RGS 2014 – ‘Cold War Bunkers – exceptionalism, affect and aftermath’ – final session details

York RSG

John Beck (University of Westminster), Ian Klinke (University of Oxford) and I are convening four sessions on Cold War Bunkers at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in London at the end of August. A previous post on the overall aims of the sessions is here , and now below are the abstracts of the individual papers:

When?: Friday, 29 August 2014, 9am to 6.30pm

Where?: Imperial College, London in Skempton Building, Room 163

How?: Details of booking procedures and the full RGS 2014 programme are here.

http://www.rgs.org/WhatsOn/ConferencesAndSeminars/Annual+International+Conference/Annual+international+conference.htm. The single day delegate rate is: £185.

9.00 – 10.40am, Session 1 – encountering the bunker

Cold War bunkers as a post traumatic landscape – Luke Bennett (Sheffield Hallam University)

This presentation will set the scene for the Cold War Bunkers strand by situating my work on ‘bunkerology’ alongside a wider interpretation of the psycho-cultural drivers for ‘bunker gazing’. It will seek to show that just as Paul Virilio’s Atlantikwall bunker hunting in the late 1950s / early 1960s was rooted in his desire to make sense of the “geostrategic and geopolitical foundations of the total war I had lived through in Nantes, not far from the submarine base of Saint-Nazaire” (Virilio & Parent 1996: 11), so Cold War bunker hunting can be seen as an ongoing processing of the trauma of an ‘ultimate’ war that never happened, but which none the less left spatial and psycho-cultural scars. The paper will follow the sublimation of this trauma, through Peter Laurie’s 1970s attempts to read the materialisation of power in the Cold War’s landscape, W.S. Sebald standing before the ‘Pagodas’ of Orford ness contemplating the post-traumatic landscape before him shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Sarah Vowell writing in 2004 of the potency of ruined bunkers for the last Cold War generation, and of their validation of the apocalyptic anxiety that suddenly vanished with adulthood, but yet still haunts. This investigation will be pursued by reference to the testimony of bunker hunters, my own journey to bunker gazing and by drawing upon the anxieties of Cold War era psychologists and their concerns for the effects that apocalyptic anxiety might (and perhaps did) have upon children raised in the era of the Cold War bunker building.

The Cold War bunker and/as cinema – John Beck (Westminster University)

This paper considers the ways in which Cold War bunkers, both large-scale military fortifications and domestic shelters, have been imagined in films. Central to the narrative construction of bunkered space is the sense of the bunker as a time machine, incarceration within both stopping time and altering perception of time passing. Living inside the bunker intensifies the anxieties and tensions of Cold War society but also renders them irrelevant, as there is often no accessible world left beyond the walls of the shelter. In this way, the bunker might be said to merge with the function of the cinema as a sealed space with its own temporal logic and peculiar relation to the external world. Does the cinema, then, provide a privileged space through which the containment embodied in the bunker can be affectively as well as symbolically encountered? Works discussed include Cuban Missile Crisis-era films such as Ladybug, Ladybug (1963), Dr. Strangelove (1964), Fail-Safe (1964); 1970s paranoid horror films like Chosen Survivors (1974) and the Polish Communist-era parable Seksmisja (1984); and post-Cold War responses to the legacy of nuclear dread, from grim speculations like Paul Bartel’s Shelf Life (1993) to mainstream comedies like Blast from the Past (1999).

The sublime myth of the Cold War bunker – Kathrine Sandys (Rose Bruford College)

As civilians, films, novels and public information programmes have shaped our knowledge of the Cold War, both during the period and even following decommissioning. The fictional architecture portrayed through this mediated experience was exotic and of a structure never experienced in a domestic environment, with designers such as Ken Adam creating the mysterious and epic subterranean operational bunkers for the villains of the Cold War period Bond films. The reality of these ‘secret’ spaces is often closer to the fiction than imagined, in their unusual, purpose-built vernacular, improvised style with many bunkers and hardened shell military buildings displaying their purpose through their unusual shape and form. Without knowing this purpose however, to the civilian eye, these structures maintain their mythical qualities and presence. This illustrated paper presents a series of public art installations created between 2004 and 2011, animating and mythologizing Cold War military bunkers. These works were the build up to an entire PhD project exploring the sublime imbued in the unknown of the Cold War military space, through phenomenology. In the case of this research, the intangibility of lighting and sound were applied as scenographic devices where the audience explored the derelict sites, animated by subtly integrated lighting and/or infrasound (sound as sensation of nuclear pulse or machinery), in order to form their own stories and desire for authenticity around the purpose of the spaces. Notions of journey, expectation, isolation and framing were explored throughout the research, now offered in this presentation.

