4: Mine tunnels

As well as underground sections of trench systems along the front line, longer shafts were dug below no-man’s-land so that mines could be set under enemy trenches.

British mine in chalk (BFF)Park Lane car-park tunnel

Above: British mine tunnel in chalk; Below: Car park tunnel, Marble Arch

Architect’s intention:
The Marble Arch tunnel provides access, as well as a fire escape, for the large car park dug under Hyde Park in the early 1960s. The tunnel also separates pedestrians from the fumes of the car park.

Effect in practice:
An expensive, largely useless tunnel has been inserted under an iconic London landscape, Marble Arch, Hyde Park and Park Lane.

Phenomenological effect: This tunnel is around a third of a mile long, with access/escape doors placed at intervals along the right, into the car park. These doors are often locked. The doors at either end are spring-loaded so they close automatically behind you when you enter. The effect is to produce a claustrophobic and grossly insecure environment. If someone is approaching from the other end, there is no escape. It is almost impossible to walk the length of the tunnel without feeling a rising sense of fear.

Discussion: On the Front, the mine tunnels were recorded as being particularly insecure and fearful places. Many men went insane in them, for fear of being blown up by their own or the enemy’s munitions. Yet, at Marble Arch, such a similarly terrifying feature has being built despite being unnecessary. Escape stairwells up to ground level would have provided a similar level of emergency egress. As for fumes, people leaving and returning to their cars suffered them inside the car park anyway. At a time in architectural practice when function was fetishised, the tunnel, in effect, is functionless. Yet, it’s there. It is at least plausible to ask if it had another, more psychological function.