so why don't we build down? 5.23.2005

Walking around Santa Monica I passed a new construction site where they had dug down almost 40 feet into the ground to build an underground parking lot for a new building. Having walked around Santa Monica, the south portions of Brentwood, Santa Barbara and a whole host of other up-and-coming areas which are desperate to attract business yet hang on to their "quaint" appearance, I have to wonder: why don't more building designers build down?

For most types of shopping--shopping malls, grocery stores and the like, there are almost no exterior windows. The local grocery store where I live has windows along the front, but they're completely blocked with goods for sale. Only the top bit is left open to provide light during the day to reduce the lighting electric bill.

The local shopping mall is the same way. From the outside the Glendale Galleria is basically a huge brick monolith with exterior signs announcing the main anchor stores--and nothing else. Thousands of yards of vertical square brick, with very few features other than the gentle curve of the building as it form fits within the city's zoning setbacks.

Many offices also don't have exterior windows, or don't make use of the exterior windows they do have. Where I work in Santa Monica, I'm in an office on the interior of the building; I have to walk outside my office and down the hall to find an office with an exterior view. And the view is simply the back half of a set of hedges completely blocking the view.

Because there are so many forms of public-use buildings where there is little or no use of windows, why bother to build up? In fact, it only creates an eyesore: the Glendale Galleria may be a great place to shop but it's a skyline eyesore. The complex where I work is a little better--but still, imposing high rise buildings is probably not in line with what many of the locals want to see as they go outside to pick up their morning papers.

Building down has a number of advantages. It reduces the amount of energy required to heat or cool the building: at 8 feet under the earth the temperature remains at a relative constant 70 degrees or so. It reduces the exterior footprint consumed by the building: it permits offices to be "out of sight" while the overall footprint of the complex can be made to look like a quaint park with a handful of single or two-story shops, while the other million or two square feet of otherwise ugly office space sits, sight unseen.

And while the expense of building the necessary massive retaining walls may be considerable, it's offset by the reduction in the amount of marble, glass and other exterior finish products used to make a skyscraper look less like an assault on the visual senses.

And there are fewer windows to clean.

posted by William Woody at 5:15 PM

In some states that would be no problem, but others, like Florida, have a high water table, so that would not be feasible. Interesting idea, though.
Anonymous Hollie at 5:36 AM  

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