Underground Missile Silos as a Home
“Will the underground complex, with its beautifully efficient machinery so painstakingly mounted on springs, be the Stonehenge of America?” -Joseph Gies’ response to a Titan Missile Site, Wonders of the Modern World
When you google the words “underground misile silos” is striking to see that almost the complete first page refers to underground missile site properties for sale. Most of the bussiness is currently taking place in the US, but the underground misile silos can be found not only in the US, but in several countries around Europe and in countries that formerly were part of The Republics of the Soviet Union, as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Latvia, among many others. These underground missile silos are relics from the Cold War that served as a storage media or launch sites for intercontinental ballistic missiles known as ICBMs, and materialized as defense tactic and architecture-as-machinery.
The missiles were originally stored above ground, but the technical and military specialists involved found it cheaper and more strategic to protect the missile from attack by digging a hole in the ground and lining it with concrete, factoring out “all but a direct hit from another ICBM”. It was around 1960, after the times when the Soviet Union used completely aboveground launchers, that the first underground silos were created.
Living underground it’s not new, neither is using these kind of spaces as dwellings. Tom Vanderbilt, author of Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, says about the underground silos that they were literally taking shape around the machines: “the airforce’s policy of ‘concurrence’ dedicated that launch facilities be built simultaneously with weapons” and he adds:
“The silo as house is a sign that architecture does not discriminate”, after all, a “blast door is still [just] a door” […] The silo as house is akin to the “old school of brutalism, with its rough concrete surfaces and shamelessly exposed ductwork”
Also in his film La Jetée , Chris Marker already talked about the survivors of a destroyed, post-apocalyptic Paris in the aftermath of the Third World War that lived underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. And if we go further in the past, we can read that maybe there were people living under site of Los Angeles 5.000 year ago. If people felt comfortable living underground hundreds of years ago, why not try to find the same comfort using existent infrastructures as the silos? As Vanderbilt pointed, it was not until the balloon travel of the nineteenth century that the world from the sky was first made visible. We can add that the nineteenth century is really close to the current times if we think about the Earth’s age and before that, maybe it was mostly common not to look up but to look down. Who knows?
Reading the history of catacombs, the ancient, human-made underground passageways used as final resting place of reffuges or subterranean cemeteries [also they have served during historic times as a refuge for safety at war times], we realize that underground dwellings has been here for centuries until now. So, it’s almost the natural thing to do to transform these missile silos into new homes.
As read at the Twentieth-Century Castle web-site:
It seems that the silo is a utilitarian ideal of architecture, “the modernist dictum that buildings were machines”, and the missile silos, disposable—“once the missiles were fired, the structure was useless”. Here, the space does not only offer a place for storage or gathering but an intention of fulfilling a mechanical purpose, disposing itself once shed of both intention and item.
These earth-contact hardened nuclear-proof structures are some of the strongest construction ever built on the planet. This drives us to think also about the human need of safety, as George Gerbner says at his Cultivation theory, about the way we see the world in which we live:
Mass media regards audiences as passive, presenting ideas to society as a mass with meaning open to little or no interpretation. The ideas presented to a passive audience are often accepted, therefore influencing large groups into conforming behind ideas, meaning that the media exerts a significant influence over audiences. This audience is seen as very vulnerable and easily manipulated.
Since 9/11 and every day even more, when the television talks about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction all the time, humans live in a constant search of safety… and which kind of dwelling could be betterr than an underground bunker? But here we need to quote Vanderbilt again when he said that “one should now seek shelter in a space whose missiles were the cause of so much shelter-building elsewhere is rather ironic.”
Finishing this post, we can ask: Is this the door you want for a new home?