Architecturally Ghostbusting World War II Bunkers

bunker plans
Observation post (with container). These drawings, taken from Bunker Archeology, show just how massive these structures are. The heavy black lines represent solid concrete but remind me of the poché on a Beaux-Arts-style drawing.

“One of the essential characteristics of the bunker is that it is one of the rare modern monolithic architectures.” So writes philosopher-artist-dromologist Paul Virilio in his exegesis of World War II defensive fortifications, Bunker Archeology. These poured-in-place pillboxes aren’t just modern, they’re modern concentrate—efficiently constructed for a single purpose and devoid of any style or ornament because, as Virilio writes, “the omnipotence of arms volatilized what was left of aesthetic will.” If Le Corbusier’s houses are machines for living, the concrete bunker is a machine for surviving, designed to stand against bombs, bullets, gases, and flames. But in parts of the world where war is now a fading memory, bunkers linger on this earth without purpose, decaying, tied inextricably to the past, a haunting reminder of violence, a ghostmodern architecture.

Some of these underground bunkers were incredibly expansive, intended for long-term occupation, but many others were martial follies. Today, they’re half-buried along coastlines or looming silently and mysteriously in the middle of cities, too massive to be destroyed but often too difficult to be repurposed. Apparently, a side effect of being built to withstand mortar attacks is the ability to confound planners and developers—perhaps there’s a lesson there. Yet despite the difficulty of renovating a structure with a wall thickness measured in feet, some enterprising organizations and architects are doing just that, appropriating bunkers to imbue them with a new life and new meaning.

BIG Bunker Museum
Blåvand Bunkermuseum by BIG, Varde, Denmark

BIG’s Blåvand Bunkermuseum reconstructs the bunker’s original cannon out of glass “as a ghost or a reflection of the war machine it was meant to be.” For Virilio, the removal of a cannon “deconsecrates” a bunker. By that logic, BIG’s project re-consecrates the structure for a new denomination. The canon, once an instrument of ruination, is now an instrument of illumination, a skylight above an exhibition space. BIG describes its design as the “antithesis” to the existing structure: “vacuum rather than volume—transparency rather than gravity.” These are themes that recur in many of these projects.

Among architects, there seems to be renewed interest in Brutalism these days, and on purely aesthetic terms, it would be easy to think of these projects as examples of a New New Brutalism. After all, the Brutalist buildings of the 1950s and ‘60s were often derided as “bunkers,” although their raw concrete surfaces are more likely to harm their occupants than any invading military force. But like any good -ism, these projects represent both an aesthetic and an ethic. There’s actually a lightness to all these structures, an effort to mitigate the weight of the original bunker—and not just its literal weight. These bunkers carry a historic heaviness. They can be a psychological burden for people who don’t want to be reminded of the horror of war, but who are confronted by it every day, who literally live with it. While these renovations can’t erase the past, they can imbue its relics with new meaning.

For more examples, see the full article on Architizer

Related Content

Ghostmodernism

[Harold Lime, Walter Gropius, and others look on as the Static Engine is activated for the first time.]
French playwright Alfred Jarry invented practical time travel in 1899. In an essay that shattered the scientific community, he theorized that a time machine “is no more difficult to conceive of than a Space Machine,” and continued to describes his design for an an ebony and ivory apparatus of levers, springs, and flywheels that isolates its occupant from the passing of time. This pivotal discovery was almost lost to ahistory when, just moments moment before he completed the famous equation that would make time travel possible, the Father of Pataphysics was murdered by an splinter group of non-practicing Ghostmodernists. Thankfully, the Established Lobbyists simultaneously traveled back in time to prevent the murder of Alfred Jarry from taking place. Yet this was not the end of that particular story. The rogue Ghostmodernists persevere with their efforts to destroy chrono-liminality – and so continues the atemporal crusade that will eventually never be documented as “The Perpetual Lobby.”

The above is an excerpt from my contribution to Junk Jet no4. Check out the full issue to learn more about Static Engines, Paradox Designers, and the Alt-Bauhaus.

see also:
The Reading Room