Journey to the Center of the Earth

The Construction Series > Earthquake >Small > Ginza > Circular > Earth > Underground

Often the Captain is told to just shut his mouth. Usually this happens after he’s downed nine vodka tonics and already begun his bear wrestling stories.

But this week he is letting his camera do his talking for him. Click through his photo archive of two underground construction projects and embark on a photographic JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH...

The Metropolitan Area Outer Discharge Channel

Anyone who has read Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons knows that Japan is hopelessly addicted to concrete. The thinking within the government in recent years seems to be: when in doubt, just pour more. This project, devised to alleviate flooding risks within the Naka and Ayase River basins of southern Saitama Prefecture, is the concrete junkie’s equivalent to a dropper of heroin.

With the local geography providing rainfall runoff in the area little place to go, the Metropolitan Area Outer Discharge Channel (promoted under the G-Cans Project name) is a yet-to-be-completed set of pumps and series of underground concrete channels totaling 6.3 km that are connected by massive down shafts acting as entry points for overflow from rivers in the region.

At the point of final discharge (in the city of Kasukabe) massive pumps send the flood water into the Edogawa River, which in turn empties into the Pacific Ocean. Between the pump system and the channel's terminus is a massive room of smooth concrete. As long as two football fields with 59 piers reaching to a 25-meter high ceiling, the scene takes on the look of something suitable for a sci-fi movie set or an ode to ancient Greek architecture.

Since 1979, six major floods have affected the area. Two floods resulting from typhoons in 1982 and 1981 each impacted over 30,000 homes. Planners for this project claim that had the discharge channel been in place during these periods, the flooded area would have been reduced by roughly 80%.

The system, in which construction began in 1993, will be able to welcome its first floods in 2006.

The large columns and twisting channels of this 240-billion yen project have been featured in Life magazine and 2004's live-action robot film "Tetsujin 28 Go" (Gigantor T-28).

The Hibiya Common Utility Duct

Tokyo’s Minato Ward is taking its problems and burying them underground. The project, titled the Azabu-Hibiya Common Utility Duct, is a public works venture under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport that collects utility lines into a single trunk tunnel. The result is that Tokyo¹s endless streams of overhead wires are slowly being reduced as a part of an effort to decrease earthquake susceptibility.

Access is via a large shaft that sits at one corner of the main intersection of the Toranomon area. The shaft acts as a hub that joins two utility ducts. A walk through some of the completed sections of the 3 kilometers of tunnel work is a chance to experience a vibrant mix of colors reflecting off the concrete walls. Looking up the 20-meter diameter shaft from the bottom - a depth of 40 meters - very well could be a religious experience for many.

In earthquake-prone Japan, the existence of a single underground "lifeline" during these earthquakes, officials believe, will increase the chances that vital services will continue to be supplied.

As the name implies, the project, promoted as the Tokyo Geo-Site Project, extends from the Tokyo districts of Azabu to Hibiya. Toranomon is roughly in the center. Construction, which began in 1989, was completed just over a year ago for the 2.8-kilometer segment between Azabu and Toranomon. The additional 1.5 kilometers for the Hibiya segment is expected to be completed by 2010.

Note: Freedom Lohr of Tokyo DV contributed to this report from the Tokyo Bureau. For a video tour of the G-Cans Project go here. For a video tour of the Tokyo Geo-Site Project go here.

The Construction Series > Earthquake >Small > Ginza > Circular > Earth > Underground

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