The Real Deal New York

During the Cold War, one architect hoped to create a subterranean Manhattan

July 08, 2017 04:00PM

The ever-looming fear of being nuked into oblivion drove people a little crazy during the Cold War years. And architect and city planner Oscar Newman was no exception. Newman drew up fantastical plans for a subterranean metropolis where New Yorkers  could escape nuclear fallout.

In the December 1969 issue of Esquire, Newman published his bold vision for life in the nuclear age. Deep below Manhattan, he drew a map of a colossal city with thousands of huge buildings encased in a metal sphere along with a helicopter, Coca-Cola ad, and air filters, according to Atlas Obscura. He called it, “Plan for an underground nuclear shelter.”

“This encompasses innovative mapping and mapping of the imagination, and includes ‘maps’ that can be called illustrations—any visual that navigates a place or idea or state of mind,” Katharine Harmon, author of “You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City,” told Atlas Obscura. “I would classify Newman’s map as pictorial, and illustrating a fantastical idea.”

Newman was apparently inspired to create his rather extreme vision for the future after the 1962 Storax Sedan nuclear test. The test in Nevada created the largest man-made crater in the United States.

The nuclear shelter in many ways mirrored the city above, except that it was laid out so that the top half of the sphere would be inhabitable. Meanwhile, beneath the mini-city, a grid network and city infrastructure would be installed.

“The real problem … in an underground city would be lack of view and fresh air, but consider its easy access to the surface and the fact that, even as things are, our air should be filtered and what most of us see from our windows is someone else’s wall,” Newman wrote. But we are guessing there would be some other difficulties associated with the radical project as well.

[AO]Christopher Cameron