Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bunker Sprawl

“Until two years ago” we read in the Guardian, “the existence of this complex,” a 34-acre underground bunker in Wiltshire, “variously codenamed Burlington, Stockwell, Turnstile or 3-Site, was classified.” This secret complex, as we mentioned a few months ago, is one place the British government planned to take refuge in the event of all-out thermonuclear war. “Solid yet cavernous, surrounded by 100ft-deep reinforced concrete walls within a subterranean 240-acre limestone quarry just outside Corsham.”

[Image: Photographer Jason Orton in this piece for OpenDemocracy took these shots of the infamous British nuclear bunker: the "Turnstile".]

Another place the British government could have withdrawn to was Station Z, "an alternative centre of government" we are told by Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG, “located in the western counties, consisting of bombproof underground citadels." Today, Geoff says, Station Z is owned by Kodak, even tough they have no intended use for the site.

[Image: Station Z, photographed by Nick Catford of Subterranea Britannica].

Then, the BBC reminds us of “driving through Switzerland, south to Italy,” where “you are likely to take the route via the charming town of Lucerne” through the Sonnenberg tunnel wherein resides the world's largest nuclear shelter. Like many of the world’s nuclear bunkers, “there are vast sleeping quarters, with bunk beds four layers deep. There is an operating theatre, a command post,” and even a prison. In addition, there are “coloured lights, indicating whether it is night or day outside.”

[Image: The Sonnenberg Bunker.]

Ahh….subcities of retreat. While these places are no doubt fascinating in themselves, I wonder, what are the implications of all this accumulated underground fortress space and what will become of it in 1000 years? Better yet, what should become of it, now or then?
What if the British government and Kodak returned to their stashed bunker networks only to find them one day completely overrun by unknown populations of people other than terrorists? Blind homeless communities, urban squatters who have converted the vaults of secret passages and hidden corridors, underground libraries and disused storage compounds into viable factory-spaces of their own? Government hideouts become buried hostels run by cross-border migration lords who’ve taken in the discarded waifs of globalization, co-opting hidden corners of the earth where the sun never shines, and political paranoia still embalms the atmosphere. What if these wasted swaths of restricted real estate were turned into thriving refuges with adaptive economic engines, their own government chambers – the infrastructure of the west’s “fall-out urbanism” turned into an undetected industrial-salvage economy?
And then, what if the British government had no choice but to leave them there because they had no other option, no valid plan for their removal? So, instead of expanding Britain’s carceral landscape, these concrete monoliths and steel leviathans are quietly chunked away to form the micronational niches of illicit subtopian redevelopment: places for scrap futures, subterranean agricultures, bottom-feeder ecologies, urban knot theory academies, and discrete industries that improvise a sovereignty of their own out of these neglected caverns and sunken fortresses, bound by wild and elaborate hand-dug tunnel systems that unite laborers from all across the world.

[Image: Black and white topology of intake valves, photographed by Dsankt].

Really, though, I wonder, how much (and I mean in terms of square miles) real estate around the world is devoted to such secret underground military landscapes: what is the total estimated square footage of governmental retreats, what is the real estate value of the ‘black world’s’ property portfolios?
How might this geography of bunker sprawl be recontextualized, or what purpose might it serve in the future spatial reorganization of human settlements, megacities, shrinking cities, refugee encampments, illicit economies, subversive migration, strategic detention archipelagos?
What if someone peeled the roof off the planet and in a single glimpse found billions of resourceful nomads mining their own incredibly sophisticated trade routes that stretch from South Africa to Ireland, Beijing to Moscow, Gaza to New York?
Imagine armies of exploited laborers amending international boundaries with crawl spaces and their own brands of acoustic navigation; decrepit sewage canals repurposed for low-key strip malls; albino cooks running bizarre food stalls from the trenches; dusty control rooms revised by refugee leaders into a hearth of tribal council; imagine multitudes of labor solidarities inhabiting the time-warped blast rooms now where they have been forced ever deeper into clandestinization.
What if there existed one day entire hollowed cities forgotten below the earth’s militarized crust? Bunker burbs, bunker sprawl, subtopian suburbanism. I don't know what you'd call it, but could one day the majority of the earth's population end up living entirely underground, pushed there by war, held there by climate change and economic persecution, adopting existing infrastructure, mining their own colonies - garrisoning the subterranean squatter spaces of the future?

(thanks Paul M for the heads up!)

[See these earlier posts on bunkers: Touring the Greenbrier; Secret Cities of the A-Bomb; Area 71; Washington's New 'Survival City'; A Silo Full of Cash; Secret Soviet Submarine Base; Fortress Baghdad; The 'Long War' enters its capsule; Subterranean Urbanism; Tokyo Secret City; Bunker Archaeology; Smugglers' Paradise Uprooted; [Re] improvising sub_Base landscapes; Secret Synagogue; Mt. Seemore and the watchful gaze; from Leftover-Bunkers to Tourist-Traps...; A "Closed Atomic City": Open for Business]


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