Beneath the Streets, Barrel Vaults

[Image: Barrel vaults beneath Warren Street, Manhattan; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].

I was walking along Warren Street in Manhattan yesterday evening when I saw what appeared to be a series of brick barrel vaults uncovered by roadworks.

There was no one around, so no one to ask whether it was a deliberate historical excavation or just some street repair, but the incision seemed remarkably, even archaeologically, precise, complete with an exposed water pipe left hanging in midair.

[Image: Barrel vaults beneath Warren Street, Manhattan; Instagram by BLDGBLOG].

Discovering brick vaults beneath the streets of Manhattan seems both totally unsurprising—in the sense that seemingly anything can and will be found there, in the otherworldly cosmos that is the island of Manhattan—and a total shock, as if something more appropriate for Rome had installed itself beneath the streets unnoticed.

Perhaps it’s someone’s cellar roof and it needs new brickwork; perhaps it’s some strange old Bazalgettian sewer outflow linking up to the city’s older drains; or perhaps there’s a vast cobweb of vaults extending everywhere beneath the streets of Lower Manhattan, holding up the streets and buildings like an architectural super-foam, huge caverns of masonry and brick in a labyrinth of basements inside of basements, and this is just the first glimpse of the upper floor.

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