From Welsh castles to venetian tombs – via the bunkers of the Korean border
I was born in North Wales, and my dad used to take me to all of the castles along the coast. I think subconsciously they have had a huge influence on the way I think about architecture. They’re amazingly simplistic, very pure, with clear diagrams, almost in a modernist way. But what’s really compelling about them is the way they grow out of the earth. They’re very powerful pieces of the landscape.
At Patel Taylor, much of what we do starts with urban design and landscape. The strong horizontal layers of St George’s Bristol (CQ 273), for instance, are a response to the contours of the site, embedding the building into the existing terraces. So I’m fascinated by the way that fortifications sit in the landscape and become part of it. The earth embankments and ravelins of Italian forts are another example of defensive structures that are really tied to the earth. The plasticity of concrete adds another interesting dimension.
About three years ago, I found this extraordinary pill box in East Tilbury, Essex. It’sunlike anything I’d seen before – it’s really quite complicated, with a separate turret and gun placement. It's monolithic, it's heavy, but it's also beautiful, like a casting just coming out of the ground. There’s a sculptural quality, reminiscent of Rachel Whiteread’s House (1993) or Eduardi Chilleda’s Monument to Tolerance (2011-) – a carved space inside a mountain on Fuerteventura. I’ve spent a lot of time in Korea, and I love creeping around the old bunkers they have near the North Korean border. They’re often covered in mesh and have soil poured over them, so again they’re merged into the terrain.
But what’s fascinating is that there is often this incredibly strong relationship between the inside and outside. By their nature, these buildings are usually set in dramatic scenery – on rivers or overlooking valleys – and when you look back from inside, you’re drawn into the landscape. There is one extraordinary former anti-tank defence facility about 20 miles north of Seoul that has been turned into a cultural centre by CoRe Architects. The 250m-long blocks of the bunker run along the entire base of a valley like a riverbed.
It's interesting to compare these buildings with something like Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery near Venice (1968-78). This is obviously a more beautiful composition of routes and processions, but the concrete structures are grounded in a similar way. The main mausoleum seems to grow out of the water, and its walls have this pronounced horizontal boardmarking, like sedimentary layers. In his book on Venice, Peter Ackroyd writes about the hazy stratification of the marble, blurring into the rippling water and the sky. You get a similar sense at Brion too.
The concrete rises from the ground and where the walls meet the datum, it frames a view of mountain and sky, merging the building into the distant horizon.
Andrew Taylor is a director at Patel Taylor
Photos Andrew Taylor; Luca Lorenzon / Alamy Stock Photo