No matter what tragedies, natural disasters, or existential crises the world may be going through, living underground never seems like a step in the right direction. Just like plants, we need sun, air, and water, and life below the surface doesn’t exactly come with the best view.
These hurdles did not stop residents of Coober Pedy, Australia, from ditching the surface. For years the entire community has been residing in dwellings deep below the ground. A glimpse at the thriving town makes it obvious why the folks Down Under moved down under.
Being neighbors with worms and surviving off artificial light sounds like the newest form of torture, but for the people of Coober Pedy, these are the makings of their beautiful home.
This small Australian village is known for its abundance of opals, a beautiful (not to mention quite valuable) iridescent gemstone said to signify love and passion. Coober Pedy is so chocked full of them it’s even been dubbed the “Opal Capital of the World.”
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In a land lush with precious stones, the Aboriginal people lived off native crops, built thriving communities, and, quite notably, were not living underground. The 20th century brought changes.
The town’s name wasn’t even officially established until the first outsiders arrived. It was only when Willie Hutchinson first discovered an opal there that other miners began moving to the area in droves.
After that, the floodgates opened. By 1916, foreign miners were flocking to the area, hoping to get their hands on some money-making stones. And pretty soon, these outsiders started to get some pretty sick ideas in their heads.
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The European venturists, unused to the harsh conditions (read: constant heat) of the village, soon realized that if they wanted to make their opal money, they’d need to find a way to survive in the town without dying of a heat stroke. That’s when they hatched their plan.
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First, as colonizers often do, they had to give the area a name they could actually pronounce. They settled on Coober Pedy, after the aboriginal term kupa-piti, which roughly translates to “boy’s waterhole.” There was a second name the miners didn’t like so much.
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A local joke is that Coober Pedy sounds similar to white man in a hole. Because what did these settlers do when they realized their fragile temperaments couldn’t take the heat? They dug underground tunnels, of course. But this was only the beginning.
After several miners began this undertaking, scores of others followed suit. Over the course of a few years, more and more “buildings” were constructed underground, until there was more infrastructure hidden below the surface than was visible from on land.
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So far, there are an astounding three churches, an art gallery, a bar, and even hotels hiding below the surface of what from atop may look to outsiders simply like a desert wasteland. And it’s not just single men who live there, either. ..
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Here, 12-year-old James Tappin is casually resting in his subterranean bedroom. You almost wouldn’t notice something was off about the space if it weren’t for the rock walls. Outside his bedroom, the town offered plenty to do.
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Even people who live their lives underground have to find creative ways to have fun, and the residents of Coober Pedy have come up with a particularly interesting pastime…
Of course, it’s too hot during the day to do much outside (hence the caves) and so most extracurriculars take place under the shade of night. This includes golf, but with a special twist: all the balls glow in the dark.
YouTube – Slinging Birdies
As you may imagine, the extreme temperatures aren’t very conducive to plant life, so they’ve also had to find out-of-the-box ways to add some greenery to things. Honestly, their resourcefulness is impressive.
Instead of your typical shrubbery, the people who live in this village have constructed a tree made entirely out of metal. It’s quite the sight. Even so, while they’ve done their best to make the area their home, there are still some serious dangers to watch out for.
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All around the area are scores of random holes dug into the ground by would-be prospectors hoping to get their hands on a valuable opal. These can be serious tripping hazards for those who visit — especially if you plan on partaking in a friendly game of glow-in-the-dark golf.
The village does its best to appeal to visitors, if only as a fun attraction to see once in a lifetime. There are even opals engraved into the walls of hotel rooms, highlighting the fact that the town offers the majority of the planet’s supply.
Other oddities to check out if you ever step foot in Coober Pedy include Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest, or the Coober Pedy Drive-In. Sounds cool right? But it’s not so easy to make the trip…
There are several options if you want to make your way to the Australian town. You can either fly into a small airstrip, go via bus on a coach tour, drive in a private car, or, finally, by the Ghan railway line.
Because of its bizarre, pseudo-dystopian nature, it’s no wonder that Coober Pedy is a Hollywood location scouts dream. The town has been featured in multiple blockbusters including “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” “Pitch Black,” and “Red Planet.”
George Miller- Mad Max: The Wasteland
Most Cooper Pedy tourists are surprised to learn about another town that’s completely underground, though this one can’t be found in Australia and opals weren’t the cause of these peoples’ flight.
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During the height of the Cold War, the world’s preeminent communist powers – the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union – were at odds over differing political ideologies. With a willingness on both sides to escalate their conflict to war, the threat of nuclear catastrophe loomed larger than ever.
Tensions between the two nations soon reached a breaking point, and in 1969 the Chinese government was forced to take drastic measures in order to protect the country. At the behest of Chairman Mao Zedong, the people of China began work on a massive underground tunnel system.
Over 300,000 men, women, and children were put to work on the project, constructing 10,000 bomb shelters connected by nearly 20 miles of tunnel. Ancient structures and cultural landmarks were toppled for the sake of Mao’s vision, with nearly all of China’s resources being poured into the endeavor.
By the end of the decade, 75 of China’s largest cities had been outfitted with enormous underground bunkers. With the shelters capable of housing roughly 60% of each city’s population, the survival of the Chinese people amidst the imminent nuclear war was all but guaranteed.
But the bombs never fell, and Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 quelled the fears of annihilation at the hands of the Russians. With new leader Deng Xiaoping ushering in a “golden age” of socialism in China, it appeared that Mao’s massive undertaking had all been for naught.
Being the economic mind that he was, however, Deng refused to let such a significant – and costly – project simply crumble into obscurity beneath the streets of China. Through the Office of Civil Defense, the country began an initiative to commercialize the abandoned bunkers.
