New uses for old fuel bunkers #28: searching for treasure in the gloom

Inevitably in a recent talk I mentioned my bunkers thing. A member of the audience looked at me attentively, cocked his head to one side and said: ‘so, I bet you could study the after-lives of coal bunkers next then?’

We held each others gaze for a few seconds. Was he mocking me or genuinely suggesting a new angle? I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and launched into a short discussion of the things I’d found upon venturing for the first time into the coal bunker of each house I’ve lived in. The room then filled with reminiscence of the days in which coal was fuel and houses had cellars or above ground huts into which coal would be poured by a superhuman strongman dressed in a dirty tweed suit (a weird distortion of Santa Claus: a Father Coal, of sorts).

“Bunker n. and v. 1 a large container or compartment for storing fuel”

I grew up with coal bunkers. The military usage came later. Indeed the industrial bunker precedes its military cousin. Working from the ‘bunk’ root the OED tells me of the word’s Scandinavian and nautical roots. A bunk is a place to store or stow (or sleep). A container shaped for bulk storage, particularly upon a ship, is a bunker. To google ‘bunker’ is to travel in three directions: towards golf, into the world of bulk cargo shipment or into military chambers.

The photo above is from the Tate Modern, taken within the (very dark) ‘Tanks’ a recently opened gallery space created within what used to be this power station building’s three oil tanks. If the tanks ever had metal that has gone. What remains is an irregular asymetric grey concrete void space. And its very dark in there, at one point almost pitch black, and only the strip-route of thick pile carpet guides your way.

It’s an interesting space, and odd to see people walking around inside the cast of former tanks. The space reminds me of The Deep, the angular ‘underwater’ aquarium in Hull. In Hull the fish are in vast tanks with humans descending their course via gantries and viewing stages. In the Tate’s Tanks the human visitors take on the role of the fishes (and the oil), flowing through the ghost-tanks with wandering curiosity, searching out the sparce content in the gloom.


About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

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