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Photos

Photographing Urban 'Under-Spaces'

An artist finds hidden pockets of life beneath the expressways and bridges of cities in China, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

A horse trains beneath an underpass in London, England. (Gisela Erlacher )

In 2011, photographer Gisela Erlacher visited Chongqing city in China and became fascinated with urban “under-spaces”—small, unlikely pockets of life wedged between or tucked away under towering megastructures like expressways and bridges. She’d seen these before. Near her home in Vienna, Austria, stood a tiny house, with its roof just a few feet under two mammoth highways.

“But the inhabitants stayed,” Erlacher told CityLab via email. “I was deeply touched by that.”

After she encountered these forgotten spaces in China, Erlacher embarked on a four-year project to photograph them. In Chongqing and Shanghai, as well as in cities in Europe, she peeked beneath massive concrete structures to uncover signs of humanity. Her photos are collected in a new book, Skies of Concrete. Here’s how the press release describes it:

With Skies of Concrete, Austrian architectural photographer Gisela Erlacher explores a fascinating subject for urbanization—our ability to live, work, and play in what might seem like the most inhospitable of places.

While taking the photos for her book, Erlacher noticed some regional trends. In Chongquing, for example, these hidden spaces contained benches, parks, and tea houses where older folks could relax. In Europe, on the other hand, younger people typically occupied playgrounds and skate parks located in the shadows of colossal infrastructure.

But if there’s was one big lesson that Erlacher believes applies across the board, it’s that rapid, functionality-driven urbanization over the past couple of decades didn’t occur uniformly. “Now we (and future generations) need to come to terms with the consequences,” she says.

Check out some of Erlacher’s images below:

Shanghai, China
Shanghai, China
Chongqing, China
Chongqing, China
Ötztal-Bahnhof, Austria
Amsterdam, Netherlands
London, U.K.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.