In his Bunker Archeology (), Paul Virilio establishes an inventory of bunker typologies and tries to determine what the essence of those militaries. BUNKER ARCHEOLOGY atmosphere approaching the great reflector was totally new; the transpar- ency I was so sensitive to was greater as the ocean got. Out of print for almost a decade, we are thrilled to bring back one of our most requested hard-to-find titlesphilosopher and cultural theorist Paul Virilio’s Bunker .
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At the age of 25, Paul Virilio stumbled upon these relics with his camera and began a study that would continue for 30 years. His book, Bunker Archeologyhas recently been translated into English and reprinted by Princeton Architectural Press: Paul Virilio is arrcheology renowned urbanist, political theorist, and art critic. The following essay is excerpted from his preface for the book. The discovery of the sea is a precious experience that bears thought.
Seeing the oceanic horizon is indeed anything but a secondary experience; it is in fact an event in buner of underestimated consequences.
I atcheology forgotten none of the sequences pahl this finding in the course of a summer when recovering peace and access to the beach were one and the same event. With the barriers removed, you were henceforth free to explore the liquid continent; the occupants had returned to their native hinterland, leaving behind, along with the work site, their tools and arms.
The clearest feeling was still one of absence: But let us get back to the sequences of my vision. The weather was superb and the sky over the low ground was starting, minute by minute, to shine. This well-known brilliance of the atmosphere approaching the great reflector was totally new; the transparency I was so sensitive to was greater as the ocean got closer, up to that precise moment when a line as vunker as a brushstroke crossed the horizon: Here was the real surprise: Even the sky was divided up by clouds, but the sea seemed empty in contrast.
From such archeolkgy distance there was no way of determining anything like foam movement. My loss of bearings was proof that I had entered a new element; the sea had become a desert, and the August heat made that all the more evident—this was a white-hot space in which sun and ocean had become a magnifying glass scorching away every relief and contrast.
Trees, pines, etched-out dark spots; the square in front of the station was at once white and void—that particular emptiness you feel in recently abandoned places.
It was high noon, and luminous verticality and liquid horizontality composed a surprising climate.
A complete series of cultural memories came to mind: On that day I decided to inspect the Breton coasts, most often on foot along the high-tide line, further and further; by car as well, in order to examine distant promontories, north toward Audierne and Brest, southward to Concarneau.
My objective was solely archeological. I would hunt these gray forms until they would transmit to me a part of their mystery, a part of the secret a few phrases could sum up: Why this analogy between the funeral archetype and military architecture? Why this insane situation looking out over the ocean? This waiting before the infinite oceanic expanse? Until this era, fortifications had vvirilio been oriented toward a specific, staked-out objective: Whereas here, walking daily along kilometer after kilometer of beach, I would happen upon these concrete markers at the summit of dunes, cliffs, across archeologj, open, transparent, with the sky playing between the embrasure and the entrance, as if each casemate were an empty ark or a little temple minus the cult.
It was indeed the whole littoral that had been organized around these successive bearings. You could walk day after day along the seaside and never once lose sight of these concrete altars built to face the void of the oceanic horizon.
Review – Bunker Archaeology by Paul Virilio – Disphotic
The immensity of this project is what defies common sense; total war was revealed here in its mythic dimension. The course I had begun to run, over the banks of Festung Europa Fortress Europewas going to introduce me into the reality of Occidental geometry and the function of equipment on sites, continents, and the world. Everything was virilko vast.
The continental threshold had become a boulevard—the linearity of my exploration; sun and sand vitilio now personal territory that I was beginning to like more and more. This continuous band of dunes and pebbles and the sharp crest of the cliffs along the coast fit into a nameless country where the three interchanges were glimpsed: The only bearings I had for this trip from the south to the north of Europe were these stelae whose meaning was still unsure. A long history was curled up here.
History had changed course one final time before jumping into the immensity of aerial space. My activities often led me into teeming ports, and what most surprised and intrigued me there was finding once again in the middle archeologgy courtyards and gardens my concrete shelters; their blind, low mass and rounded profile were out of tune with the urban environment.
As I concentrated on these forms in the middle of apartment buildings, in courtyards, and in public squares, I felt as though a subterranean civilization had sprung up srcheology the ground. These objects had been left behind, and were colorless; their bunket cement relief was silent witness to a warlike climate. And, above all, why this ordinary habitat, so very ordinary over so many years?
These heavy gray masses with sad angles and no openings—excepting the air inlets and several staggered entrances—brought to light much better than many manifestos the urban and architectural redundancies of this postwar period that had just reconstructed to a tee the destroyed cities. The antiaircraft blockhouses pointed out another lifestyle, a rupture in arcyeology apprehension of the real.
