PhD Opportunity: Subterranean Spaces; Critical approaches to Underground Urban Development

Supervisors: Dr Alexandra Gormally (LEC) and Prof Nigel Clark (LEC)

With intensifying demands on urban space, questions arise as to how to manage growth sustainably and how to best utilise physical and social resources. Increasingly these questions lead us to consider the role of the underground (or subterranean/ subsurface), due to the resources they provide (minerals, water, storage space) and opportunities for existing and future development (eg. transport networks/living/recreational space). Projects are emerging across different global regions that explore how to use the underground effectively and in ways that make current and future cities more sustainable and resilient. For instance, this is taking place in Asia (eg. BGS- Geoscience for sustainable futures – Resilience of Asian cities), Europe (eg. Rotterdam Resilience Strategy) and in the UK (ThinkDeep, UK). This project aims to explore the framing of sustainability and resilience in such contexts and to extend this thinking through critical and interpretative approaches to understanding subsurface opportunities.

In this project, you will have the opportunity to consider the role of the underground through a societal lens, in conversation with geological understandings of the subsurface. For instance, this could be in exploring the role of the underground in evolving urban culture, the changing conceptualisation of urban space, and how these transformations fit within different framings of sustainability and underground governance. After an initial scoping period, you will have the opportunity to develop and focus your research questions on a city of your choice. We expect this to be a largely qualitative project, most likely taking an ethnographic approach (eg. Including observational fieldwork, interviews and archival work) but also engaging with the Earth Sciences. We also encourage the use of mixed-method and innovative methodologies (eg. Using new media/art/literature).

Funding Notes

Full studentship (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,553 2017/18 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years. Unfortunately funding is not available for International (non EU) students.


Bridge G (2013) Territory, now in 3D! Political Geography 34: 55–57.

Clark, N (2017) `The Politics of Strata’, Theory, Culture & Society 34(2-3): 211-231.

Graham S. Vertical: The City From Satellites to Bunkers. London: Verso, 2016.

S. J. Price, J. R. Ford, S. D. G. Campbell and I. Jefferson Urban Futures: the sustainable management of the ground beneath cities Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology Special Publications, 27, 19-33, 2016,

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