Friday, 23 November 2012

Mineral Defences #1

Over summer, I spent some time photographing a demilitarised area on the island of Tjøme near Tønsberg, Norway. Until it was decommissioned in 1999, Torås Fort was a discrete complex of naval artillery emplacements, lookouts, barrack huts, parade grounds and associated infrastructure built (but not completed) during 1939 in anticipation of an invasion by the Nazis. Between 1940-42 the Nazi's then modified and refortified the site for their own purposes. The complex was maintained during the Cold War principally as a training site but the four 15cm Bofors naval cannons remained in place guarding the mouth of the Oslofjord. 

The rolling granite promontories and deep wooded undulations are perfect for hiding defensive positions, but having been to Tjøme a number of times in previous years, and being unnaturally drawn to evidence of conflict, I quickly clocked the manmade blisters and hideouts hidden in the dramatic topography of the landscape. Despite being decommissioned, Torås remained closed to the public and effectively remained militarised – that is, until a couple of years ago when the complex was deemed superfluous to defence needs and the military abruptly pulled out throwing the gates open to a curious island community.

Torås has a number of distinctive features including the cannon emplacements themselves (only one gun remains), ammunitions storage bunkers dug deep into the granite rock, and numerous rock and poured concrete shelters – but none more distinctive than the hilltop command centre. Arguably the highest point on the island, the command centre is effective a man-made hill built using what must have been hundred of tons of rubble and poured concrete to elevate the position above all others in the region. At the summit is a square flat-roofed observation point with narrow viewing apertures which allows 360 degree visibility.

This construction typifies the almost mystical paradox at the heart of much military engineering of this kind: the desire for omniscience (or in modern military parlance, 'total situational awareness') is totally undermined in the battlefield by being the most visible thing for miles around – effectively, a sitting duck. This brings me to the conclusion that the principle function of the command centre is aesthetic, designed specifically for its visual appearance in order to exercise a form of tacit control over the region – a twentieth century Motte and Bailey castle.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Cinematic Geographies

From early September, I will be working as Research Associate (0.5) on a project called Cinematic Geographies of Battersea: Urban Interface and Site-Specific Knowledge. The project is jointly led by Prof François Penz (Principal Investigator), Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge, and Dr Richard Koeck (Co-Investigator), School of Architecture, University of Liverpool. It also includes partners from English Heritage and the University of Edinburgh. I'm very excited about this and aim to post updates of the project on this blog as it progresses.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Defence Image Glitch

As prelude to a larger blog entry coming sometime in the near future which will look at the relationship between geology and defence architecture, I thought I would quickly post some snaps of Torås Fort, Norway taken in August. Actually, these photographs were originally NEF raw files but were partly scrambled by Adobe Bridge as it tries to make sense of images taken in B&W (but which had, for some reason, preserved the colour data). Does not compute…

After a couple very tense minutes, Bridge managed to unscramble the images but it gave me enough time to get these screen shots for their novelty value.

The irony here is that in attempting to remove the colour and concentrate on the formal aspects of the Second World War architecture and the very specific qualities of the local geology, I was blasted by psychedelic colour. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Military Pastoral Complex

Here is a link to my latest paper, The Military Pastoral Complex: Contemporary Representation of Militarism in the Landscape, at Tate Papers: