April 12, 2013 9:56 am
Guns are on the minds of Americans. We’re not sure if we should ban them, control them or give them away for free. Politicians are debating what we should do with them. Teachers are worrying how to keep them out of schools or how to train kids to respond. And architects wonder if they can design gunman-proof buildings.
On Archinect, a discussion forum for architects, Peter Normand wondered what he could do to design spaces that reduced the chances of getting shot, writing:
Assuming that a larger portion of the general public will be carrying guns, that we are in the beginning of a personal arms race, what responses should architects consider? Do we need bullet proof doors and windows for schools, Classroom panic rooms? How can we make the built environment safe for the gun packing and unarmed public to interact? Can we expect building codes to address the life safety issues of firearms as thoroughly as fires?
Assuming the political reality won’t change for the next decade what can we do as a designer to keep the public safe in this new gun saturated environment?
The problem of using architecture to keep safe from aggression is actually quite old. Long before guns, cities were designed to defend against attackers with weapons. Those fortresses had high walls, single entry points and layouts meant to confuse invaders.
In the mountains of Idaho, some people are recreating that kind of environment. The Citadel is a planned community in which residents would be required to own guns and defend the compound if attacked. Its founders explain:
The Towers and Curtain Wall providing the town’s primary perimeter defense will be inaccessible to tourists. Each Tower will house condos. The wall sections between Towers will be the location for many of the larger homes. By looking at the Artist’s Concept (left) you can see that housing will be well-removed from tourist foot-traffic. The Perimeter Road follows the Curtain Wall.
Each neighborhood within the walls will have lower defensive walls, dividing the town into defensible sections/neighborhoods. Each neighborhood will have similar housing for visual uniformity and aesthetic appeal.
But The Citadel is a project designed to appeal to only a subset of Americans. Is there a way for architects to design more run-of-the-mill buildings to keep their residents safe, without just building a medieval castle?
In places that faced violence already, like Newtown, Conn., or the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., architects might consider not just how to make buildings that are safer in practice but that allow the community that uses them to feel safe. In the New Yorker, Thomas De Monchaux writes:
Shootings, events defined by immediate sightlines and ballistic trajectories, are an especially spatial and architectural kind of violence, and some ineffable part of their violence is to space itself—to the very airspace or geographical coördinates at which shots were fired or taken. The architectural task in the long aftermath of such shootings is not only to repair structural damage but to calibrate a balance between remembering and forgetting sufficient for daily life to continue nearby—and to figure out how the shapes, materials, and details of buildings can participate in that calibration. The architectural task is not only to provide actual security and defensibility but to figure out how the ways you see and move through buildings can affect your feelings of being at risk or at home.
Rebuilding with that sort of security, though, can be tricky. Adding big metal bars on the doors and windows of a school has downsides, especially if you’re trying to construct a place where kids will want to learn. Architectural Record had a story about these challenges just after Newtown, writing:
While fortress-like buildings with thick concrete walls, windows with bars, and special security vestibules may be more defensible than what is currently in vogue, they are hardly the kind of places that are optimal for learning. Edmund Einy, a principal at GKKWorks, says that what’s been done so far in many urban schools in the name of safety—such as slapping bars on the windows—has had a pernicious effect on students’ morale and performance. Einy’s new Blair International Baccalaureate Middle School, in Pasadena, foregoes bars. But administrators must greet students before they are allowed to go inside, which led GKKWorks to create an entry plaza. “There’s not much more we can do,” he says. “What are we going to do, put kids in prisons?”
Others argue that this is not a job for architects; it’s a job for politicians and people. Smart Planet’s C.C. Sullivan writes:
So answering the question posed by architect Peter Normand, perhaps we need to build as many reminders of our “gun-saturated society” and gun tragedies as we need protections against them.
Instead of panic rooms in every home and classroom, we need more symbols of awareness. Instead of new building codes and bulletproof doors, let’s open the shades on who we are.
Feeling safe, Sullivan argues, takes more than just physical design. It takes cultural design, too. Perhaps it’s not the job of the architect to keep us safe.
