Base

Base

Base presents photographs taken in the basements of several buildings in New Haven.

Underground habitation has long been a feature of military defense logistics. From London’s underground tunnels and offices during World War II, passages beneath the Pentagon and White-house where one imagines the internet being conceived, to Afghani mountain defenses, the underground has offered safe havens from what would bring life above to an end.

When I was a child in Seoul, where the military threat of the communist North Korea was eagerly promoted by the military regime, civil defense drill was a monthly ritual. When the siren wailed, we would either hide underneath our desk, or evacuate to the school’s basement. We used to be stay there for as long as an hour, crouching in a specified way, listening to the radio broadcasting how the virtual enemy planes were approaching right above our heads. If some places evoke the sense of isolation, fear and anxiety more intensely than others, then the basement was one of them.

Ever since aerial bombing became a major feature of warfare, basements of buildings have kept their potential as bunkers for civilian safety. During the 1950s, in the post-war America where the fear of nuclear war permeated every aspect of civilian life, highly furnished shelters would be built beneath houses and apartment buildings. Although this function has been largely forgotten as the Cold War ended and the threat of atomic bombs from the sky has been replaced by terrorist attacks on more precise targets, some buildings still retain marks of this history with their faded ‘Fallout Shelter’ signs.

A basement can provoke dark imaginations by the very nature of its existence. It seems secretive and potentially dangerous, if not just messy. And it is also physically isolated from our world of daylight: unnatural space that always needs artificial lighting. It resists gravity by placing itself on the minus level of vertical order, but also the attractive force of vanishing point by escaping from our horizontal perspective. It occupies a sort of negative space, a blind spot. No wonder, then, that basements have often provided hiding places for the pursued in popular narratives.

On the other hand, a basement is essential to a building’s design. It not only forms its foundation, but functions as an internal organ of the building, processing the flows of matter and energy. Since a basement is mostly an apparatus of the machine for living than a space for normal human habitation, its own interior design rarely shows considerations for human comfort and pleasure. Just like the design of weaponry, its appearance is determined and maintained solely by its mechanical functions. The basement is a combination of militaristic defense logic and the principle of pure design.

(「Welcome to the Base」, introduction to Base)

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