2: Tunnel access

Trench systems were often built underground, either for the laying of mines under enemy lines, or, more often in the Germans’ case, as a defensive measure to survive bombardment.

German trench, Bernefoy Wood, SommeMarble Arch pedestrian system

German trench, Bernefoy, Somme Subterranean plaza, Marble Arch

Architect’s intention: The Marble Arch steps lead down to a sunken plaza with public toilets that serve Hyde Park and Oxford St. The underground siting helps to keep the view clear from Oxford St to the park, while keeping the conveniences out of sight.

Effect in practice: The toilets are difficult to access from either street or park, and impossible for those in wheelchairs or the disabled. Two smaller toilet blocks in the park itself and on the steet would have been more convenient.

Visual effect: The steep stairway recreates a typical entrance to sophisticated German trench systems which were designed to survive heavy shelling, and which proved particularly effective on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Phenomenological effect: Finding one’s way to the top of these steps is an effort in itself, requiring the pedestrian to descend and ascend other stairways several times. It is difficult to be certain if one is heading in the right direction. If attacking troops were fortunate enough to over-run enemy trenches, this is the problem they faced.

Discussion: A set of steps is hardly specific to trench systems, but it helps to build a picture of an architectural landscape whose elements are inspired by the trenches. Also, these steps are in no way necessary: their necessity only follows as a result of the design, which had many other options available. The point is that in selecting such a design, the design process may have been motivated by an unconsious ideology, in turn driven by memory.