Sometimes, war creates a shade of utopia.
Let us explain. When people are forced to live in a bunker for extended periods, they suddenly must account for all their human needs to survive the confinement (as well as the attack outside). Sure, it's not quite Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti or Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City, but it still contains everything a society would need.
For example, at this very moment the Assad regime is surely preparing bunkers for its leaders and senior staff so that they can outlast any potential American strikes. Their facilities will be equipped with food, water, medical care, and possibly even entertainment to sustain them. It's an ironic twist that war forces us to rationally solve the requirements for human living.
This idea is found throughout the history of modern architecture. Just as early modernists like Le Corbusier were tackling the question of ideal functional living in their housing projects, French military leaders were constructing the vast underground barracks of the Maginot Line. And while Archigram was exploring radical notions of space capsules and furniture for dwelling, the U.S. Congress was building itself enormous subterranean facilities with all the amenities it would need to survive nuclear war. These governments were all planning to provide for their every need and contingency; they were building their own peculiar utopia in the midst of potential catastrophe.
The Maginot Line
Not long after Le Corbusier finished his most famous machine-for-living, the Villa Savoye, the French government started to build their machine-for-fighting.
The ironically Brutalist-like Maginot Line was an extensive series of fortifications at the German border designed to stop attackers from breaching the heart of France. But why build such vast bunkers, cannons, and passageways instead of tanks and small arms? World War I left France with a shortage of men, so the military built these emplacements to maximize the defensive potential of what older troops they had. Consequently, these less-mobile defenders had to be housed at the front line at all times. The accommodations looked decidedly less enjoyable than the Villa Savoye.
The Maginot Line extends deep underground. Image: via telesaur.com
Above ground, it manifests as armored Brutalist-esque structures. Image: uriah via forum.paradoxplaza.com
Image: machta via weaponsandwarfare.com
The Greenbrier / Project Greek Island
The Maginot Line was unique, but when the Cold War made every city a potential target, politicians wanted their own bunkers.
Discretely built from 1959 to 1962 under the Greenbrier Hotel, this massive underground complex was designed to protect Congress during a nuclear strike from the USSR. The vaguely Dr. Strangelove-sounding undertaking was called Project Greek Island and was kept a total secret. Two-foot thick concrete walls and vehicle-size blast doors protected facilities that included a hospital, kitchen, sleeping quarters, and a communications center, so leaders could direct the military and broadcast to the civilian populace.
It also featured two auditoriums big enough to hold the House of Representatives and the Senate, and had 30 years of food to sustain its operation! The facilities are surprisingly modest, looking like a cross between a prison and hospital. The thought of hundreds of representatives and senators bunking up together is (context aside) more than a little amusing. The subterranean buildings were decommissioned when they were exposed to the public in 1992.
The public face of the Greenbrier Hotel. Image: Bobak Ha'Eri via wikipedia.org
The massive blast door leading to its secret underground facilities. Image: via sumpsimus.files.wordpress.com
Bunks and auditorium for the sheltered members of government. Images: via coldwarcomms.org
Titan Missile Bunker
The rural American Midwest isn't just full of corn and dusty roads; it also used to hide hundreds of secret underground homes for nuclear weapons and their technicians.
In the event of a nuclear exchange, neither of the Cold War powers could risk having their missile operators caught above ground. Therefore they had them living underground as depicted in these images of Titan Missile bunkers. The Titan missiles, used from 1959 and 2005 and located across America's vast spaces, were integral for the US government's nuclear deterrent. The Soviet Union might destroy a few in a first strike, but their sheer numbers and distribution ensured that a few could still retaliate.
And how did these secret Cold Warriors live? The bunker diagram is positively sci-fi, with strange cylinders and rectangles more reminiscent of a space station than a underground bunker. However, living looks spartan to say the least, with bunks next to a kitchen, mess, bathroom, and a sole TV for entertainment. Since then the missile silos have been turned into museums and homes.
Diagram of the underground silo and living quarters. Image: via airwingmedia.com
How the silos looked when they were still in use. Images: via chromehooves.net
NORAD / Cheyenne Mountain
This might be the Cold War bunker—and it has 2000 ft of granite rock to backup that claim.
Since it started operating in 1966, Cheyenne Mountain has been host to most of the US government's ability to detect and track objects in space, as well as coordinate the space operations of the US and its allies. The facility itself, unlike the previous ones listed, doesn't hug the walls of its cavernous home. Instead, its buildings are freestanding structures arranged in a 4.5 acre grid of 60 foot-tall spaces. Everything about the facility is designed to survive a nuclear blast: the structures are protected by 3/8 inch thick continuously welded low-carbon steel that would stop the electromagnetic pulse of an explosion from disrupting operations. The buildings also sit on 1000 pound springs that allow them to move in a shock wave.
The end result? From the inside, it looks like an almost average office space equipped with extra large monitors (that just happen to be displaying orbital trajectories). The entire complex contains a two-bed war, medical facilities, fitness center, cafeteria, and (of course) a barbershop. It can be wholly self-sufficient for short emergency periods.
Cheyenne Mountain being hollowed out. Image: Tdrss via wikipedia.org
NORAD circa 1982. Image: www2.gwu.edu
NORAD as it is now. Image: Terry Montlick via bobgolds.com
Pionen - White Mountain
These days, it's not soliders or politicians we defend, but data and information infrastructure.
The Pionen - White Mountain is the modern day iteration of NORAD and Cheyenne Mountain. Protected by 100 feet of granite rock, this old nuclear shelter now houses the servers of an Swedish internet provider. Unlike previous bunkers, this one actually takes into account a wide range of human needs, and includes varied lighting and plant life to keep is residents happy. Best of all, the architects took inspiration from Bond lairs and so that you'll feel refreshed as well as suave as you work. As lighthearted the design is, it does beg the question: is data what our society values most? Granted, not all data centers are nuclear-bomb proof, but the impulse to guard them closely is evident. Information infrastructure is just as critical to the function of our society as any other; without it, civilization in its present form would be impossible to coordinate and we'd be just as devastated if it failed. Perhaps Bond villain-meets-Google is the way to go?
To see the full project, click here.
Speaking of Bond, here's a bonus project begging to be in the next Bond film.
The submarine base at Balaklava, in what's now the Ukraine, used to be critical to the Soviet Union's underwater fleet. The top-secret facility employed everyone living in the surrounding town, meaning everything about this place was off the map. The submarine base is a series of underground tunnels where its naval guests could dock unnoticed. It was said to be impervious to nuclear attack. The base remained in operation until it was decommissioned in 1993 though we look forward to seeing Daniel Craig stop by sometime soon.
The base's entrance. Image: Alexxx1979 via wikipedia.org
The base's interior channel for submarines. Image: via baltictravelcompany.com
Image: Jan Smith via smithjan.com