Originally uploaded by Allen Gathman.

Earlier this week I noticed that there was a patch of grass outside the building where I work that seemed to be steaming. The ground felt warm too. I just thought that the steam tunnel was close to the surface there, and was thinking about what a waste of energy this was. Later that day I saw Joe the plumber (yeah, the head plumber on campus is really named Joe) out there, so I asked him what was up.

“I told them not to just bury the steam line in the ground. I told them they needed a tunnel. Did they listen?”

So today they have a crew digging to find the break in the steam line. The potential as a national park had already struck me. Our department chair, though, suggested that we could buy a half hog and bury it in the pit this weekend.

4 Responses to “Yo-SEMO-te”

  1. kicking_k says:

    OK, I don’t even know what a steam tunnel is. Or why you would have pipes with steam in. Is is something to do with the central heating?

  2. Allen says:

    Okay, here’s the deal. In most large institutions with multiple buildings, located in colder regions anyway, heating is done by generating steam somewhere on campus and then piping it to the buildings. The steam pipes, along with water pipes, electrical wiring, etc., are usually routed underground in a system of concrete tunnels that allow for relatively easy maintenance. They decided to take the cheap way out for the new business building here and just ran a steam line underground with no tunnel; this turns out to have been a mistake.

    Back in the late 80s we had student who did research in our lab who was a real expert in exploring the tunnels — he found various access points in the basements of buildings and amused himself by wandering around campus illegally in the labyrinth underground.

    Cabell says the tunnels at MIT are open to students and even have bike racks in them. Here’s a photo:

    Ours aren’t nearly so large, well-lit, or clean. More like dungeons.

  3. K says:

    Ah. that all makes perfect sense now. I remember Cabell mentioning the tunnels but I hadn’t really worked out what their purpose is – just accepted them as an architectural idiosyncrasy. Not like me not to find out what this was about. Now I come to think about it, tunnels feature in the campus-set webcomic Smithson as well.

    They started building the University building I work in in 1789, so I don’t think they bothered with those niceties, though it probably was a “colder region” back then – the local loch used to freeze hard enough for people to skate on it, anyway.

    We do have a tunnel in the building, which was famously used to bring dead bodies in discreetly for anatomy classes when the place was first built, but the tunnel now ends under the floor of a law lecture room so it isn’t very useful.

  4. Reno says:

    I think both you and your department chair are correct. Every national park needs some way to feed the hordes of visitors, right?

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