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    Bunker Recycling Services

    Nick Sowers
    Aug 28, '09 12:12 AM EST

    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.


    Above: Dragon's Teeth near Vlissingen, the Netherlands.

    The missing chapter is really Bunker Sociology-- What are the social dimensions of bunker space? How might new spatial practices derive from their re-use?

    So while Virilio was concerned with bunkers as representations of a new era where war becomes a total atmospheric catastrophe, I am looking at the post-war physicality of bunkers, at the transformations that take place after demilitarization.


    (above) This bunker forms the basement of a house. (below) a bunker usurped by a campground and converted into bathrooms.

    I don't mean to pick on Virilio--the same criticism can be lodged against Rudi Rolf, whose excellent book, Atlantic Wall Typology I am lucky to have in my possession. It contains incredible detail on hundreds of bunker types, labels the room functions in plan and section, and goes way farther than Virilio in showing the evolution of form, adaptation to threat, and sheer veracity of concrete volume. This sort of book is for the hobbyist, who loves learning about the German ingenuity of the Atlantic Wall. How did they build so many thousands of bunkers in a short time frame?

    Interesting as Virilio's philosophy and Rolf's typology may be, it leaves this bunker-explorer wanting for something a bit more relevant, a bit more productive… some action!

    Then I saw this ad in a telephone book here in Dorset, England (one of the most militarized counties in England, from the Iron Age fortress of Maiden Castle to Bovington, birthplace of the tank).

    Bunker Recycling Services

    Footnote to the unemployed architect: Could this mean it's time to consider phonebooks as viable means of advertising alternative architectural services?


    • happybunker

      Aug 28, 09 6:16 am  · 

      happybunkers, love the bunker-climbing photos...they are a kind of geologic formation after all. rocks formed quicker than igneous.

      do you do any climbing in France?

      Aug 28, 09 6:40 am  · 

      "bunker recycling serices" what a job field..

      Sounds very interesting line of work..

      Aug 28, 09 8:13 am  · 

      hi Nick,
      Yeah we climb in France and Germany and the states when we get back there but here in Holland its slim pickings. The bunkers are a good middle way. Almost like the real thing and just around the corner.


      Aug 28, 09 11:57 am  · 


      I have been following your blog and I cannot wait to see how this great experience you have had manifests itself into your thesis year. In a way its taking me back to my childhood growing up in the military(and of course my fascination as a youth of all things military).

      Have you had any thoughts of compiling all this information into a book or pamphlet form for yourself. I think with the vast amount of information you have compiled it would be a nice way to see what jumps out first from memory when you get into your thesis


      Aug 30, 09 11:13 am  · 

      PandaKing, sorry to get back late... it's been a long two weeks on islands and on the Atlantic coast with extremely limited internet. I'm glad you are enjoying the blog and there will definitely be a pamphlet of sort that I will produce. I'm thinking of structuring it like a glossary, using the NATO phonetic alphabet.

      Can't wait to see where this ends up myself. Thesis is... a mystery.

      Sep 9, 09 1:22 pm  · 

      Very nice latest posts...
      When I was in Beijing, went to the arts district, former military operations site. Now opening doors to artists, more possibilities than ever before:
      Sure you don't want to visit China? At least it is an interesting case study?

      Sep 27, 09 3:04 pm  · 

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