Geometry is a conditio sine qua non in Architecture. Nonetheless, Architecture is the product of converging bodies of knowledge. Hence a space is less pure form than a mixture of cultural, historical, economic and logistic value expressed through Geometry. Therefore Architecture can only be described as a series of circumstantial events, while Geometry, as Husserl understood, is absolute.
In the case of military fortifications particularly, Geometry takes much more urgently over, for its embodiment of efficiency. Bunkers are replicable survivalist machines, akin to some kind of postnatal eggs, geometries that resist and protect life in case of threat.
Paul Virilio, who survived WWII as a child, wrote Bunker Archaeology as the surprising discovery of a recent past carefully deleted from the collective memory. The everted geometry of the fortifications along the north European coast arises from sand as the lasting evidence of the war.
Many texts Virilio wrote are nothing more than a myriad of shotgun phrases, phenomenological contradictions and misinterpretations of physics’ principles, yet, this book emanates a prophetic aura, for its ability in summoning the Truth by means of powerful expressions.
War enhances the pristine role of protector in Architecture, boosting Geometry according to its necessities. Thus, around the rough surface of bunkers, one could reckon the atrocity of past conflicts impressed in the muscular profiles. Within the violence of the war, Geometry translates in space the military organization, because domain can be established only through a dogmatic spatial distribution, enabling the coordination among men. Not least, ballistic bent Architecture to assume aerodynamic poses and forced it to smooth its surfaces.
Thus, geometrical volumes return much more than a simplistic analytical description, carrying in their design socio-cultural information. The star-shape and the sloped-wall designed by Sangallo Brothers reveal the turmoil and instability that mined Italy during the XVIth Century, a land scattered in a countless number of microstates. Grid systems, such as the Roman Centuriation, as the Jefferson grid, as Stalin’s Reforestation plan suggest the predominance of a rather commodifying approach to nature. The round and bulky edges of the bunkers erected by the Reich Organisation Todt (OT) along the north European coast, between 1933-1945, not only recall nightmare of the past, they also unveil through their symmetry, their ergonomics and coordination, the eschatological plan to domesticate nature.
Therefore, Geometry works as a special kind of skill, supernatural and collective, that read and transpose nature in an intelligible manner. As Husserl noted in “Der Ursprung der Geometrie als intentional-historisches Problem”, Geometry evolved intuitively through circumstantial conditions, but it resonates as objective because shared as a common a-tempora acquisition among human interpretative models. Consequently, a bunker not only represents a tool of defence but also an example of psychological warfare, for the mediated message of strength and control that is delivered by its morphology. Not by chance, the extension of the Atlantic Wall was overstated and used as propaganda at the time of its construction.
The idea that Geometry in Architecture can be used as a weapon of behavioural control to stabilize or destabilize societies, has been rediscovered by Virilio through his texts on war, very obscure at first, and appears now more solid. Before him, Pyramids, Spheres, Crosses, Cubes represented, among the architects of Enlightenment, allegorical expressions of the renewed and transfigured organograms of power. The project for the expansion of the National Library, designed by Etienne Louis Boullè, embodied the value of the French revolution, Jeremy Betham’s Panopticon represents in Architecture the structure of a society based on control and coercion. Virilio beholds in the tectonic of the Atlantic bunkers the militarization of societies, attributing to them a biblical role:
“If it (the bunker) thus belongs to the crypt that prefigures the resurrection, the bunker belongs too to the ark that saves, to the vehicle that puts one out of danger by crossing over mortal hazards”.
Since the Napoléon era and the introduction of the modern warfare technics, war is a peculiar status quo, able to penetrate, colonize, infiltrate, all the aspects of the daily life. Military conflicts had escalated to the point human strains risked the annihilation. Since then, war has been pulverized in an ephemeral cloud of fear and paranoia that propagates itself throughout the relentless expansion of the communication technology. If once, warlords were aspiring to rule on the physical earth, contributing to the establishment of the westphalian order, the new quest is about controlling the Truth, to dictate a proper cycle of terror and euphoria. According to Virilio, the speed-rate of communication forces reality to overlap with potentiality, future to encompass present, truthfulness to disappear in a dense fog of fake simulacra. History ceases to exist as a linear thread of events and gets scattered in a multitude of co-existing narratives. In other words, the pre-digital era was based on the controlled omission, on the contrary, the infosphere we are currently living, is based on a controlled proliferation of alternative facts.
In such environment, the art of Absalon, Israeli artist migrated in Paris at the beginning of the ‘80s, gives voice to the urgent claim of the present society for a refuge, a way of escaping the Information society. His six cells, shelters for living a cloistered life in a globalized world, manifest the same austerity, the same impenetrability that drives bunker design. Domesticity, perceived as a disturbing presence, is erased. Public space, as amplifier of falsities, is carefully relegated to marginal and unavoidable interactions.
“We’re not here to capture an image” wrote Delillo in White Noise, “we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies”. Here the concept of Aura expressed by Walter Benjamin is overturned to its inverse. It’s the accumulation of replicas that constitutes the impact of a phenomena, not the original itself.
Facing this new status quo and changing its skin accordingly, a contemporary bunker emerged as an agent of resistance against the pervasive noise of information. While in the industrial society entertainment was a form of resistance towards a repetitive and fixed work, today, in the era of metadata where human beings are constantly hit by huge flows of information, entertainment becomes a trap, being an ascetic life the extreme way of escaping from it.
Absalon’s bunkers consequently devise asceticism as the only way of resisting this trend and celebrate Geometry as the lasting herald of truthfulness, pure anti-ergonomic forms that embody the humanist ritual of geometric acknowledgement; a circle has all equal radius, a rectangle has just 90° degrees angles, a pyramid a squared base…etc.
In the narcissistic rush to self-description, mankind lost the centred position of its cosmology, replaced by the uncountable number of better copies of oneself; in this sense, ascetic cells play the role of therapeutic litanies, that quell the fear of being no more at the centre of the knowledge system and provide a comforting, regular and safe refuge.
Through abstract volumes, Geometry is once again the shared language that materializes socio-cultural claims and new bunkers offer protection to a threatened society, as spaces of asceticism where to save (what remains of) our critical sensibility.