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March 29, 2013 10:53 am
Three weeks ago North Korea announced that if joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises were not called off by March 11 then they would consider the sixty-year old armistice between the two Koreas null. March 11 has come and gone. The U.S. and Korea are still exercising their militaries, and North Korea is still not happy about it. At all.
In an act that certainly didn’t de-escalate the situation, the U.S. sent a pair of B-2 stealth bombers cruising over the Korean peninsula. The two bombers left from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, says the Atlantic Wire, buzzed South Korea’s western coast, and then returned home.
Obviously, the test run demonstrates that the U.S. has the capability of flying that far without actually crossing into North Korea and it appears to be meant to send a message that the U.S. is willing to defend South Korea against the North. There’s also probably some historical symbolism thrown in. Hun adds, “After suffering from the American carpet-bombing during the 1950-53 Korean War, North Korea remains particularly sensitive about U.S. bombers.”
“The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel,” says the Guardian, “said that the decision to send B-2 bombers to join the military drills was part of normal exercises and not intended to provoke North Korea.”
But it did.
In response to the flights, says the BBC, North Korea trained its missiles on American and South Korean military bases, with the North Korean state news agency reporting that “the US mainland, their stronghold, their military bases in the operational theatres in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea” were all being targeted.
As the BBC reports, “Russia has warned of tensions in North Korea slipping out of control… Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the situation could slip “toward the spiral of a vicious circle”.
Though North Korea has a long history of making quite threatening displays, an unnamed U.S official told NBC News that “North Korea is “not a paper tiger” and its repeated threats to attack South Korea and the U.S. should not be dismissed as “pure bluster.”
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March 25, 2013 2:15 pm
From 1922 to 1943, when Allied troops took Sicily nearing the end of World War II and his power began to wane, Benito Mussolini ruled Italy as its fascist dictator. As Italy suffered defeats throughout the war and as the Allied forces pushed ever closer, Mussolini became increasingly paranoid, says The Telegraph, fearing that the Royal Air Force, “was planning to launch an audacious raid on his headquarters in an attempt to kill him and knock Italy out of the war.”
His fears were well founded – the RAF had indeed drawn up a plan to launch a bombing raid on the palazzo, as well as his private residence in Rome, Villa Torlonia, using the 617 Squadron of Dambusters fame.
In response to the encroaching forces, Mussolini set about constructing a series of fortified bunkers. One such bunker, buried beneath Mussolini’s headquarters in Rome, was discovered recently during maintenance. The bunker will soon be opened to the public.
The bunker was discovered three years ago when engineers carrying out structural work on the foundations of Palazzo Venezia noticed a small wooden trap door.
It opened out to a narrow flight of brick stairs which in turn led to the bunker, divided into nine rooms by thick concrete walls.
The structure was so deep that it had exposed some Roman remains, which are still visible today.
This is not the first of Mussolini’s bunkers discovered, says Yahoo! News, but rather the twelfth. The building it is buried beneath, the Palazzo Venezie, “currently houses a national museum and has been a historically significant structure for centuries, having been used by high ranking members of the Roman Catholic Church and other important figures over the years.”
The bunker was first discovered in 2011, says La Stampa, “but has only been revealed now.”
If you’ve brushed up on your Italian (or if you don’t mind not knowing what’s going on), here’s a tour of the relic bunker.
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March 18, 2013 1:45 pm
Nixon Prolonged Vietnam War for Political Gain—And Johnson Knew About It, Newly Unclassified Tapes Suggest
In 1968, the Paris Peace talks, intended to put an end to the 13-year-long Vietnam War, failed because an aide working for then-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon convinced the South Vietnamese to walk away from the dealings, says a new report by the BBC’s David Taylor. By the late 1960s Americans had been involved in the Vietnam War for nearly a decade, and the ongoing conflict was an incredibly contentious issue, says PBS:
In 1967, with American troop strength in Vietnam reaching 500,000, protest against U.S. participation in the Vietnam War had grown stronger as growing numbers of Americans questioned whether the U.S. war effort could succeed or was morally justifiable. They took their protests to the streets in peace marches, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. Despite the country’s polarization, the balance of American public opinion was beginning to sway toward “de-escalation” of the war.