The blue sky had once been heavy with the menace of rumbling bombers, spangled too with the deafening explosions of artillery fire. This immediate comparison between the urban habitat and the shelter, between the ordinary apartment building and the abandoned bunkers in the hearts of the ports through which I was traveling, was as strong as a confrontation, a collage of two dissimilar realities.
The blockhouses were anthropomorphic; their figures recalled those of bodies. The residential units were but arbitrary repetitions of a model—a single, identical, orthogonal, parallelepipedal model. The casemate, so easily hidden in the hollow of birilio coastal countryside, was scandalous here, and its modernness was due less to the originality of its silhouette than to the extreme triviality of the surrounding architectural forms.
We identified these constructions with their German occupants, as if they had in their retreat forgotten their helmets, badges, here and there along our shores…. Many riverains told me that these concrete landmarks frightened them and called back too many bad memories, many fantasies too, because the reality of the German occupation was elsewhere, most often in banal administrative lodgings for the Gestapo; but the blockhouses were the symbols of soldiery.
Once again there is this sign: For those who at that time saw them, they were not yet archeological; I believe I was alone in seeing something else springing up, a new meaning for these landmarks aligned along the European littoral.
The Frightening Beauty of Bunkers
I remember a comeback I had devised to answer the curiosity of those wishing to know the reasons for my studying the Atlantic Wall. I would ask if people still had the opportunity to study other cultures, including the culture of adversaries—if there were any Jewish Egyptologists.
What was the nature of this criticism? We violently rejected the bunkers as symbols rather than logically, with patience: What was the nature of the modernness in these historical ruins?
Could war be prospective? During my trips along European coasts, I grew more and more selective, picking up only traces of the defensive system. Everyday life at the seaside had disappeared. The space I was charting with surveys and measurements of different types of casemates was the space of a different historical time than that of the moment of my trip; the conflict I perceived between the summer of seaside bathing and the summer of combat would never again cease.
For me the organization of space would now go hand in hand with the manifestations of time. This actual archeological break led me to a reconsideration of the problem of architectural archetypes: The problems of structural economy had become secondary, and now I would investigate the Fortress Europe, which was vacant from now on, with an eye to the essence of architectural reality. Observing the various casemates on the Atlantic beaches, the English Channel, and the North Sea, I detected a hub joining several directions.
The concrete mass was a summary of its surroundings. The blockhouse was also the premonition of my own movements: This game created an implicit empathy between the inanimate object and visitor, but it was the empathy of mortal danger to the point that for many it was unbelievably fearsome. The meaning was less now that of a rendezvous, and more of combat: Besides the feeling of lurking danger, you can describe the structure by concentrating on each of its parts.
The armor-plated door is no doubt the most disquieting, hidden by its thick concrete framing, with its steel wicket and locking system, massive and difficult to move, set fast in rust today, protected on its flanks by small firing slits for automatic weapons. This narrow door opens into a watertight coffer in which the air vent looks more adaptable to an oven than to a dwelling; everything here bespeaks incredible pressures, like those to which a submarine is submitted….
Several rear apertures carry cartouche inscriptions, supplying the support station number or the serial number of the work; others carry the name of the bunker, a feminine first name, Barbara, Karola…sometimes a humorous phrase. Deconsecrated, the work is reversed: Going further back into the rear of the fortification, you meet once again the system of staggered nearby defenses, with its small firing slits—one along the entrance axis, the other on the flanks—with low visibility, through which the immediate surroundings can be seen, in a narrow space with a low ceiling.
The crushing feeling felt during the exterior circuit around the work becomes acute here. Like a slightly undersized piece of clothing that hampers as much as it enclothes, the reinforced concrete and steel envelope is too tight under the arms and sets you in a semiparalysis fairly close to that of illness.
Slowed down in his physical activity but attentive, anxious over the catastrophic probabilities of his environment, the visitor in this perilous place is beset with a singular heaviness; in fact he is already in the grips of that cadaveric rigidity from which the shelter was designed to protect him.
A new collection of pictures from blind photographers around the world suggests that blindness is itself a kind of seeing. From Texas rodeos to New York City streets, black and white photographs find modern life endlessly surprising. Gallery Feb 2, Iron cupola on an observatory. Interview by Rosecrans Baldwin. Individual shelter on the North Sea Facade for heavy artillery Lindemann battery in the Strait of Dover Command post in the Bay of Biscay The smooth embrasure signifies that the fortification will get armor plating.
The inclined mass, existing in each bunker, serves to screen it and to mark the cannons blind spot. Observation post on a channel island Observation post raised into a pyramid Tilting The rear solid mass of a firing control post Tilting Observation tower camouflaged as church belfry.
The Wild World by Rosecrans Baldwin. Rodeo Days and Nights by Rosecrans Baldwin.