a handy way of solving transportation and logistics issues. They might not be able to go everywhere, but they could get close enough that small vehicles (like those electric trucks you see at train-stations sometimes) could move stuff the rest of the way.

edit: Damn! That Montreal place looks awesome. Now I'm going to have to become an eccentric trillionaire and build a giant, self-sufficient underground city just to compete. ;) How does it handle ventilation?
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: "Stick to the Devil you know."
-Rudyard Kipling
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Siege »

I think the first question you ought to ask is: what is the purpose of this city? What is it doing underground that it can't do on the surface? Was it built there as an outpost to study some geological phenomenon, or was it built as a giant bunker for the purpose of surviving global thermonuclear war, or is it perhaps the prototype of a future moonbase? Depending on the answer to that question your city would look very different: if it doesn't need to survive a 25 megaton nuclear weapon ground-bursting right on top of it, it doesn't need huge shock-absorbers or giant NBC-proof doors; if it's not built as a moonbase prototype it doesn't need to be air-tight and fully self-sustainable, etc.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

To conserve air and time and energy, I'd recommend Segways for personal transportation use! And, ah, lots of nuclear reactors and generators for power usage - and electric vehicles.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Czernobog »

If fusion exists, fusion reactors are preferable to fission and other ones, due to not producing dangerous waste products.

As for food, maybe hydroponics bays with massive lights for vegetables, and maybe some kind of nutrient slurry/cloned meat. It wouldn't taste nice, but it would sustain people.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

I wonder, just because it's an underground city doesn't necessarily mean it has to be 100% self sufficient. We might not end up having to need fusion/fission reactors or have the place produce its own (terrible tasting) food if the place is connected to the surface world's energy grid or if food is brought inside from the outside world. Certainly non-underground cities aren't self-sufficient and do import power and foods from other places.

Does the underground city have to be 100% isolated from the outside world?

Other suggestions:

Power could also be provided by covering the whole place that's above the underground city with solar panels or windmills. Of course, these forms of renewable energy are crappy and produce little energy. Perhaps, if possible, geothermal energy could be used? Then again, building an underground city in a place with geothermic activity might be stupid.

Why not kick it up a notch? Have a whole network of subways and chunnels connecting the underground city to other underground communities? If the technology to build underground cities is there, would our underground city be unique? The underground city could get food because of a subway that links it to another community - an underwater community that harvests fish with submarines?
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Malchus »

Kamin997 wrote:As for food, maybe hydroponics bays with massive lights for vegetables, and maybe some kind of nutrient slurry/cloned meat. It wouldn't taste nice, but it would sustain people.
Why wouldn't the cloned meat taste nice? Meat is meat, no matter how it's grown. It may not taste especially great, but it wouldn't be bad unless it's cooked bad.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Czernobog »

Malchus wrote:
Kamin997 wrote:As for food, maybe hydroponics bays with massive lights for vegetables, and maybe some kind of nutrient slurry/cloned meat. It wouldn't taste nice, but it would sustain people.
Why wouldn't the cloned meat taste nice? Meat is meat, no matter how it's grown. It may not taste especially great, but it wouldn't be bad unless it's cooked bad.
I was talking about the nutrient slurry.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Czernobog »

Shroom Man 777 wrote:I wonder, just because it's an underground city doesn't necessarily mean it has to be 100% self sufficient. We might not end up having to need fusion/fission reactors or have the place produce its own (terrible tasting) food if the place is connected to the surface world's energy grid or if food is brought inside from the outside world. Certainly non-underground cities aren't self-sufficient and do import power and foods from other places.

Does the underground city have to be 100% isolated from the outside world?

Other suggestions:

Power could also be provided by covering the whole place that's above the underground city with solar panels or windmills. Of course, these forms of renewable energy are crappy and produce little energy. Perhaps, if possible, geothermal energy could be used? Then again, building an underground city in a place with geothermic activity might be stupid.

Why not kick it up a notch? Have a whole network of subways and chunnels connecting the underground city to other underground communities? If the technology to build underground cities is there, would our underground city be unique? The underground city could get food because of a subway that links it to another community - an underwater community that harvests fish with submarines?
I'm not sure about whether it needs to be 100% isolated. It depends on its function, as Siege astutely noted. And if there are lots of underground/underwater cities, it probably means that the surface is inhospitable for some reason, forcing civilisation to develop underground. At least that's how I see it, and I may be incorrect.

But if it is 100% isolated, I can definitely see fission/fusion and hydroponics, not necessarily within the city, but in caverns around it. I can also see either a skylight(s) to the outside world or a massive light(s) in the sky to replace the sun, with opening and closing/turning it off and on simulating day/night cycles.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

Actually, won't the diet of the meat (before it becomes dead meat) affect how it tastes like? That's why some pigs taste good when you cook them, and others taste horrible? And that's why humans taste like pork because our omnivorous diet is similar to that of pigfeed? So if you feed cloned pigs a bunch of horrible-tasting nutrient slurry, they'll also end up tasting horrible?