Sim Chi Yin
Over the next two decades, laborers transformed Mao’s defunct tunnel system into a network of underground cities, the largest of which formed beneath the sprawling Chinese capital of Beijing. Complete with supermarkets, schools, clinics, and even karate dojos, this project represented another leap forward for China’s expanding economy.
But even after these spaces were repurposed, the Chinese government continued to push forward with their subterranean efforts by mandating that all new buildings have underground defense shelters that could double as a source of income. And so, in addition to stores and clinics, these bunkers became homes.
Today, over 1 million people live below the streets of Beijing, clustered in small communities that range from a few dozen to over a hundred individuals strong. Residents of this underground city are known as the shuzu, or, more commonly, “the rat tribe”.
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This peculiar society is mostly made up of young migrants from the countryside who arrived in search of affordable housing in Beijing. And with an average rent of 400 yuan a month – roughly $58 – for one of these rooms, they’re sure getting what they’re paying for.
Each windowless room is typically between 40 to 100 square feet, just big enough to fit a small bed and a dresser or two. Some aren’t so lucky, as there are those that can only afford to stay in rooms that are shared by up to a dozen other people.
Singapore Home Decor
As far as amenities go, a single communal bathroom serves as a dumping point for personal bedpans, and at 50 cents a pop, one can help themselves to a lukewarm, five-minute shower. But despite the poor living conditions, some residents see their situation as motivation.
“Many of my colleagues live above ground, but I think it’s too comfortable,” said Wei Kun, an insurance salesman who shares his 300-square-foot apartment with nine other men. “This place forces me to work harder.”
But even so, a tremendous amount of stigma still surrounds those that call themselves members of “the rat tribe.” Some individuals won’t even tell their families where they’re living out of fear of judgment.
“When my father came to visit me he cried when he saw where I lived,” aspiring actor Zhang Xi recalled. “He said, ‘Son, this won’t do.'” Unfortunately, the Chinese government’s stance on the issue has only grown increasingly mixed as the years have gone on…
Though city officials have expressed concern over the safety risks involved with underground living, most have chosen to turn a blind eye to the practice. With overcrowding becoming a growing problem in Beijing, there’s really no other place for these individuals to go.
“We never allowed residential use of air-raid shelters,” said Xu Jinbao, office director of the Beijing Municipal Civil Defense Office. “But as time went by Beijing became so populous that people started to cram in underground.”
Despite the hardship and controversy surrounding “the rat tribe,” it appears that they’re making the most of the situation while keeping their eyes set on what lies ahead. For these individuals, life underground is not a product of hard times, but rather a calculated sacrifice for the future.
“I found a lot of people still hope one day to buy a house, or at least to live above ground,” sociologist Li Junfu observed while studying underground housing at the Beijing University of Technology. “They have a positive spirit.”
As unconventional as living underground is, it is not the only unusual home to have. The place people choose to settle down is very personal, and because everyone is different, so too are the homes. And some folks are definitely more eclectic than others…
1. Live in the clouds with this airplane house: This house, located in Abuja, Nigeria, was built by Said Jammal as a gift for his wife, Liza, to commemorate their love of travel.
2. The Heliodome is a bio-climatic solar house located in Strasbourg, France. It takes advantage of the Earth’s journey around the Sun by utilizing the seasons: In the summer the house provides shade that keeps the house cool, while in the winter, the sun peers in the windows to provide natural warmth.
3. Through the use of bamboo, plastic bags and bed sheets, Liu Lingchao, 38, constructed this 5′ wide, 6.5′ high mobile domicile. The 132-pound structure was designed by Lingchao in order to be transported with him as he walked nearly 462 miles back to his hometown.
4. Good thing that ring buoy is there! This house can be found on a lone rock on the Drina River, close to the Serbian town of Bajina Basta. It was built in 1968 as a tiny shelter.
5. The Ewok Village: This treehouse is available for rent through the Natura Cobana in southwestern France.
6. The Pot People: These cylindrical homes are located in Socuellamos, Spain, and are “made from old wine vats.” The residents are mostly ethnic Turks who have come to the central Spanish area to pick grapes.
7. Rooftop Rocks! This rooftop villa, found in Beijing, was constructed with fake rocks on top of an apartment building – but the structure was illegal and was demolished in 15 days.
8. Transformer House: Back to China, this house was built on top of a factory in the Dongguan province. Word has it that the government has also deemed it to be illegal.
9. Entrance to Goron Mountain: Benito Hernandez is the owner of this house in northern Mexico. The house has been the home of Hernandez’s family for over 30 years.
10. Crocodile Rock: Theirry Atta built this home in Ivory Coast’s capital. Atta was the apprentice of an artist, Moussa Kalo, with whom he began designing the house before Kalo’s death.
11. Let me just squeeeeze in here. This house was installed as an art piece in Warsaw, Poland by Israeli writer, Edgar Keret. The home – that is only 36 inches wide at it’s narrowest point – was designed as a memorial to Keret’s family, who died in the Holocaust.
12. That’s a lot of books. Gary Chang is an architect in Hong Kong who redesigned this 330-square-foot apartment into a custom home after 3 decades of living inside it’s boxy walls.
13. I don’t want to know how you go to the bathroom in this thing. This upside-down house was built in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk as a local attraction. The home’s rooms are also upside down.
14. Gernonimo! The “Rock” is the home of 15 fundamentalist Mormons. It was founded 35 years ago in a formation near Canyonlands National Park.
15. That’s a cold shower. This house was built entirely of ice as a promotion for a German Bank. Every part of the house is either ice or encased in ice.
16. Dome-iciles: These domes were built by US-based ‘Domes for the World’ for villagers who lost their homes in an earthquake in Yogyakartam, Indonesia.