Sewers, tubes, subways... London is famous for them. But how often do we stop to think how they got there? A new exhibition about tunnelling has opened in Westminster, and it's a good one.
You need to head to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), an imposing Edwardian building on Great George Street. Nothing on the outside suggests you have any right to step through its intimidating doorway — no posters, banners or welcome signs. In this sense, it's an appropriately hidden exhibition, as invisible to passers-by as the tunnels beneath their feet.
But you should step inside. The ICE has a glorious interior — worth the trip alone if you've never visited before. Your head will be spinning by the time you reach the first-floor library for the tunnel exhibition.
The display cases have an eye to both the past and the future. We learn about historic projects such as Brunel's Box Tunnel and Thames Tunnel, Bazalgette's London sewer system and the gargantuan effort to construct the Channel Tunnel. Looking ahead, particularly good displays explain the Thames Tideway sewer relief tunnel, and the digging of Crossrail.
London gets more than its fair share of coverage. As well as the landmark projects mentioned above, we also learn about the Lee Tunnel and the Power Tunnels (we're proud to say that the latter display includes a Londonist video fronted by Geoff Marshall).
Other highlights include a Lego model of a tunnelling machine, and a virtual reality tour of a tunnel. There's plenty to bore into, with detailed information of the different methods used to construct tunnels. It's all nicely presented, too, with a tubemap-style floor diagram to lead you round in the right direction.
Tunnel Engineering is at the ICE, One Great George Street, until November 2017, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri. Entrance is free.
Tunnel images (c) Matthew Joseph. Exhibition images by the author