I don't have anything to base this on, except for anecdotes about cannibalism though. The Long Pig!
Kamin wrote:I'm not sure about whether it needs to be 100% isolated. It depends on its function, as Siege astutely noted. And if there are lots of underground/underwater cities, it probably means that the surface is inhospitable for some reason, forcing civilisation to develop underground. At least that's how I see it, and I may be incorrect.
Hrm, then it might depend on how inhospitable the surface is - and why it's inhospitable. Nuclear war won't make the surface world permanently inhospitable so after xyz-number of years the people can GTFO of the underground city, whereas say if the surface is some horrible airless alien planet thing, then the underground city can probably get resupplies from space ships coming and going from the home planet.

Hell, I don't think that underground city in Turkey - or those underground places in Vietnam during the war - were isolated from the surface world. None of the people there had to grow their own food underground, and in fact imported from the outside world.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Malchus »

Shroom Man 777 wrote:Actually, won't the diet of the meat (before it becomes dead meat) affect how it tastes like? That's why some pigs taste good when you cook them, and others taste horrible? And that's why humans taste like pork because our omnivorous diet is similar to that of pigfeed? So if you feed cloned pigs a bunch of horrible-tasting nutrient slurry, they'll also end up tasting horrible?

I don't have anything to base this on, except for anecdotes about cannibalism though. The Long Pig!
My dad owns a small two-restaurant, three-kiosk fast food chain (Lola Inda, in case you're curious), and also cooks very damn well. That's his experience on the matter. Yes, how the diet of the meat source can affect its taste. However, unless the animal is actually fed some sort of toxin or poison that actually builds up in the meat, the meat itself will not taste horrible. Not as great as the meat from animals raised in a special manner, but not bad. Generally, it's the preparation and the cooking that contributes to the final taste. So long as it's not tainted or has begun to rot, any meant will taste decently if prepared and cooked right.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Siege »

I'd be more concerned about vitamin D deficiency developing in the underground populace than about the taste of whatever meat is being eaten. In fact, if the city needs to be permanently self-sufficient it would probably be easier to switch to a mandatory vegetarian diet and grow food in greenhouses. Use geothermal power to heat them and you could sustain those things practically forever at virtually no expense. Meanwhile if the city needs to be self-sufficient only for a limited period of time, I'd just stock up on MREs and canned food. That stuff remains edible for practically forever and you could probably feed a city for quite a while with a few warehouses full of tinned food and MRE packets.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

Do sunlamps provide the sunlight or whatever needed for plant photosynthesis and vitamin D formation?
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Siege »

Yes. Grow lights are designed to emit an electromagnetic spectrum appropriate for photosynthesis. Ideally the city would use LED lights, which are less power-hungry and produce less heat.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

Except for the green houses? People could get mandatory garden duty so they can not only contribute to food production, but also get their prescribed allotment of sunlight doses!

Man, if we're going for 100% self-sufficient, then life in the underground city's going to be shitty. No unnecessary waste products or unnecessary use of resources, no excess eating if food production is low, the constant recycling of material and probably crappy jumpsuits for everyone.

Jesus, it's going to be just like Matrix Reloaded.
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Kingmaker »

Siege wrote:Yes. Grow lights are designed to emit an electromagnetic spectrum appropriate for photosynthesis. Ideally the city would use LED lights, which are less power-hungry and produce less heat.
This raises the issue of waste heat removal. Two million people are going to generate a lot of heat just by being alive, never mind industry and power generation. Something needs to be done about getting rid of that so people don't start dieing of various heat-related problems.

Is there any reason to require the city be self-sufficient? They might be underground because outside conditions are inhospitable but something about the location draws people. For example, there's a town in Australia where the entire (admittedly small) population lives underground in converted mining tunnels, because it's Australia 50 C outside. And frankly, I think a human population stuck in an underground city that needed to be entirely self-sufficient (or in fact any urban population that needed to be self-sufficient) would be in dire straits. It's probably safe to assume that they have regular trade with the rest of the world.

Actually, an example of an underground city I found very plausible was the Luna colony in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Of course, there they had the very good excuse of there not being any air outside.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
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Re: Let's Design an Underground City

Post by Siege »

Thing is, if you can trade with the rest of the world, and there's no emergency cutting you off from the surface per se, why bother with an underground city at all? If the surface where you live is so intolerable why don't you just, you know, pack up your stuff and move someplace better? This all comes back to the first question I asked in this thread -- what is the point of this subterranean city?
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And this the Dutchmen know!
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