WilkinsonEyre's proposal to open the London Tunnels to the public
Image: courtesy WilkinsonEyre
The London Tunnels originally built to shelter Londoners during the WWII Blitz, are to be restored and preserved as part of new proposals by WilkinsonEyre to open them to the public for the first time.
The Kingsway Exchange Tunnels span an area of 8,000 sqm and stretch 7.6m in diameter, equal to the width of three London buses. They were kept secret for nearly 70 years as part of the government’s Official Secrets Act. The tunnels were once home to the Special Operations Executive, an offshoot of MI6, the real-life location that inspired ‘Q Branch’ in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, where the author was the Admiralty’s Liaison Officer.
Dramatically enlarged by the British Government at the start of the Cold War to serve as a secure and secret long-distance telephone exchange, the tunnels operated the first Transatlantic telephone cable, TAT1, which notably acted later as the ‘hotline’ between Moscow and Washington during the Cuban Missile Crisis; much of this original equipment will be retained.
When in operation the Kingsway Exchange accommodated up to 200 staff, supported by self-contained water and air conditioning systems, along with the “deepest licensed bar” in London, a restaurant with mock windows and a recreational room with snooker tables. By the late 1980s, telecommunication technology had advanced and the tunnels’ telephone centre became obsolete and was fully decommissioned.
Subject to planning approval, the vision is to transform the tunnels into one of the world’s most unique cultural experiences. It will bring to life the history of the tunnels by installing high-resolution large-scale curved immersive screens, together with interactive structures, scentemitting technology and hundreds of individual acoustic pinpoint speakers. With an operational capacity of two million visitors per year, the tunnels could also host different experiences in partnership with major entertainment businesses, artists, performers and curators.
WilkinsonEyre's director, Paul Baker said:
"WilkinsonEyre is delighted to bring its' experience designing visitor destinations to this unrivalled location, in the heart of London, but unknown to most. These secret spaces present the opportunity to tell extraordinary stories that helped shape the 20th century, alongside awe-inspiring digital immersive experiences."