Nixon’s Presidental campaign needed the war to continue, since Nixon was running on a platform that opposed the war. The BBC:
Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.
… In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify [President Lyndon] Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.
President Johnson had at the time a habit of recording all of his phone conversations, and newly released tapes from 1968 detailed that the FBI had “bugged” the telephones of the South Vietnamese ambassador and of Anna Chennault, one of Nixon’s aides. Based on the tapes, says Taylor for the BBC, we learn that in the time leading up to the Paris Peace talks, “Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.” The Atlantic Wire:
In the recently released tapes, we can hear Johnson being told about Nixon’s interference by Defence Secretary Clark Clifford. The FBI had bugged the South Vietnamese ambassadors phone. They had Chennault lobbying the ambassador on tape. Johnson was justifiably furious — he ordered Nixon’s campaign be placed under FBI surveillance. Johnson passed along a note to Nixon that he knew about the move. Nixon played like he had no idea why the South backed out, and offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.
Though the basic story of Nixon’s involvement in stalling the Vietnam peace talks has been around before, the new tapes, says the Atlantic Wire, describe how President Johnson knew all about the on-goings but chose not to bring them to the public’s attention: he thought that his intended successor, Hubert Humphrey, was going to beat Nixon in the upcoming election anyway. And, by revealing that he knew about Nixon’s dealings, he’d also have to admit to having spied on the South Vietnamese ambassador.
Eventually, Nixon won by just 1 percent of the popular vote. “Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968,” says the BBC.
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March 15, 2013 12:35 pm
Enver Hoxha was as paranoid a dictator as they come. During his forty-year reign over Albania, in addition to generously dishing out death sentences and long prison terms for anyone who opposed him, he organized the building of more than 700,000 bunkers, or one for every four inhabitants in his country. Dubbed the “bunkerisation” program, the shelters were finally abandoned after Communism’s collapse.
The bunkers were never used since the military threat Hoxha imagined never arrived, and their construction drained Albania’s economy and diverted resources away from other, more pressing needs, such as road and housing improvement. On average, there are 24 bunkers for every square kilometer in Albania. Most of these unsightly concrete mushrooms still mar the landscape today, from mountain tops to cities to beaches.
Most bunkers are wasting away into the landscape, but some are used as shelters for animals or the homeless, or as kitschy cafes. Reportedly, their most common use now is sheltering amorous young Albanians looking for some privacy. Wired describes the problem:
Today, Albanian authorities are at a loss for what to do. The reinforced concrete domes are as difficult to repurpose as they are to destroy. Tourists are fascinated by the bunkers strewn like confetti across scenery, but for locals they’re a largely uninteresting, if obstructive, part of the landscape.
Besides being an eyesore, the bunkers really do pose problems for people. Expatica reports:
At least five holidaymakers, including two children and a 25-year-old woman, drowned last summer in whirlpools created by streams around the bunkers which are covered by slime, cracked and damaged by erosion.
In 2009, the government set out to take some action against the bunkers, recruiting old tanks to blow the ugly domes to smithereens. But things did not go as smoothly as planned—after two weeks only seven had been dealt with. Locals, too, usually fail at attempts to rid their land of the things. Expatica:
Some Albanians have tried to remove them on their own, but their efforts usually end in vain, leaving them resigned to living with the structures they refer to as “mushrooms.”
Some have converted them into sheds, toilets or even “zero-star hotels” for lovers, as they sometimes call the bunkers.
For curious tourists, however, some bunkers now serve as youth hostels. According to the BBC, a couple entrepreneurial students have set out to convert bunkers across the country into unique abodes for travels. If the project manages to be a success, the team said they’ll charge about 8 euros per night for the privilege of sleeping in a genuine Albanian bunker.
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