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    The Tanks of New Zealand

    Nick Sowers
    Jul 12, '09 9:51 AM EST

    Just got into Sydney about five hours ago. I'm here for the Urban Islands intensive design studio which begins tomorrow! More on that soon.

    In the spirit of serious architectural research, I watched Transformers on the flight over from Christchurch. I hadn't seen the movie before, as a friend described it as one giant advertisement for Chevy cars. IMO, it's as much an advertisement for Chevy as it is for the US Military. See those guys running on the tarmac, jumping in the fighter jets, dodging between the skyscrapers? That could be you!

    image source

    Transformers uncannily reminds us that urban warfare is real--that's why it's so damn fun to watch these bots slam through buildings. These machines are caricatures of the real things that patrol cities during riots. Take the Saracen Armoured Personnel Carrier, for example. It was designed and built in the 1950s by the British Auto Maker, Alvis. In the 1980s it became associated with riots in North Ireland.

    image source

    I learned this past week as I was touring a collection of military vehicles, including the Saracen, in New Zealand that 50+ year-old Cold War beasts are still used by China, though I could not confirm that detail. However, the recent riots in southwest China reveal a similar vehicle:

    image source

    What has New Zealand got to do with this? Well, an outfit called Tanks For Everything lets you jump in and out of a variety of tanks, and you can drive one too. So there I was, in one of the farthest reaches of the world, climbing into a symbol of the military-industrial complex, bastion of the nation-state. New Zealand, one of the planet's few Nuclear-Free zones, and but a mere "dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica". In short, who would bother with New Zealand in a time of war?

    NZ tanks

    Maybe that's the magic of getting to ride in a tank in the land of milk and honey. Looking out of the tank's periscope, I spy not deserts, not earthen buildings, not sand bags, but pine trees and blue sky.


    Of course, I have scraped some sound out of the experience. Listen:

    The tanks have never left my mind. Why the tank, what does my interest in tanks mean for architecture? As I hop aboard the FV432, another British-made war machine on this paddock in New Zealand, I am thinking about how this tank in particular was designed for the nuclear battlefield. Equipped with an air filtration unit, the FV432 could keep a crew of 12 alive for three days in a nuclear haze. The tank could be almost entirely submerged in water. (A Soviet tank parked right next to it even had a periscope for underwater tank domination). So what is tank but a piece of the underground brought above-ground and made mobile. Is that not what architects do: capture space and regulate it; level earth; span ditches and trenches that would otherwise thwart habitation?


    • Nick always insightful. The cold war-esque tank pictured above that's use in China was also the military vehicle of choice in Jamaica, particularly during the socio-political times of the 1980s when we had forged an alliance with Cuba. Unfortunately not many of them are in use today

      Jul 12, 09 3:30 pm  · 

      Actually Nick, I forgot to mention that actually, Tanksverymuch is our defense force - we arent at war at the moment so we rent them out to the public.

      Jul 13, 09 8:29 pm  · 

      diabase, really?

      And a submersible tank that could survive a nuke. Did they name it the roach, affectionately?

      Jul 14, 09 9:35 pm  · 

      The Russian T 55, I should mention, was purchased from a dealer in Prague, where they were selling hundreds of them, and the guns were live! They had to pay to get the gun deactivated before entering New Zealand.

      One other thing, there was a front page story in The Press the very morning that I went to the place with the tanks. check it out here

      I think owning your own tank trumps the whole gated community thing, don't you think?

      Jul 15, 09 12:03 pm  · 

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