5: Barbed wire

Above ground, the object of military strategists was to make the landscape as hostile to the advance of the enemy as possible. Barbed wire became one of their main methods. In the late 1950s, metal barriers became one of the main methods of stopping the progress of pedestrians across a dangerous landscape – busy roadways – and forcing them into underground trench and tunnel systems.

West KentsMarble Arch Barrier
West Kents await German advance; Marble Arch traffic barrier

Architect’s intention: To stop pedestrians walking onto the roadway, and cars from mounting the pavement.

Effect in practice: To turn a large urban area into a sterile transit zone, rather than a place to be and to enjoy.

Visual effect: At this busy intersection, the barriers accumulate, row upon row, so that the visual landscape becomes one of layers of impassable metal, through which dangerous vehicles – cars – pass, just as no-man’s land became a landscape of impassable metal defences, through which dangerous vehicles – tanks – passed.

Phenomenological effect: Passing through this landscape has become impossible, it is hostile and unwelcoming, despite being at the heart of the city. Safety can only be found underground, among the trenches and tunnels.

Discussion: Here, city inhabitants have surrounded themselves with a landscape where they are faced with the same mental dilemmas of the war: should they stay above ground and traverse a dangerous landscape, surmounting the defensive barriers and taking on the machinery of death in the form of speeding vehicles, or should they remain underground and make progress under cover.

In terms of post-traumatic stress disorder, these above-ground layers of metal barriers allow a war-experienced eye to rest on a pattern with which it is familiar though not at ease. The eye recognises what it has seen before and has impressed on memory. The mind comes to accept this memory by bringing to view, through architectural practice, what was once dangerous and an agent of great loss, thereby proving to itself that it was real, that it has survived, and that which was lost within this landscape is gone.