Torås Fort and the military sublime: A macro and granular study of war architecture in landscape – Matthew Flintham (University of Newcastle)

Over a three year period Matthew Flintham has undertaken a photo and videographic study of the military facility of Torås on the island of Tjøme, Norway. The site was established as a naval defensive post in anticipation of a Nazi invasion but was rapidly captured and significantly modified by the invaders. The site was again remodeled during the Cold War against Soviet incursion with a maze of subterranean tunnels blasted into the dramatic Larvikite rock formations that are typical of the region. Previously closed to civilian islanders the gates were suddenly thrown open in 2007 (?) and the remote base, once almost entirely hidden in the dramatic topography of the island, is now revealed as a unique fusion of landscape, architecture and weapon systems. The Norwegian landscape often prompts reference to the ‘sublime’, but the notion of the ‘military sublime’ (a problematic term that has been applied the work of contemporary fine art photographers working in conflict zones) is perhaps more relevant here. Flintham’s paper will describe his micro and macro visual methodology for studying the hasty transformation of landscape into military architecture, and the much slower process of bunker into ruin and ruin into dust. This paper will ultimately address the role of images in the analysis of geological time, or more specifically, the ‘dark’ stratum of human conflict and the transformation of its material presence in the landscape. The presentation will be accompanied by moving image footage of Torås Fort and the surrounding area.

The Bunker Project: claustrophobia, performance and influence – Zoe Svendsen (University of Cambridge)

The Bunker Project ran from 2005-8 and was a community-focused performance research project, exploring hidden war spaces in the city of Cambridge – from dilapidated air-raid shelters in peoples’ back gardens to a Cold War era Regional Seat of Government. The project brought together oral history and performance theory, site-specific theatre and changing concepts of ‘rehearsal’, to produce a powerful cultural intervention. This paper will outline the structure of the project and its aesthetic and cultural aims, showing how subsequent work from Metis Arts (the theatre company which ran the project) has been shaped by this initial thinking about bunkers. Thus the paper will then consider 3rd Ring Out (2010-11) a theatre project concerned with planning for climate change through the mode of rehearsal, which directly drew on Cold War exercises for its rationale. The performances toured the UK in two twenty-foot shipping containers (3rd Ring Out was nominated for a Total Theatre award and won a Tipping Point arts and environment award). World Factory (2013-ongoing) is Metis Arts’ current project, an interdisciplinary performance work, which aims to explore the relationship between China and the UK through the lens of the textile industry. Global textile production – from 19th century Manchester to contemporary Shanghai – might seem remote from bunkers, and the thinking they engender. But the paper will conclude by showing how and why they are linked.

11.10 – 12.50pm, Session 2 – the bunker as exceptional space

From survival cell to ‘empty space’: bunker rites vs acts of resistance in Cold War Switzerland – Silvia Berger (University of Zurich, Switzerland)

Imagine a nation peppered with high-security cells in every home. Five decades ago, this vision materialized in Switzerland. Since the early 1960’s, the country has built 2300 collective and 360’000 private nuclear shelters, the majority of them in the basements of single-family homes. By 2006 the authorities announced that Switzerland has enough shelter space for 114% of its population. No other country in the world has ever established such a comprehensive and carefully calibrated system of subterranean bunkers. Inspired by studies on space, body and ritual, my paper zooms in on the operational lives of this megalomaniac underground world. I will trace the fervent government action programs launched in the 1960s and 70s for the control and regulation of the shelter society and the shelter subject. Displayed in behavioural scripts and inscribed in spatial forms and technical objects of the bunker, specific rituals and bodily routines were supposed to be practiced in order to guarantee an orderly passage to the post-apocalypse, without any violation of norms, social roles and affective regimes. The citizens’ compliance to the official bunker rites was rather poor though. This disobedience and the authorities’ operational shortcomings facilitated individual, antagonistic forms of appropriating and imagining the bunker (“autonomous republic”, “zero-star hotel” etc.). Given the myriads of tactics and ideas used to transform the language and materiality of space, I will argue that Swiss bunkers gradually transmogrified into “Empty Spaces” (Kostera/Kociatkiewicz)—i.e. places that defy all attempts at stable classification, and are devoid of clear ownership and meaning.

