Architecture as Security

Influential political leaders have historically struggled with the balance of access to significant city centers, their respective resources, without compromising their security. There are a number of examples of this throughout world history. In the mid-Eighteenth Century, King George II assumed his residency in Kensington palace. It provided him with the utmost architectural security during his violent rein, without compromising the space that allowed him to address personal interests and mourn the death of his queen. In a relatable way, in the early 1800s, the Malmaison exhibits characteristics of architecture acting as a retreat for Napolean and his wife. While living together in the security of barracks, they took advantage of this extreme privacy to use it as a retreat for their personal lives. Napoleon used his rooms to pay respects to his imperial family and exceptional marshals, while his wife’s rooms reflected her love of music, art, and desire to remember it as a site of cultivation. Another example of this removed style of living was at the Fuhrerbunker, where Hitler and his wife of two days lived between tight concrete walls underground, even though the façade of the building was prominently located in the heart of Berlin. While all these buildings served as iconic residences in urban landscapes, the leaders that lived there intended them to blend into the surrounding cities and provide a means of retreat and security on various levels. The residences of controversial political leaders may exist in plain sight, but the architectural characteristics allow them to function as a means of security and retreat.

Influential and controversial political leaders in world history often choose to take advantage of the dense urban landscapes they are situated in to blend in with the rest of the city. The prominent and iconic façade of the Fuhrerbunker is regal by today’s standards, but fit with communist building typology and therefore made a statement of strength within the party, without necessarily standing out. It was located in the central commercial portion of Berlin, which one might think is a dangerous location for Hitler to be residing during the end of his rein. However, the building itself did not stand out from the surrounding urban tissue, therefore not drawing particular attention to itself.

Hitler also consciously designed the building to have increasing levels of security. People must enter through gates and across a courtyard, which in itself was private to those residing in the building and guests. This created the most public level of security. Upon entering the building, there were levels of security within as well, created via architecture. In this example, although the building itself was noble, the coherence of the surrounding city allowed the building to exist without drawing attention. Another example of advantageous location is the Chateau de Malmaison. The Chateau de Malmaison was Napoleon’s hideout, and while it was located just outside of Paris, it drew from French building culture to mark its prosperity without drawing attention to itself. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, purchased the home without his consent, and Napoleon had several reservations about it. However, he did enjoy the peace of mind of knowing he lived in securely before his exile. The Chateau was located close enough to the city that it began to contribute to the urban fabric, yet it did not expose itself directly to the city itself. The other side of the site is protected by acres of private property, further contributing to the security of the building as a whole. Yet another example of city-scale security is the location of Kensington Palace. Kensington Palace is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington in London, England, which takes advantage of its immediate location in urban London, while blending in with the prosperous neighborhood. During the rein of King George II, his strong military hand needed severe protection from the city and potential rebellion. The Kensington Palace dealt with this in several ways. The first and most obvious way is by situating itself in the Royal Borough, which made it an integral and iconic piece in the urban fabric without drawing attention to the building itself. Secondly, though the façade may be welcoming, the plans themselves are very much inverted and facing away from the surrounding blocks. Additionally, much like the Fuhrerbunker, a courtyard acts as a mediator between the public streets and the very private interior of the mansion. Together, these three buildings display a level of security that is characteristic on the city-scale.

Residences of influential leaders also took advantage of physical precautions to make their buildings more secure, even without the use of modern technology and man-power. The Fuhrerbunker displayed multiple levels of security the deeper one enters into the building. First, one must pass through a guarded courtyard, which although is the most public realm, it allows for an additional level of security in the case of an invasion. On the main floor, he includes a huge dining room, along with residences and workspaces for the two hundred people that lived with him. These spaces were wide open to accommodate frequently occurring assemblies.

