Beneath the city of Tokyo lies the biggest storm drain in the world. A series of giant underground caverns built between 1993 and 2006 at the hefty price tag of $3 billion, the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel–as it’s formally called–serves as protection against typhoons and flooding from five different rivers around the city.
In a series of photographs commissioned by Avaunt magazine, the London-based photographer Christoffer Rudquist descends into the depths to capture this hulking piece of infrastructure that people rarely see. It works just like the drain in the side of your sink or at the side of the road—when the waters get too high, the water goes into the system’s massive storage hold. From there, it is pumped into the largest river and then out to the ocean.
“There’s a documentary angle to what I’m doing,” Rudquist says. “I’m quite interested in how things are working, the things we don’t see, the hidden worlds around us.”
In late December 2016, Rudquist spent a day exploring the storm drain’s tunnels, viewing the storage hold, drainage silos, control room, and jet engines that pump the water out. It is the cavernous, column-filled storage hold—more officially called the pressure-regulating tank—that is the most visually stunning element of the drain’s architecture. It’s 580 feet long and 256 feet wide, and the ceiling rises 59 feet high—that’s 8.8 million cubic feet of space.
“To me, engineering is art,” he says. “It’s functional and out of function you usually get the best results when it comes to pure beauty.”
Rudquist says that when standing inside the empty cavern, you can feel the immensity of the enclosed space. “That strikes you with a certain feeling of awe,” he says. “And then when you think about the amount of water that goes through–you feel that in your stomach.”
Regardless of the drain’s impressive infrastructure, it’s an important system for the rapidly growing Tokyo metro area. A typhoon in 1991 killed 52 people and flooded 30,000 homes, and with the devastating weather events that climate change will inevitably bring, the storm drain will likely prove to be lifesaving.
It’s the kind of forward-thinking infrastructure that will enable Tokyo to remain resilient in the coming decades. For Rudquist, a self-proclaimed sci-fi fan, the way light and shadow play through the pipes reminded him of Bladerunner.
“It’s almost like you go into a different world,” he says. “It’s almost like you’re entering and you see something that was, almost like a futuristic archeological dig.”
These photographs first appeared in issue 5 of Avaunt. To find out more, click here.