The bunker and the camp: Inside West Germany’s nuclear retreat – Ian Klinke (University of Oxford)

Recent research has located the camp as the paradigmatic space that emerges when geopolitics and biopolitics intersect. In doing so, it has neglected another space that is indispensible for an understanding of the nexus of these two modalities of power – the nuclear bunker. This paper explores the West German government’s nuclear bunker in Marienthal, a subterranean lebensraum (living space) constructed on the site of an underground WWII concentration camp. Designed as a shelter for up to 3,000 politicians, bureaucrats and military staff, this cryptic concrete space was home to a number of NATO-exercises, which included the simulation of pre-emptive strikes on the Warsaw Pact as well as on West German cities that had been taken by the Red Army only hours before. The paper relates the nuclear bunker to its predecessor – the camp – and uncovers a number of spatial inversions and overlaps between the two. Whilst the nuclear bunker seemingly turns the camp inside out by protecting its inhabitants from the nuclear holocaust outside, it was similarly governed by legal exceptionality, pure logistics, hygiene, semi-invisibility and a genocidal rationality. Yet, it was also an ambiguous space where a fundamental blurring between inside and outside materialised. This porosity and insecurity revealed the nuclear bunker’s deadly character for it was here that sovereign power and total war sought to find eternal peace.

Secrecy, obscurity, security, obsession: The ‘Guardian’ telecommunications bunker deep under Manchester city centre and Cold War urbanism – Martin Dodge (University of Manchester) & Richard Brook (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Our paper focuses on a massive bunker space built in Manchester’s urban heart and seeks to (re)interpret its meanings through different periods of time and perspectives: official secrecy, technical obscurity of service space, securitised critical infrastructure, and conspiratorial obsessions. The bunker, known by its code-name ‘Guardian’, was conceived architecturally as a site of atomic-bomb resistant telecommunication equipment and given the large scale expenditure to construct it 30 metres beneath city streets it clearly had strategic importance to the British Government in terms of advancing its Cold War doctrine in the 1950s. The paper draws as an evidential base on our primary archival research, historical news reporting and first hand accounts of GPO / BT staff. It is theoretically grounded in the spatiality of technological development, focused at the architectural scale on the make-up of the facilities, their geographical configuration across the region/nation, and their how they were planned as work places for particular kinds of ‘cold warriors’ over several decades. Through this place-specific interpretation of Manchester and its infrastructural imperative around communications we also want say something more broadly about the underlying processes of Cold War urbanism as it played out in Britain in the 1950s and 60s and the legacy of these spaces in subsequent decades.

War, peace, and affect in Cuban cave science and exploration – María Alejandra Pérez (West Virginia University, USA)

During the Cold War, Cuba hardly had any need for building defensive concrete structures. Instead, the Revolutionary Armed Forces spearheaded the selection and modification of some of the country’s thousands of caves for the purposes of military defense. Indeed, the link between Cuba’s karst landscape and its political history predates the consolidation of socialist Cuba: the indigenous Taino culture used caverns as sites of ritual and hideouts during the Spanish conquest. African slaves relied on and modified caves by extending passages to escape their owners. During the independence war against Spain, and then again during the Revolution against the Batista regime, caves were critical rebel hideouts and weapon storage sites. This last chapter earned Cuban speleology Fidel Castro’s recognition and support. It was in 1960, during the 20th anniversary of the Speleological Society of Cuba, that Castro famously declared, “The future of our homeland is necessarily a future of men of science.” This paper examines the intricate relationship between the development of cave science, or speleology, and the militarization of the country’s karst landscape, from the perspectives of Cuban speleologists both living in Cuba and abroad. Their stories reveal contrasting views on the impact of the Cold War on the internationalization of Cuban cave science. All share, however, how much fieldwork and underground exploration promoted camaraderie and unity of purpose. Thus, Cuba’s “geographies of speleology” (Cant 2006) are as much about militarization and science as they are about the affective bonds that fieldwork and underground exploration facilitates and engenders.

