The Under-Mall


Sam Willie '23

On Friday, April 7, Priory had the day off from school so families could attend the Good Friday Mass together in the afternoon. Several members of the senior class used Friday morning as an opportunity to explore some of the lesser-seen parts of the city by exploring the Black Creek Conduits that run beneath the Galleria and I-64 in Brentwood. 

Draining is a specific field in the hobby of urban exploration, in which travelers find and journey through underground tunnels, primarily storm drains, sewer pipes, and creek culverts. It differs from the norm in that the focus is placed more heavily on subterranean structures and the engineering required to make a building or complex function, rather than a focus on the surface architecture as is typical of standard forms of urbex, a common shortening of urban exploration. Participants in this hobby often find themselves scouring underground maps to track where creeks dive out of view and resurface, climbing down ladders into the inky blackness below, and wading through murky water with sediment, plant matter, and small animals swirling about their feet. While this choice in activity lends itself to certain dangers, even more so than standard urban exploration due to the possibility of tunnels suddenly filling with pockets of methane, it also provides the enjoyment of seeing beauty in the most mundane, because one can recognize the sheer amount of hidden infrastructure and design that is required for a city to function, even if it was never meant to be in the public eye. 

As our party of seniors set out through a succession of connected tunnels across Brentwood, we discovered how the architects and engineers for the area had chosen to bury Black Creek in three parallel tubes rather than undertake the arduous task of creating open-air channels around the Galleria. Open-air channels run the inherent risk of flooding should a storm be heavier than expected. We also found that in order to keep the mall parking garage dry, a large overflow tunnel had been constructed under the garage. The overflow tunnel breaks the quick swift stream of rainwater across a layer of coarse aggregate to slow the water before diverting it into a large overflow tunnel in order to safely carry the water downstream and into Black Creek. Furthermore, towards the end of our trip, while under I-64, we discovered a substantial subterranean viaduct nearly forty feet across and vaulted with an immense arched ceiling. This chamber acted as a funnel for Black Creek and channeled the stream into two parallel tunnels that flow several hundred feet north and outflow behind the Brentwood Target. Additionally, throughout the journey into the isolation and darkness, there were various forms of graffiti art, ranging from basic tagging to full murals. Most of these paintings once boasted once proud and popping colors but over time have faded into drab pastels of their former glory. 

Cool air, flowing water, reflecting colors from the rare splinters of light, faded graffiti, and a sense of adventure provides a relaxing environment for the exploration of a city’s almost-lost underworld. While a strange and unusual experience, journeying beyond the comforts of home is both an educating and enjoyable experience.