Hypnotising Centres of the War Space

The only very recent advancements in aviation and long-range artillery, massively changed the nature of the architecture within the military space and the war zone. What was once the simple geometric organisation of the landscape with its ditches, embankments, towers and zigzag trenches, no longer suited its purpose. This altered climate of artificial arms required a corresponding reaction of the military construction. “It was no longer in distance but rather in burial that the man of war found the parry to the onslaught of his adversary”1

“The particular character of fortified works does not appear with as much impact when one dwells in them. This character became vivid only when i was reviewing block 14 of the customs point at Greffern, which its occupants had deserted. When i had after much effort succeeded in opening the enormous iron door and had gone down into the concrete crypt, I found myself alone with the machine guns, the ventilators, the hand grenades, and the munitions and i held my breath. Sometimes a drop of water would fall from the ceiling or the sector telephone would ring in various ways. It was only here that I recognised the place as the seat of cyclops who were expert in metal works but who do not have the inner eye, just as sometimes in museums you can ascertain the meaning of certain works more clearly than those craftsmen who made them and who used them at length. This was I, as if inside a pyramid or in the depths of catacombs, faced with the genius of time that I construed as an idol, without the animated reflection of technical finesse and whose enormous power i understood perfectly. Moreover, the extremely crushed and chelonian form of these constructions recall Aztec architecture, and not only superficially what was there – the sun – is here and intellect and both are in contact with blood, with the powers of death”2 Writes Ernst Jünger in his memoir ‘Storm of Steel’

Bunker_Locations

The Atlantic Wall is a site of massive crimes and massacres.
The conception was born when local batteries in France started being used to back the Nazi invasion of England in August 1940. Norway got implicated with Hitler’s Directive nu.33, which was primarily devoted towards the eastern front and the offensive in Russia, but included the first coastal fortifications in Norway and the Canary Islands. 14th of December 1942, Hitler first speaks of the ‘Atlantic Wall’, calling it an impassible rampart to protect fortress Europe from any western invasion. May 1942, work on the Atlantic Wall begins. A line of coastal defences from northern Norway down to the border between France and Spain are being commissioned by Organisation Todt, after Fritz Todt, the civil engineer responsible for the Third Reich’s systems of autobahns, aqueducts and high end advanced fortifications. Their slogan “One million labor units, 24/7 working hours, ten hundred thousand tons of concrete powder and sand” gives an insight into the monstrosity and cold ideology behind the construction of these bunkers.

Regelbau 502 AXO

Looking in

The reason why these ground fortresses flourished during the Nazi occupation, was mainly due to the strange Nazi doctrine of paying less attention to the atmosphere and hydrosphere. The lithosphere, the earth, the blood was the only element and this laid in line with their Lebensraum ideology of land as agriculture for the Germanic race.

With a 2m thick reinforced concrete construction, these structures were designed in detail to respond precisely to a possible contemporary military assault at the time. The mass built to hold under shelling and bombing, gas seals to protect against asphyxiating gasses and flamethrowers, detailing that responded, through trial and error, to enemy moves (for example, a version of the Regelbau had two unsealed ventilation voids on its exterior, that caused a possible grenade to slide back out if thrown inside), everything from their restrained volume, rounded or flattened angles, iron doors, embrasure systems, air filters, all a response to this new climatic war reality of the time.

A second glance at these seemingly alien structures, reveals a level of anthropology, a rather confusing clash with the chilling, bulky and rather barbaric volumes of concrete they are made of. The iron cupola topping some bunkers, provides a squeeze for a single person and in a way personifies the structure by providing its eyes. The bulging masses of a control post literally provide some of the structures with a neck. The hierarchy of the openings exemplified the human functions and distinguished it form the machine one. Down to the fact that these structures were provided with male/female names. The casemate literally translates to ‘strong house’, these bunkers were habitats of human life in the core.

Bunker Typologies

But even though built for the human, they lack the personal, their origin is blurred, their diversity fades away and a German bunker cannot be distinguished from a French or a Norwegian one.

Their aerostatic form and curved volumes was intended to immerse the structures in the terrain and have minimum asperities with its context, whilst escaping from the impact of projectiles by diverting them, slopping them off its flanks. Another result of this ‘soft’ form was that their silhouette cast no shadows from a lighting system. Sometimes, protruding iron bars would ‘decorate’ the closed volume in order to stop exploding ammunition from hitting its skin, whilst other times the volume opens up and the interior becomes the exterior. Delicately placed openings and slits are carefully calculated to fully serve their function. When these pupils are narrowed, they accomplish accuracy, and in turn this accuracy protect the interior, but where required the pupil opens up to serve a technological function of targeting further, or higher.

Monument/Ruin

An important characteristic of these bunkers, is that whilst most modern buildings are embarked in the terrain by their foundations, this monolithic casemate is devoid of any. Its centre of gravity functions as its grounding and allows for movement during impact from projectiles. This is thus the reason why these centres of the war zone can now be frequently found upturned or tilted, as ruins, without serious damage

“In Quiberville a monolith sat on the beach. It has fallen from the cliff as a consequence of the erosive process. On one hand it can be considered as a big pebble among the others, on the other it is a completely separated object. Three doorways, one next to the other, are on the side opposite the sea. When I get closer I hear the sound of the water reverberating inside: the bunker has become a shell.”3 The bunkers are decontextualized and are now read as carcasses of animals (shells) or as mere material (sand used as concrete aggregate, only to decay back into sand). Their original purpose, to blent into their landscape, gets fulfilled as ruins. These concrete monuments now belong in their context and exceed it at the same time.

polyptich-01


1 Virilio Paul, and dÈcoratifs MusÈe des arts, Bunker Archeology, Bunker Archèologie (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994).
2 Jünger E., and M. Hofmann, Storm of Steel (Penguin Books Australia, 2014).
3 Moscardini Margherita, ‘How to Preserve a Bunker 1 X Unknown (2012-): Exhibition Review Xenia Vytuleva.(Focus on the 2014 Fitch Colloquium)’, Future Anterior, 12 (2015), 108.

Photography in the polyptych sourced from:
1 Virilio Paul, and dÈcoratifs MusÈe des arts, Bunker ArcheologyBunker Archèologie (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994).
2 BunkerSite,  <http://bunkersite.com> [Accessed 08/11/2016]