2.40-4.20pm, Session 3 – the bunker as post traumatic landscape

The Royal Observer Corps – a study in transitory archaeology and the disenfranchised – Bob Clarke (University of Exeter)

The taskscape has become a necessary interpretive component when considering human endeavour. No more so than when investigating the archaeology of Cold War Britain. By its very nature, the Cold War maintained a level of subterfuge; often transitory activities of a secret or clandestine nature segregated the general populous from the activities acted out by those initiated into its order. In the Western World, this forced increasing tensions between state and public, manifesting itself in civil disobedience or apathy and disenfranchisement. Now just over two decades later we have an opportunity to investigate the secret landscape of the Cold War. Recent work has demonstrated that a perceived landscape of security fences, miss-representative signage and ordnance survey designations intended to mislead the user does represent an array of related activities. Moreover, those who participated in the development of this taskscape, moving through their own, and the organisations life-cycle are still available for comment. Engaging with those who were members of secret organisations allows for a hitherto un-narrated account of a taskscape now made visible. Utilising the national landscape of the Royal Observer Corps it is possible to map certain behaviours – especially the landscape of the disenfranchised. This paper describes the landscape of the ROC, its bunkers and the transition it has experienced as it transits from a secret landscape to a public one. It investigates the premise that secret landscapes, whilst transitory, do maintain longevity through the memory of those who now act out remembrance by telling their story.

Emerging from the bunker: embodiment, practice and Cold War legacies – Steven Leech (University of Manchester)

Russian artist Yevgeniy Fiks highlights a tension between the “living breathing remnants” of the Cold War and contemporary social memory. In his work, the ageing body of the former ‘Cold Warrior’ is juxtaposed to a sense of ambivalence (surrounding a “war that was not a war”). Through the lens of portraiture, the artist’s subjects, members of the marginal American Cold War Veterans Association (2009), emerge as a forgotten collective. His work is presents a set of questions; how do we make sense of the presence of these veterans and how does thinking through their corporeality help us articulate the character of Cold War ambiguities? Similarly, this paper will raise questions about the military body and its impact upon the management and representation of Cold War legacies in the landscapes and subterranean spaces of the UK. Drawing upon oral history interviews and ethnographic research with former radar engineers and operators, it will highlight the ways in which they negotiate forms of identity, authenticity and disconnection through a range of cultural practices. For example, it will discuss their participation as guides and volunteers at military and bunker museums, visiting former sites of operation and grass-roots heritage work. Specifically, It will argue that these experiences are, partially, an attempt to relocate themselves in relation to the conflict and as a means of making sense of the transition of former places of work, from sites of national security to facets of the historic environment – as heritage sites – or as places of abandonment and ruination.

Engaging bunkers: how a popular historical geography of the Cold War is practiced – Gunnar Maus (University of Kiel, Germany)

Many Cold War bunkers are hidden in plain sight. They acquire meaning as traces of world and local history only when engaged as such. A popular historical geography of Cold War militarized landscapes is in the making in Germany. I will visit a variety of concrete bunkers, atomic shelters and depots through accompanying geocachers, local historians, ‘bunkerologists’ (Bennett 2010), museum specialists and state conservators. I argue that by asking how these groups bestow meaning upon these relics, one can observe a cultural memory in-the-making. Their occupations can be described as practices of memory that transcend group delimitations. Conceptually, this follows on from work on the geography of memory, which has generally characterized memory as a means to socially construct place-based narratives of collective and individual identity. In this view, informed by practice theory, a set of more or less universal (in a Western context) set of practices of memory is confronted with material arrangements of a time past. The end of the Cold War, understood as a contextual break for the way bunkers are enacted, affords new ways of dealing with them. Re-contextualizing them as traces of the Cold War is one of those ways.

