Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Drawing bombs

    Mitch McEwen
    Jul 24, '17 1:05 AM EST

    This drawing by Ludwig Hilberseimer has been fascinating me recently.  Most architects with any interest in urban planning in the USA know the story of RAND corporation doing post-World War II consulting on the dispersal of the American city.  The assumption was that the kind of weapons deployed in WWII constituted implicit threats to American cities, as nodes of infrastructure and economy significant to the entire country. NYC for finance, DC for governance, Chicago for goods, etc.   The defensive solution was to disperse American economy and institutions as much as possible.

    It all sounds like post-rationalization for the subsidy of the segregated post-WWII suburb. 

    But this Hilberseimer drawing defines the terms of the argument so well. The archival title of the drawing is "Effect of H-Bomb on the size & distribution of cities ."  The drawing demarcates blast range, freshwater resource, the territory of major cities as hatched areas. The potential of the gridded dots dominates the page, an evasive maneuver hidden in plain sight.  The matrix offers up a hyper rationalization of Broadacre City-- its principals reduced to its most minimal spatial assumptions, almost a geometric proof.  Plain sight, plains site, plane site.

    Of course, the implementation of this flat decentralization in actual urban space demanded extensive territory claims, eminent domain and slum clearance, demolition and displacement. Urban renewal decimated neighborhoods across the country.  The Hilberseimer-Mies collaboration that I've been living in for the past 3 years - Lafayette Park - was designed on the tabula rasa of what had been Black Bottom-- a vibrant Black neighborhood famous for jazz and record shops and Detroit's speak-easy style cosmopolitanism during its peak population.

    This drawing of bomb blasts across an expanse of the country can be read as a 'blue print' (as non-architects say) for the slow unfurling of effects, effects that -- other than their speed-- might be indistinguishable from firebombing.



    • Firebombing as in MOVE, Operation Cast Lead, or other?

      Jul 25, 17 12:03 am  · 

      Firebombing as in the WWII bombing tactic that the Allies applied most the Nazi-occupied territory.... O, you are asking about the analog here. No, not only literal fire. The massive displacement and demolition acting like firebombing, at similar scales and similar effects, just slower. Detroit, Atlanta, Washington, DC, etc

      Jul 25, 17 5:45 pm  · 

      Equating German with Nazi is not correct. Many Germans were not Nazis. Also every major city in Japan - with the exception of Kyoto - was firebombed to the ground or destroyed by atomic bombs. Germany could not be charged with bombing the civilian population of England because the Allies performed the same act several orders of magnitude greater.

      Jul 25, 17 9:35 pm  · 

      Yes, exactly, but this is not what Marc was asking about. I think he's asking about the operations here in the US that I'm considering analogous to the firebombing (mostly by Allied powers).

      Jul 25, 17 11:56 pm  · 

      Yes, I was treating the term as a connection to more contemporary event, not contemporaneous. My bad.

      Jul 26, 17 1:56 am  · 

      Just trying to keep proper perspective on history. Especially important now in the disinformation age.

      Jul 26, 17 8:43 am  · 

      A blueprint for better?

      Jul 25, 17 9:05 am  · 


      Jul 25, 17 5:43 pm  · 

      Interesting post, especially due to the matrix. But I wonder if it's not so much a matrix as much as it is a trace of the 1785 Land Ordinance? See below for the rationalization (sorry for corrupting the original drawing). 

      Preceding Broadacre, and at a much larger scale, it was the model for dispersion and colonization in the United States. The assumption then being that this dispersion created opportunity and resilience because the "urban grid" at that scale could not be disrupted. But as the Hilberseimer drawing illustrates, there were indeed/are weapons capable of disrupting a regional landscape and rural territories provide no more protection than the urbanized areas.


      The question for me remains for me- why Terre Haute?

      Jul 25, 17 7:54 pm  · 

      Marc what's being protected is not people, but economy.

      Jul 26, 17 12:02 am  · 


      Jul 26, 17 1:48 am  · 

      Nice find Chris

      Jul 26, 17 1:56 am  · 

      Decentralization is not just a model for survival in war but a model for a healthy and robust society. Today's cities are time bombs ready to fail catastrophically when resource distribution is interrupted for any reason. 

      Storms, climate change, solar flares, geological events, man-made disasters ... All are a much higher probability than war and all are being ignored in favor of funding the MIC.

