Euston Road Stethoscope

Photo: undercity.org

There is a whole other world under the streets of London. Some of if is seen by Londoners, such as the hundreds of miles of tube lines. Some of it was once well known, but has now become hidden and forgotten, such as the ancient covered rivers. Some of this world is simply secret, designed to be kept well away from public eyes.

Euston Road, running East/West across the North of the city, sits on top of a splendid range of just these kind of underground places. As part of my MRes Information Environments program we were given the brief to curate the Euston Road, and I chose to explore the paralel world under the road.

Archive research revealed numerous points of interest which a pedestrian walking along the road would step over. These included:

  • 6 underground lines (a large amount for such a small area due to the numerous train stations on the road)
  • The extensive archives of the British Library
  • The long hidden River Fleet (see photo above)
  • A former Pneumatic Postal Railway
  • The las resting place of Queen Boudicca (possibly..)

The aim of the project was to subtly convey the world below pedestrians feet as they walked along the road. In order to do this I worked with sound, rather than visuals. This allowed the user to experience the immediate environment of the road whilst also getting an impression of the subterranean environment. The hope was that this would allow people to have psychogeographic experience.

Practically, the project was put together as a webpage optimised for use on mobile browsers. This means people can access the site on their phone or tablet, plug in a pair of headphones, place the device in a pocket or bag and walk along the road. The site uses GPS to determine when the user is above a point of interest and plays sounds reflecting the activity underground. The sounds are altered depending on the users proximity to the location, and the current activity at the underground site. For example, the site uses data from TfL to find out when tube trains are passing underneath the road, and changes the sound accordingly. To reinforce the acoustic nature of the project, visuals on the device are kept to a bare minimum and the user is encouraged to keep it in their pocket.

You can try the project out here [link to be updated]