Cold War heritage (and) tourism: exploring discourses of neglect and engagement – Inge Hermann (Saxion University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands)

This paper explores the idea of ‘Cold War heritage (and) tourism’, that is, the process of construction and negotiation meanings that develop through tourism, whilst simultaneously being a moment that also resides within tourism (often termed heritage tourism) at Cold War sites in Britain. The entanglement of heritage (and) tourism has led to two sets of dominant practices; the first is concerned with the preservation and conservation management of sites, places and objects for future uses and generations to enjoy, whilst the second regards heritage as something that can be used here and now as a tool for community development, social unity, or as an economic resource which, according to some, is part of and stirred by processes of commodification and touristification. Through examining the representational practices at five Cold War sites in Britain which are opened as tourist attractions this paper, based on a previous doctoral research, aims to identify the order of discourses that surround Cold War heritage, including who engages in the dialogue of what should remain of the Cold War for tourism uses and human engagement.

4.50-6.30pm, Session 4 – ruination and afteruse

Peripheral artefacts: drawing [out] the Cold War – Stephen Felmingham (Plymouth College of Art)

The systems of fortified bunkers built during the twentieth century have become, especially since the end of the Cold War, objects of troubled fascination for artists and their relationships to the landscape, to geo-politics and to the speed of modern warfare have been well delineated. This paper will describe other, largely unconsidered, aspects of these sites and the drawings made during my practice-based doctoral research: ‘Drawing, Place and the Contemporary Sublime’, which uses as its basis the network of Royal Observer Corps observation bunkers built across the UK in response to the nuclear threat. The paper will describe the agency of the drawn line, as an active, dynamic and responsive element and a ‘primary means of symbolic communication’ (Downs, 2007, xi). This status, the paper will argue, offers the possibility that the fleeting and uncanny visions carried in our peripheral vision, largely repressed by the perceptual system, can be uncovered through the agency of drawing and that these can begin to describe the residues of traumatic memory remaining in the concrete crucible of the bunker. The paper will outline the fieldwork carried out in the bunkers, the innovative drawing techniques utilised and its implications for theories of place, the sublime and perception. It will conclude that the communication that drawing can make, through the tracing of gesture and its echoes that lie far back in the psyche, has the potential to uncover cultural anxieties that remain in the collective unconscious from this most dangerous time in man’s history.

Processional engagement: Sebaldian pilgrimages to the Ness – Louise K. Wilson (Sound Artist)

The shingle spit of Orford Ness in Suffolk – known locally as ‘the island’ – is owned and run by the National Trust – charged with the difficult task of managing tourism while stewarding the fragile habitat on this nature reserve. This role primarily involves the fraught guardianship of a significant territory for 20th century history – espousing a policy of continued ruination for the structures that represent a 70 odd year history of military testing. The Trust’s webpage on the Ness additionally cites one aspect of their work as “enriching with art”: it is approached by and actively approaches artists to be resident and to respond to this unique landscape. This presentation will critically reflect on the place of novelty in these numerous and successive responses. This presentation will examine the different and repetitive methodologies (and cultural references) employed by artists gathering and processing visual/ auditory material there. Of particular interest when considering questions of (artistic) access and (architectural) legibility, are influential texts by Paul Virilio and the late W G Sebald whose works are recurrently cited by artists, archaeologists and writers. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn (1995) it is argued offers a seemingly mandatory lens through which to ‘see’ the Ness now. This notion will be contextualized in a wider framework, addressing the tension between difference and repetition that arises in artists’ engagements with fraught and ‘difficult’ historical sites.

Preserving and managing York Cold War bunker: authenticity, curation and the visitor experience – Rachael Bowers (English Heritage) & Kevin Booth (English Heritage)

An exploration of the curation and management of York Cold War Bunker, this paper details the transformation of an abandoned Cold War structure into a heritage attraction and its ongoing management. The relative perfection of the building in comparison with other Cold War monuments is shown to have informed the presentation of artefacts and the museum’s collections policy, creating an authentic representation of the experiences of the Royal Observer Corps personnel who served here between 1961 and 1991. The difficulties encountered in presenting the building are discussed, illuminating why English Heritage chose to protect and manage the bunker in its present form. Initial suggestions for how best to use, interpret and manage the building are also examined. The physical restrictions of the bunker with regards to space and safety (of both collections and visitors) have also dictated the form of interpretation offered, leading to the development of high quality but labour intensive personalised interpretation. York Cold War Bunker’s success as a heritage attraction is then measured in relation to the achievement of its original aims, the authenticity of experience and the effectiveness of the interpretation offered. Central to the examination of its success are the reactions and responses of visitors to York Cold War Bunker, and the continuing development of the site as a heritage attraction. This analysis leads to a discussion of ways in which York Cold War Bunker can continue to develop.