      Jul 25, 17 9:41 pm  · 

      This is exactly what's amazing to me, that the analogy survives more than half a century later.

      Jul 25, 17 11:58 pm  · 

      I'm not sure the assumptions of decentralization is cut and dry. It suggests that there are cores of activity from which everything spawns. But the US, with particular help from the ordnance maps was also seen a s a field of economic opportunity. Case in point, industrial centers of the north (which still relied on large files of resources), versus the agricultural fields of the south.

      Jul 26, 17 2:02 am  · 

      Clearly it's not due to the heavy complexity and interconnectedness of production and its dependence on transportation. But I think in general that it is correct. Example, the 2003 NE blackout where a software bug caused a cascade failure. With decentralized energy production this could not have happened. More important is the idea that an area with no food production (NYC) is highly susceptible to interruption of the supply chain. Scary is that electromagnetic effects of a solar storm could fry a large part of the power distribution grid and the supply of spare parts is hugely deficient. Imagine the NE corridor without power for a year or two.

      Jul 26, 17 8:53 am  · 

      What's most frustrating is the persistence of government looking at these things from a military strategic point of view. Like the general sent to NO after Katrina who said "we're going to quell this insurgency".

      Jul 26, 17 8:55 am  · 

      Point of clarification- when I was referring to n vs s I was thinking of pre civil war, but I get your point. But remember that NO has always been treated as an outpost, or the edge world (almost literally when you look a sediment from the Mississippi), based on its cultural history and development.

      Jul 26, 17 12:48 pm  · 

      Decentralisation as a mode of survival made me think of Leon Krier:

      Jul 27, 17 10:15 am  · 


      Jul 28, 17 12:59 am  · 

      Another point to consider is that a bomb "fifty times the power of the Hiroshima bomb" (or whatever) does not do fifty times the damage. Consider something like Pruitt-Igoe - a few pounds of explosive were all that were required. Would dropping an atomic bomb on it made it any more rubble? How about a hydrogen bomb? The circle of destruction would be somewhat greater in each, but nowhere near proportional to the "yield" of the weapons.

      Aug 1, 17 8:42 am  · 

      You actually proved my point. To be proportional to the 15 KT "device"the 550KT weapon would have to incinerate a firestorm of 147 square miles.

      Aug 2, 17 11:03 am  · 

      "Proportionality" and nuclear weapons do not belong in the same sentence. Plus you're ignoring consequent wider effects such as fallout.

      Aug 2, 17 2:02 pm  · 

      I'm also reading the Hilberseimer drawing is more concerned about the possible effect of fallout. The firestorm would result in significant tangible damage, but the passive effects of radioactive particulates could be more impactful. In this drawing the Wabash watershed is overlapped by radioactive fallout, eventually impacting the Ohio and the Lower Mississippi. It "bypasses" the rational order of the grid, affecting something more basic- the ground the grid is rendered upon. This was part of my original question thinking about conflicts where white sulfur rounds have been used to create screens but were used strategically deployed to take benefit of their incendiary properties and toxic byproducts.

      Aug 2, 17 2:20 pm  · 

      All I an saying is that if you want to do the most damage the current thinking is to use a large number of smaller warheads, which is why they developed the MIRV system with small independently guided warheads on a single missile. Arguably the trillion(s)? of dollars used to develop the H-bomb was a stupendous waste of taxpayer money. I think the whole exercise in nuclear weapons in general is madness.

      Aug 2, 17 2:46 pm  · 

      Damage to be applied depends on the target. Hardened (ground burst or penetrating) vs civilian (air burst, neutron) etc. MIRV's are about maximizing launch capability and minimizing interception. Damage at this level is irrelevant as most targets are slated for multiple strikes to assure destruction.

      This is beyond utter madness. With the current geopolitical situation with US / NATO wargames in the Balkins targeting Russia, ratcheting up of sanctions against Russia, sabre rattling on North Korea, supplying the Ukrainian neonazi regime with arms, a very bad outcome is foreseeable.

      Studies that show even a "modest" nuclear exchange (50-100 of the global 15,000 inventory) would have catastrophic global consequences via fallout, nuclear winter, disruption of the food chain, etc.

      Aug 2, 17 4:30 pm  · 

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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