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Fortress Europe

June 2024
1min read

Bunker Archaeology

by Paul Virilio, Princeton Architectural Press, 214 pages, $34.95 soft cover. CODE: PRP-1

At the close of the Second World War the German army left behind a scattered ghost civilization of fifteen thousand concrete works along the Atlantic Wall. A great number had been built to guard against the Allied invasion that had finally come via the Channel in June 1944; for fifty years since they have sat mute and nearly indestructible as the beaches returned to summer playgrounds and the burned cities were rebuilt. The French architecture critic and philosopher Paul Virilio first published this illustrated treatise on the bunkers and their meaning in 1975, to accompany an exhibit at the Pompidou Centre. This reissue exquisitely reproduces Virilio’s moody duotone photographs of the stark concrete towers, firing slits, and observation posts.

“During my youth,” Virilio writes, “. . . I would not discover the ocean, in the Loire estuary, before the summer of 1945. . . . recovering peace and access to the beach were one and the same event.” For many of his generation peacetime brought their first encounter with the ocean as German mines and munitions were slowly cleared away. The German works remained, and Virilio spent more than a decade cataloguing them. Some stand like parking garages on dunes, some like the modernist slabs you might see on a La Jolla hillside or on the drive out Long Island to Montauk. Virilio’s text, although sometimes given to the ethereal, reads just enough into these objects to animate them to their fullest as mournful and alien symbols of a brutal past.

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