The conversion of resilience: on turning bunkers to new uses – Arno Geesink (Kraft Architectuur, The Netherlands)

Many bunkers still linger around in the landscape not because they were conserved, but because they are built to withstand extreme external forces. This resilience – the core of their being – is the primary reason why people try to put them to new use, as destruction is not an affordable option. All these constructions were built for an extremely specific military purpose and in a different time or setting, new users are faced with the problem of the specific functional layout combined with the extreme inflexibility of the material. Most of the times these structure don’t have any connection with the existing urban fabric; they adhere to a completely different reality of war maps, lines, sectors and schemes. After this reality is gone, the bunker is left as an erratic in the landscape, disposed of its reason to exist. The raw essence of its origination is still readily available. When one walks through it one can feel the confinement, the claustrophobic spaces, its small openings and its immense walls.  The readability of the rigid functionality of its design and the frequent beauty of their strategic locations make bunkers grateful objects for conversion. As Arnhem has been a strategic garrison town for ages, its landscape is riddled with remains from medieval times till the end of the Cold War, combined with its beautiful natural surroundings, which makes it fertile ground for bunker conversion projects. As an architect I use the intriguing robust remains of conflict heritage and its stories and connotations as the basis for new architectural proposals. By giving these objects a new purpose, giving them a new life, conservation becomes part of their exploitation, instead of just a matter of conservation expenses.

 

 

 

Photo credit: York Regional Seat of Government Bunker, http://davstott.me.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/bunker.jpg

 

 

With a cast of thousands – George Haydock’s film in homage to wasteland at Pomona Island

I’ve never been backed by a string quartet before – and George Haydock’s meditative short film below is probably the only time in my life that it’s going to happen.

It’s always disconcerting watching yourself. And there’s a moment in this where I suddenly realised where my sentence was going to take me and couldn’t resist a smile (it’s the point about Salford docks exporting itself until only emptiness was left). Hopefully it doesn’t look smug (it’s borderline I think). I developed a new-found respect for TV presenters that day – that art of keeping on talking, and thinking – with just the right buffer between the two.

So, there I was – an overgrown pixie – sitting on a rock for an hour and half trying to constantly think of something more to say about this overgrown and unregenerated wasteland portion of Salford docks.  I’d also been speaking earlier that day at a National Water Safety Forum symposium at The Lowry (in the now rather scuffed looking – regenerated – portion of the docks) on drownings in inland waterways, so my head was already in a strange place (and my body in a suit). Earlier that day I’d travelled up and down the quays in a boat, my RoSPA colleague pointing out all of the locations at which adventurous water users had come unstuck, some fatally.

Every few minutes we had to stop filming, as a tram trundled past. Occasionally it was a jogger or dog walker who provoked the pause. Having to sit on a rock and talk about a place that you’ve never visited before is actually quite difficult. There’s almost something fakir-like about it; a trial of endurance.

An endurance taking me towards revelation?

Maybe

So, I eventually realised that the big point (my attempt at a ‘big’ point at least) about Pomona was that there is no big point. It is a pause place, a gap in the intense meaning otherwise foisted on the landscape in the city making, regeneration, repurposing. Pomona just ‘is’.

That’s it.

And with that revelation a nirvana-lite passed over me. Phew, I’d finally worked out something that they might be able to use in the film…

 

 

There’s an interview with George about his take on Pomona at http://www.theskyliner.org/pomona-island-on-film/ which includes the following account of his intentions and inspiration for his film:

“My main intention was to capture the essence of this unusual space, to glorify it, live with it and let it dwell for while. I wanted to celebrate the areas state of limbo – and see it with open eyes. A lot of people who look at the space see and feel nothing, they might see this film and think it’s trivial, but in a way that tension is what interested me. The film is ultimately an attempt to challenge and cause friction against most people’s perspective. For me, film should speak at an intuitive level – and this is what I aimed to do with Pomona Island.”

