Friday, January 20, 2006

We Build – We Fight

Defense Tech has a brief piece up today about the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, who "can do just about any civil engineering or construction job you can imagine. Here [in Iraq], they put up buildings, repair old decaying Iraqi wiring and plumbing, and patch up the battered runway where Air Force C-130s, Marine Corps helos and Army Sherpa airlifters deliver a constant stream of men and material."
However, "their most rewarding missions are always the ones that get them into the local community, building schools and repairing infrastructure... That's what 133, which is based in Mississippi, was doing stateside in the wake of Hurricane Katrina" – interestingly equating Katrina with an urban warzone.
In any case, the Seabees are a Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB), part of the U.S. Naval Construction Force - which also includes Underwater Construction Teams, perking up the imaginative ears of my inner James Bond villain.

Meanwhile, the Naval Construction Force's slogan is nothing less than Construimus, Batuimus – or "we build – we fight," militarizing the architectural design process in a way that would be more interesting if it were a metaphor. (It isn't).
So what to make of such military construction units?
If cities have been militarized from the very beginning – defensive fortifications against other humans, animals, or even bad weather – then we should not find any of this surprising. But if the urbanism of the future continues toward that of refugee camps, temporary disaster-relief villages, border towns, squatter cities, etc. – then is the militarized instant city of the future (Quonset meets Anteon meets Archigram) an overlooked design resource for the architectural profession?
Would architectural design classes benefit from studying such military-urban formations?
Conversely, would the Seabees benefit from studying Peter Zumthor?


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