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How do you recycle a bunker, part 4: quietly, if possible.

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The bunker on Poßmoorweg, under its containers

The bunker on Poßmoorweg, under its containers

I was walking in our Winterhude neighbourhood and saw a strange sight: a large pile of shipping containers, maybe eight deep. Something that wouldn’t be out of place on the harbour, but this is a residential neighbourhood.

Turns out the containers are hiding a bunker. What’s more, they’re all filled with old mattresses.

This is the brilliant idea that a local contractor has come up with to address noise issues while demolishing the bunker. The mattresses are meant to be noise absorbers, and all the plastic sheeting is to keep the dust away from the appartment blocks nearby. Judging from the noise that still echoes across the canal, I’m not sure this is working all that well.

Many bunkers are sitting on prime real estate, but noise is a huge issue for anyone who intends to replace them with new buildings. Following up on neighbourhood complaints (one local resident said he measured a noise level of up 125 decibels), the city put a stop-order against the site. The shipping containers were brought in response to that, and the jackhammers now operate only from inside the bunker.

This is not a new problem; noise and dust issues have held up bunker demolition projects in several other sites. (I found three in my neighbourhood, within walking distance. The project on Fortsmannstraße, a 38-appartment luxury condo, was held up for several months in 2013; when I visited, the bunker was gone but the site was still a hole in the ground. Developers have all but given up on another one just behind where we live, on Kuhnstraße. This street abuts Mühlenkamp, a fancy commercial avenue whose well-connected merchants and their well-heeled patrons would put up a effective fight.)

This attests to the difficulty of building in dense old neighbourhoods, of course, but bunkers, with their thick concrete walls, are particularly challenging. This is why I like projects that leave the structure standing, instead finding creative ways of incorporating the structure and side-stepping the demolition issue.

The Luxus Bunker

The Luxus Bunker

Take the so-called Luxus-Bunker in Altona on Bülowstraße, for instance. This bunker has been turned into luxury condo complex by altering the structure from the inside and punching large windows through the 80-cm thick concrete walls. The project, almost completed, has proceeded quickly despite being located in a dense neighbourhood near a school and a hospital. (And it will be a truly fancy development; only seven appartments for the whole building, each occupying an entire floor, except for the two-story penthouse with amazing views and a price of 2.3 million Euros for the 237 m2 suite.)



Bunkers may present an unusual design challenge, but this is not a new situation when repurposing old sites. Barcelona’ s Boffil cement factory is a case in point: architect Ricardo Boffil bought an abandoned cement factory and, keeping the structure intact, turned it into the head office of an architecture studio. Writer Lori Zimmer had this to say about the building:

Why this matters: the greenest buildings are those that already exist – rather than building from scratch, Bofill has transformed an abandoned industrial ruin into a complex with the magic, wonder, and grandeur evocative of a historical chateau.

The Boffil repurposed cement factory

The Boffil repurposed cement factory

Why do I obsess over bunkers? Vancouver does not have any bunkers (Towers Beach doesn’t count). But there are industrial buildings that could be re-purposed instead of demolished. There is even some unused space, such as old tunnels, that could serve for heat storage for district heating, like the Wilhelmsburg bunker. Hamburg’s bunker conundrums may have lessons for us.

But mostly, bunkers are uniquely cool, bizarrely otherworldly, and deeply affecting because of all the history they carry. Too bad we don’t have any, but I’m glad we’ve never had to.


Written by enviropaul

January 17, 2016 at 6:24 pm

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