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Repurposing London’s Transit Infrastructure: Meet The London Underline

Some visions sound as great as a magnificent aria — take Gensler’s concept for the London Underline to be a foremost example.

Gensler’s vision for “disused London Metro lines,” was winner of the London Planning award. This video, produced by Gensler and starting with a campy play on Sherlock Holmes, provides a remarkably compelling story — and one full of common sense, logic, and regard for environmental and economic realities.

According to Gensler, the London Underline concept would offer London the first network of subterranean pedestrian and bike paths, powered by energy-generating Pavegen tiles, using backup battery power only when required.

Gensler’s concept for The London Underline won the award for Best Conceptual Project at the London Planning Awards, hosted by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Consider this as a sound elevator pitch for this project:

Conceived in 2014, The London Underline regenerates the disused metro tunnels and surplus infrastructure around London. These spaces would be turned into a network of pedestrian and cycle paths with cultural and retail spaces, all powered by Pavegen. This kinetic energy system converts footsteps into electricity. The London Underline embraces the city’s acceptance of alternative transport and growing urban curiosity, offering London the first citywide network of its kind. Momentum Transport Planningand Pavegen consulted on Gensler’s design.

In a company press announcement, Ian Mulcahey, co-director of Gensler London, said, “Now that London has reached the highest level of population in its history we need to think creatively about how to maximize the potential of our infrastructure. The adaptation of surplus and underutilized tube and rail tunnels could provide a quick and simple addition to our infrastructure network.”


What a bright idea for a dead and dark subway tunnels, as envisioned by the team from Gensler:

With current pressures on London to cope with future transport capacity for pedestrians, cyclists and tube users, London is in desperate need for new types of public and community space, as well as affordable retail, commerce and entertainment spaces. Subterranean spaces present an excellent option for new uses.

Gensler designer Trevor To added this refreshing perspective on the forgotten parts of urban , “Gensler’s proposal brings back an ignored part of the city through the collective efforts of its citizens. By harnessing the kinetic energy of every one’s footsteps, a whole new urban space is unlocked underneath the city. This self-sustaining approach to urban infrastructure is key to a carbon-neutral community, and London could lead the world once again in merging tradition with innovation to create a better future.”

Required electricity might be handled using Pavegen technology. The electrical supply to support this underground park would be sustainably generated from foot traffic at a transit station such as Charing Cross or Holborn, using battery backups if required. This area has been called “Boris’ Bike Underground.” If the initial stage of this development is successful, The London Underground could also offer new sites for pop-up businesses, exhibitions, retail and event space. Not a bad idea for an underground shopping district without needing a new mall. No doubt, the demand for electricity would be increased, though.

pavegen test-rig_web

Regarding underground infrastructure as an untapped asset

Underneath the whole of London is an untapped surplus of disused space in subterranean infrastructure – tube tunnels, exchanges, stations, and reservoir chambers, Gensler has pointed out.

We envisage, through the emergence of kinetic energy technology, London’s acceptance of alternative transport, and Londoners’ insatiable urban curiosity, that a dynamic new network of pedestrian and cycle links across all boroughs could be made by regenerating this existing infrastructure.

How viable kinetic energy technology will be in sustainably powering a project of this scale remains to be seen. The ideas appear very sound, however, as they did to those overseeing the London Planning Awards.  These are not simple pipe dreams being talked about here. Gensler considers itself “unique among design firms,” working with a cross-section of the world’s economy.

And its position on sustainable design calls for high praise, defining it “as a guiding principle for all building and interior projects.”

As designer of the first large-scale U.S. office building to use underfloor air systems, Gensler has been at the forefront of the movement for responsible design that considers the impact of decisions made today on our lives tomorrow. Additional pioneering green activities include designing the first LEED-certified retail rollout prototype (PNC Bank), the first LEED-certified data center (Fannie Mae), and the first LEED-certified car dealership in the U.S. (Pat Lobb Toyota of McKinney, Texas). Gensler has more than 1,100 LEED Accredited Professionals. In 2005, Gensler received the Leadership Award for Organizational Excellence from the U.S. Green Building Council for its commitment to the advancement of sustainable design.

Peraise for this bicycle infrastructure concept.

Images via Gensler and Pavegen

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Written By

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.


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