Aug '08 - Jun '10
There's a missing chapter from all the books on fortification I've had a flick through. While they will go into sometimes nauseating detail on how developments in wartime led to certain innovations, material choices, etc., the authors of these books tend to freeze the structures in that stage of existence. What happens after the guns are taken out, the treaties are signed, and their usefulness goes up in smoke?
Take Bunker Archaeology by Paul Virilio for example, probably the work on bunkers known best by architects. While Virilio develops his point that the bunkers are evidence of total-war (no barrier between war and everyday life), he actually says little about how the structures are inhabited or interacted with in his day. His is a philosophical point about war--that the thickness of the structures and other formal properties demonstrate their adaptation to an evolving enemy threat. He writes:
These concrete shelters ceaselessly proliferated and got thicker, an almost botanical sign of a constantly increasing pressure, of a constantly more "rigorous" climate. In the end these bunkers obtained the role of the prestige monuments, witnessing not so much the power of the Third Reich as its obsession with disappearance.
The few plans and sections included with his text pay tribute to the bunkers' form and formidability, but there is scant detail on their context. The rich detail I love to study from an archaeologist's plan is absent.
A bunker on a farm in Vlissingen, the Netherlands.
His beautiful photographs portray bunkers tilting in the sand, uprooted and slowly floating away. (Exploring these "oblique" landscapes, he derives a formal strategy where dwelling takes place on sloping planes.) But not nearly all of the bunkers on the Atlantic Wall are isolated works of concrete. In many places that I've traveled to so far, cities and towns have grown up around them, swallowing them, usurping their cavities for storage space and horse stables and building foundations. Sometimes people just coexist with them, as civilian and post-military spaces overlap.
Still, many bunkers remain unused, collecting graffiti or simply taking up space, an incredibly valuable commodity in the Netherlands. They are not isolated structures, as heavy and austere as they seem. Bunkers are part of our everyday lives. They exist, like many military things, in the background, underneath us, or simply invisible to us.