17: Blockhouses (1)

As well as bunkers sunk into the ground, fortified blockhouses, usually concrete, were built overground, behind the front lines. They were used for billetting soldiers and storing supplies.

Hitler's Bunker

“Hitler’s Blockhouse” along the Fromelles-Aubers road (between Ypres and Bethune). It is reputed that Adolf Hitler spent some of his front-line service here as a runner with the Bavarian Infantry Regiment.

Pimlico School

Pimlico School, Lupus St. Greater London Council Architectects’ Dept, led by John Bancroft. Winner of Royal Institute of British Architects’ Award in 1972.

Architect’s intention: Pimlico School’s radical design included its own ‘internal street’ running the length of the school (in conformity with ‘route-building’ theorising of the 1950s). The sunken setting allowed it to be seen as positioned deep within the community. The angled, continuous fenestration allowed the classrooms to be bathed in daylight.
Effect in practice: The ‘internal street’, being cut off from the world outside and closed to passers-through and strangers, is exposed as a misnomer, being little more than a corridor. The sunken setting cuts off the school from, rather than binding it to, the community. The glazing lets in not only light but far too much heat, making the classrooms often unbearably hot.
Visual effect: Visually, this is an object at odds with its Cubitt-inspired surroundings. It gives the impression that it is part of another mind-world, an alien object dropped into Pimlico. But, at the same time, it is a powerful object, defiantly itself, defiantly something other.
Discussion: The austere minimalism of the Smithsons’ Hunstanton School (which also fails, at times comically, to get its parts to function as the architects’ so earnestly hoped) somehow led to the brutal otherness of the GLC’s Pimlico School. Neither functions well, but both are expressive, of something. Perhaps, as expressions within an ideology of memory, one paved the way for the other. One set up the schema upon which the other could add its repressed, half-forgotten content of brutal recollection. Can it only be coincidence that young Corporal Hitler’s bunker (of all those thousands of bunkers!), on the edge of the battlefield at Ypres, was also a container of raw, ribbed concrete, with angled sides, recessed into a field of soft mud?