A Tale of Two Tunnels: Exploring the Design and Cultural Differences Between the Houston Tunnel System and Reso (Underground City, Montreal)




Chatoney, Brett Provan

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Underground pedestrian tunnels are an important piece of infrastructure in major cities with extreme temperatures. They provide a climate controlled, grade separated way to access buildings and other key downtown areas. The mall-like passageways also host shops and food establishments for workers and visitors to shop in. However, not all underground pedestrian tunnels are created equal. This paper examines the Houston Tunnel System in Houston, Texas, and the RESO System (Underground City, Montreal) in Montreal, Québec Canada to answer two questions: first, I ask how these systems developed with the same design idea but over time developed into tunnels that serve different interests. The Houston Tunnel System remained as it was designed, a space where office workers could travel and dine without experiencing Houston’s oppressive heat and humidity. The RESO System, however, has developed into a destination all its own within Downtown Montreal. My second objective is thus to ask why the historical trajectories of these systems diverged. To do this, I analyze the history of both tunnel systems as well as current and historical data and draw on original research I conducted by traveling to each tunnel system during two weekdays in January of 2019 to observe how people (residents, office workers, visitors) interacted within the space. My observations included seeing how the space was set up, who used the space, how long they stayed in the space, how they used the space and the general feeling of how safe the tunnel systems were during one weekday. After observing each tunnel system for two days, I found that people (mostly office workers) used the Houston Tunnel System as a utilitarian tool for the sole purpose of making their working day easier by eliminating unnecessary trips into the Houston heat and humidity. I found that the people of Montreal use RESO not only as a tool to make their working day easier but also as an inviting social space that is especially used during Montreal’s harsh winters. The major reasons for these differences are the inclusion of public access during the history of the two tunnel systems and the number of amenities available in the respective tunnel systems. Further research could examine whether tunnel systems that open with public access are more successful in becoming more than a utilitarian tool than tunnel systems that later in their lifecycle incorporated public access.



geography, cities, tunnels, urban design, urban planning, public space, Honors College


Chatoney, B. P. (2019). A tale of two tunnels: Exploring the design and cultural differences between the Houston Tunnel System and Reso (Underground City, Montreal) (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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