As If Too Bored To Think Of Anything Else
JG Ballard at full power in The Guardian, with some extended architecture riffs on bunkers and the like:
The Atlantic wall was only part of a huge system of German fortifications that included the Siegfried line, submarine pens and huge flak towers that threatened the surrounding land like lines of Teutonic knights. Almost all had survived the war and seemed to be waiting for the next one, left behind by a race of warrior scientists obsessed with geometry and death.
Death was what the Atlantic wall and Siegfried line were all about. Whenever I came across these grim fortifications along France’s Channel coast and German border, I realised I was exploring a set of concrete tombs whose dark ghosts haunted the brutalist architecture so popular in Britain in the 1950s. Out of favour now, modernism survives in every high-rise sink estate of the time, in the Barbican development and the Hayward Gallery in London, in new towns such as Cumbernauld and the ziggurat residential blocks at the University of East Anglia.
But modernism of the heroic period, from 1920 to 1939, is dead, and it died first in the blockhouses of Utah beach and the Siegfried line. Yet in its heyday between the wars, modernism was a vast utopian project, and perhaps the last utopian project we will ever see, now that we are well aware that all utopias have their dark side.
This one is definitely worth a read.
And just for reference this is a drawing of one of Piranesi’s imaginary prisons (referenced by JGB):
And this is an essay by Aldous Huxley about such things:
It is said that the first idea of the Prisons came to Piranesi in the delirium of fever. What is certain, however, is that this first idea was not the last; for some of the etchings exist in early states, in which many of the most characteristic and disquieting details of the Prisons we now know are lacking. From this it is to be inferred that the state of mind expressed by these etchings was, in Piranesi, chronic and in some sort normal. Fever may originally have suggested the Prisons; but in the years which elapsed between Piranesi’s first essays and the final publication of the plates, recurrent moods of confusion and acedia and angst must have been responsible for such obscure but, as we now see, indispensable symbols as the ropes, the aimless engines, the makeshift wooden stairs and bridges.