While modernists generally held dankness in suspect, a few held a certain type of affection for this atmosphere, if only because it was an object of intense scrutiny. The earliest modernist rapprochements with dankness saw it as the cradle of a mythical atmosphere, an atmosphere that preceded modernity. Within the 20th century, particularly in the writings of Bachelard, the dank underground is embraced precisely because it is such an anti-modern quality. Bachelard wished to bring the cosmopolitan, urban and modernized subject back in touch with the atmospheric depths of the cellar. Finally, we see fleeting senses of dankness in the writings and ideas of Anthony Vidler or Peter Eisenman; their collective focus on excavation and subterranean uncanny space served as a type of corrective to a project of rationalization, but it also returned us to images of grotto-like spaces for its physical articulation.
Today, in the name of environmentalism, architects are digging into the earth in an effort to release its particular climatic qualities. Passive ventilation schemes often involve underground constructions such as “labyrinths” or “thermosiphons” that release the earth’s cool and wet air. The earth that architects reach into is one that has been so technified and rationalized, so measured and considered, that it barely contains mythical or uncanny aspects. However, this return to the earth’s substrate enables other possibilities. Rather than turn to the earth to find a mytho-poetic or uncanny quality, we might develop a new sensibility. Perhaps we can understand the earth of architecture and its dankness through the lens presented within this brief essay. In other words, it is time that we understood dankness to hold history itself.