The school of 5000 corpses

In the Guardian today, Jonathan Glancey reports on London’s subterranean housing boom, pointing out that the urge for literally underground architecture has now hit the city’s public sector.

Case in point: the St. Marylebone school.
With the advisory input of their architect, the school’s officials decided that “the only way the school could expand physically was onwards and downwards through its pocket-sized playground.”
Unfortunately, the resulting project, a “fine example of intelligent urban design, thoughtful landscape gardening, worthwhile architecture and quiet delight,” dug straight into the “remains of some 5,000 corpses” almost as soon as construction began.
Rather than unearthing some super-virulent strain of the Black Death, however, sending all the small schoolgirls home coughing, decimating the population of northwest Europe… the project was completed to everyone’s satisfaction, and now St. Marylebone has an underground gymnasium.
And Glancey likes what he sees. He concludes:

It is also a project that deserves to set a precedent for much new city architecture. Much of this can be built underground, when not in flood zones, in one form or another, sometimes because this is the only way to go for a client unable to afford the price of land, or else restricted by perfectly sound conservation policies, and sometimes because – like most supermarkets, shopping malls and other structural detritus – it should be, as a matter of common decency, buried out of sight.

I’m not exactly in agreement with him that we should start putting our supermarkets underground; in fact, an upcoming article in Dwell makes the opposite case quite convincingly: i.e. supermarkets shouldn’t be windowless boxes but pleasantly open places in which to walk around, complete with outdoor horizons and panoramic views.
But imagine the future settings for novels and films! Underground malls in Canterbury. Irish theme-bars 27 stories below the surface of the Earth. Three kilometers of escalators take you down and down – and down – passing through mirrored corridors… till you arrive at the local arts cinema. There are rumors of a BMW dealership another mile or so below.

(Thanks, Nicky! Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Hello. Welcome to my squash cave)

6 thoughts on “The school of 5000 corpses”

  1. You’ll find Pfau Architecture has done a similar thing here at SF’s Lick-Wilmerding High School. This technical arts-oriented high school needed to expand the shops, and bound by streets and the 280 fwy on all 4 sides, they went down under the field, replacing the field on top (although a bit chopped up). No corpses here though…

  2. Thanks, Ali – I’ll check it out.

    Meanwhile, good lord: I just re-read this post after a long day downtown – and it was so full of typos I feel like I need to leave a comment.

    I’m sorry about the typos!

    Wow. There were quite a few… But I’ve fixed them now.


  3. My God… there’s a plot premise for a horror story. Forget your pet semataries and indian burial grounds, ye have disturbed an army of the deceased. Soon the apparitions shall claim the first of their victims, innocent little girls playing musical chairs in the school gymnasium.

    (Love yer blog Geoff)

  4. London is one big bone yard! My final degree project had us working with the Garden Museum, housed in a deconsecrated church in Lambeth that has been continuously rebuilt over the centuries (the most recent being 1855ish). The director pointed out that the reason the site’s elevation was so different than the surrounding area was that since the church was established, about 5 meters of human remains have piled up. The custodian routinely discovers knuckle bones floating to the surface.

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