Ironically the photograph at the start of this post comes from a locations agency website (http://www.filmandtvlocations.co.uk/locations/pomona) – it seems Pomona’s wasteland status is productive in and of itself, with that site praising the venue as offering “a unique opportunity to film on an open quayside location in front of the back drop of Manchester City Centres impressive skyline.”

So, Pomona shows us that flux that is the succession of urban uses that any ground can testify to. But Pomona shows that procession in a freeze-frame. The recirculation is slower. The docks have lain empty for 40 years, and when they arrived in the early Twentieth century they displaced a range of earlier leisure uses formerly of this boundary between Salford and Manchester, including Pomona gardens and zoo.

Very fitting then, that ending to the film, that ‘cast of thousands’ – but I won’t spoil the surprise.

Great stuff!

 

Gazing upon monstrous hulks: landships, stone frigates and buildings that wander

 

“Everything degenerates in the hands of man…He mixes and confuses the climates, the elements, the seasons… He turns everything upside down; he disfigures everything; he loves deformity, monsters”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) Emile or On Education

And thus Rousseau launched what would become the Romantic movement, a rallying cry issued at the brink of the first wave of the Eighteenth century’s revolutions. So much was about to change – new orders of politics, manufacture and ideas. But Rousseau saw in the Enlightenment not a will to order and sense making, but a multiplication of forms, an acceleration of man’s warping of otherwise static, given ways of things. The emergent brave new world was increasingly jumbling things up.

Imagining mills as landships

Not all saw this shock-of-the-new as a bad thing though, and some sought to apply the rules of the sublime (until then a characteristic of the awe-inspiring otherness of the natural world at its extremes) to man-made sights. There was a frisson to be savoured in that uncomfortable –  uncategoriseable – sense of gazing at something new and unfamiliar.  Thus, in June 1790, gazing for the first time upon Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mills, the world’s first factory scale cotton factory, a traveller – Viscount Torrington – wrote in his travelogue – groping for a metaphor by which to circumscribe this exceptional place:

“seven stories high and fill’d with inhabitants, remind me of a first rate man of war; and when they are lighted up on a dark night look luminously beautiful”.

For this was a place that – by the standards of the day – was infeasibly large, purposeful and which resisted the century old environmental command that the waning of daylight is the signal of the end of the working day. Torrington gives us a glimpse here of an embryonic industrial sublime, something echoed in Joseph Wright of Derby’s contemporaneous painting shown above, Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night (c.1783) – the frisson of the new, a pride in progress of the new ‘manufactories’ and their entrepreneurs. Around this time the block form of Arkwright’s buildings, now modest in scale to our eyes given what we know of what came next, reverberated across Georgian popular culture – the factory, positioned as picturesque object, amidst greenery as decoration to drawing room wall or hand painted dinner plates, alongside representations of the ascendant British Navy and its infeasibly large and purpose-filled vessels.

In this piece I want to take for a walk (or a sail) the rebellious image of building-as-ship. This is a deviant proposition, for if there is one thing taken for granted with buildings it is that they do not move, they are fixed (in law ‘real estate’ denotes a type of property that is characterised by its very immobility). In short, a ship and a building are meant to be unrelated concepts. A building is not a ship, and a ship is not a building. Normally.

Stone frigates and military bureaucracy

15 years after Viscount Torrington gazed at Cromford Mills, and saw a stone building as a galleon, the British Navy commissioned a rocky isle in the West Indies as a frigate, adapting its caves as cannon emplacements from which to harry the Franco-Spanish navy as part of what would become known as the Trafalgar campaign.  By virtue of the vagaries (and bureaucracies) of the laws of war the British felt the need to regularise their possession of the island and did so by classifying it as an enemy sloop, and as a ‘prize’ of war thereafter commissioning the island as a frigate in service of the Crown: HMS Diamond Rock. In doing so a new naval category was formed – that of the ‘stone frigate’, a landship having the status of a seagoing naval vessel for the purposes of military law. Subsequently naval on-shore establishments became known as stone frigates, and were regarded as landward extensions of seafaring ships to whom they affiliated. They needed to be affiliated to sea vessels in this way, because the Admiralty was concerned that these landward places might otherwise be undisciplined – for the Naval Discipline Act of 1866 only applied to personnel enrolled upon the books of a warship.

