Bunkerized architecture | Íñigo García Odiaga

Claude Parent w. Paul Virilio, 1964, + model and interior of Sainte-Bernadette, from AA Publications’ First Works
Claude Parent – Paul Virilio, 1964 

Paul Virilio was born in 1932 and grew up in Nantes, where at the age of eight he witnessed the arrival of the Germans, and at eleven the destruction of the city under a shower of bombs from the allies. At the end of the war he discovered the sea at the same time as peace, since the coast due to the presence of the Atlantic wall was a zone of military control, and access to it in the occupied countries was prohibited.

The German defensive line consists essentially of about 12,000 concrete constructions, of 600 different models, each of them with a specific military function, adapted to the local topography and strategic position. Fritz Todt was initially responsible for the construction of the Atlantic Wall, although he was replaced by Albert Speer in 1942. The construction of this military line brought together a very large number of resources. From materials, technicians and humans to economic and logistical, and although its military functionality was not very outstanding, as was demonstrated during the Allied landing, its construction served Nazi headquarters propaganda to lift the spirits of a disillusioned German population , emphasizing the impermeability of the borders of the Reich.

On the beaches Virilio was fascinated by the bunkers left by the combatants, enigmas of a war architecture that was beginning to be recycled by the civilian population for other purposes. With a Leica camera he made an extensive photographic inventory, starting what thirty years later would become an archaeological essay on the architecture of war, Bunker Archéologie, 1975.

Búnker del muro atlántico | Fotografía: Paul Virilio, Bunker Archéologie, 1975.
Atlantic wall bunker | Photography: Paul Virilio, Bunker Archéologie, 1975.

Without a doubt, Paul Virilio has been the person who has researched the most in the aesthetic values of these constructions, whose military nature is imprinted in the engineering, economic and rational genetics that created them, launching a strong link with what architecture rationalist and brutalist of the postwar period will defend. Having overcome the military and military reading of the Atlantic wall, it is still necessary to propose another possible reading of the same artifact, such as its aesthetic and territorial condition, element built in the unpopulated landscape of the coast, and which watches the horizon from a position that Virilio resembled to that of the moáis of Easter Island.

A link also inseparable from the work of Virilio himself, whose subsequent architectural and philosophical trajectory is totally influenced by the constructions of the Atlantic wall. This affirmation is demonstrated when contemplating the work that his office, formed together with Claude Parent and in which Jean Nouvel worked for several years, was carried out during the decade of the 60s, among which the Sainte Bernadette church built with great intensity stands out in Nevers. Its immense and massive volume of reinforced concrete appears with the rotundity that Virilio had granted to the bunkers or to the mastabas, that is to say with the characteristic presence of the monuments. The expressive capacity of this stone mass, which has no doors or windows, which have been replaced by cracks or holes through which light enters or access is allowed, is exploited to the maximum when treating with special care the finishes that compose it, giving a recital of precision as to what supposes the mastery of the constructive technique with reinforced concrete.

Église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay, Nevers. Paul Virilio, Claude Parent. 1966
Église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay, Nevers. Paul Virilio, Claude Parent. 1966

Íñigo García Odiaga. Architect
San Sebastián. February 2017

Íñigo García Odiaga

Doctor Arquitecto y profesor asociado de Proyectos Arquitectónicos, ETSASS. Editor de NOMU. 1/5 del estudio de arquitectura VAUMM. Vivo en Donosti.

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