To my mind the most inland and unseaworthy stone frigate is the colossal concrete bunker known – until 1998 – as HMS St Vincent, the Admiralty citadel in Whitehall. Overlooking Horse Guards Parade, this naval bunker was built in 1940, replete with a 20 feet thick concrete roof. In recent years Russian vine has been encouraged to grown upon its Brutalist flanks. Shorn of this greenery, the citadel looks like the approximation of an oil tanker, but also has primal – ark-like – connotations. It looks very immovable though.

Buildings that become ships

One of my kids’ favourite picture books was The School that Went to Sea. In that story a flood upends a classic village schoolhouse and the teacher and a few pupils must convert the standard fare of a school building into a sailing ship. Fortunately for them they manage this task and by the book’s end find themselves and their ship’ sailing into a sunny New York harbour, to be met with cheery smiles from an assembled welcome party.

One of my formative childhood moments was – in contrast – watching the Monty Python short 15 minutes film The Crimson Permanent Assurance, that ran as the opener to their (not great) Meaning of Life (1983). In Crimson an elderly crew of insurance clerks find their company taken over by “The Very Big Corporation of America” and its slick young executives. Throughout the ensuing mutiny the clerks convert their Edwardian office building into a gallon (with builder’s hording providing convenient sails) and having gruesomely killed their officers (the Americans) with improvised cutlasses, pull up anchor, detach from the city street and sail off to do rebellious battle with other offices, in other financial centres around the world.

 

Watching the film as a young boy it was the oddity of buildings becoming ships that had left its lasting impression – but watching it again now it’s the viscerality of the inter-generational / 1980s City of London ‘Big Bang’  and corporate takeover tensions that strike me most. But, it still remains – thanks to Terry Gilliam’s animation – a magical vision of a building becoming a ship and leaves you looking at the city-scape through new eyes. What if these buildings started moving?

And sometimes they do. There’s an uncanny echo of Crimson in this 1961 newsreel, which shows how an Elizabethan house was jacked up onto wheels and tugged to a new location in Exeter, out of the path of an impending motorway. Watch out in particular for the moment at which the building is seen to start moving from its resting position – in a way that challenges the viewer’s in-built assumptions about the static essentiality of buildings – and then the view of this house on wheels as it slowly crawls up the hill with Gilliam-like monstrousness.

 

Ships that become buildings

It is – of course – more common for ships to become buildings. In addition to ships at sea and stone frigates the Royal Navy in the Nineteenth century increasingly utilised old warships as dock accommodation – barracks, stores, hospitals and prisons. Via incremental adjustment these once-were-ships steadily changed into approximations of the functional buildings which they aspired to be. For example, in Cardiff, HMS Hamandryad an elderly 46 gun man-o-war was retired by the Admiralty to become in the 1860s a dockside hospital for sailors, eventually being replaced by a brick-built hospital of the same name in 1905 (when the sanitary status of mixing the proposition ‘hospital’ and ‘old ship’ no longer appeared to fit together). In turn that building was removed (in the de-institutionalisation drives of the 1980s) and the ship’s name now adheres to a nondescript steel and cement Community Mental Health Centre.

 

Sources:

Hamadryad Hospital Ship: http://education.gtj.org.uk/en/item1/30309

Former HMS St. Vincent: The Admiralty Citadel: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Admiralty_Citadel2008.jpg

Auguste Mayer (1815) The Capture of Diamond Rock: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Capture_of_Diamond_Rock.jpg

‘Sails’ of the Crimson Permanent Assurance: http://node801.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/crimson-permanent-assurance-1983-by.html

Joseph Wright of Derby (c.1783)  Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night: http://www.wikiart.org/en/joseph-wright/arkwright-s-cotton-mills-by-night

Waddell, M. & Hartas, L. (1993) The School that Went to Sea: http://www.theaoi.com/portfolios/images/portfolio/thumb/847-374.jpg

Moving the house that moved: http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/images/47920000/jpg/_47920573_exeter_house_1961.jpg