Below ground, Hitler resided in his bunker. At this point in his life, he was extremely paranoid and used his architecture to create the highest level of security. For this reason, the design is made of concrete, not only due to its durability but also because concrete construction is easy to edit. The floor plans are made up of extremely tight interlocking passages, and getting to his bedroom was extremely difficult due to the labyrinth-like layout. The Fuhrerbunker uses layered security to protect Hitler when his regime was in crisis. Another example of interior security in architecture is the Chateau de Malmaison. The Chateau de Malmaison required complete renovation upon Napoleon’s purchase, but the architects thoroughly accounted for added security with several architectural features upon its renovation. Due to all the changes, the walls needed to be fortified with heavily buttressed walls.These were masked with kinder-looking ornamentation, but it equally contributed to the structure of building.

Napoleon also wished to split up the house into three general areas, including the public spaces, his own spaces, and his wife’s spaces. By grouping smaller rooms together in the back core of the building, he was able to function with a heightened sense of security. The architect also took other sensible precautions, including minimal exterior glass and iron gates. The Chateau de Malmaison took precautions on a physical level to protect its in habitants, along with other architecture in history, including Kensington palace. Kensington Palace has a welcoming exterior façade, but much of the plan is inverted to face a series of interior courtyard, which provides for a highly insulated residence.

One must also pass through the gated and armed courtyard. Although this may be considered the most public space, it was in fact very private space open to guests and residents. It acts as an effective mediator between the public street and the highly private interior rooms. The rooms themselves are very large, but a series of private courtyards allowed George II and his staff to enjoy the outdoors without outside danger. These three buildings show a number of ways that architecture can play a role in protecting its inhabitants with basic architectural elements.

City-scale and building-scale security allowed the residents to use their homes as a retreat from the surrounding city and innumerable issues they dealt with on a daily basis. Hitler took up residence in his bunker during the end of his rein, when he began developing extreme paranoia and became conscious of his impending death. Like many infamous military leaders, he peace and seclusion and die on his own terms. He committed suicide in the most private part of his home. The security elements of both the city-scale and resident scale environment allowed him to live his separate life in peace, sheltered from the turmoil of the outside environment. Similarly, Napoleon used the Chateau de Malmaison as a way to create a barrier between political struggles in France at the time and his personal life. Although Napoleon’s wife purchased the Chateau de Malmaison without his consent, they used this large investment to their advantage by being able to live completely separate lives from both the world and each other. Napoleon reserved several rooms just for Josephine herself, including her own bedroom and music room. Meanwhile, Napoleon himself had his own part of the mansion, including his designated study space, bedroom, and reading room, where he honored great leaders in Europe’s military past. Therefore, Napoleon used architecture not only to create a divide himself and the landscape, but also himself and his wife. Another example of using security as means of seclusion was during George II’s rein in Kensington Palace. George II lived in Kensington palace for the majority of the year, but with the abrupt death of his wife, he designated several rooms for mourning her loss and also a retreat from the secular demands of his job. All of these men used architecture as a means of defending themselves against outside rebellion. However, they also used architecture as an active means of taking them outside of worldly context, allowing them to live in serenity even when the rest of the country is in turmoil.

Specific examples within the last three centuries can be cited to show that the building security can be directly attributed to architecture planning and elements. In the 18th century, Kensington palace reflects a desire for insular planning, allowing its residents to live liberally without compromising security. In the 19th century, the closeness of individual spaces did not compromise a highly divided plan, and allowed Napoleon and his wife to cultivate their individual facets very differently. In the 20th century, Hitler’s Fuhrerbunker allowed him to live safely away from the dangers of a falling regime, while simultaneously facilitating a serene death. As modern architecture becomes increasingly safe due to new technologies in individual building materials, lessons from past planning can help warfare architecture take very basic measures to keep its occupants secure. Effective use of space and circulation allows low budgets to take precautions that do not necessarily involve costly interventions. However, when combined, effective planning and new technologies allow architecture to become increasingly safe for leaders involved in modern crises.



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Chateau de Malmaison

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Kensington Palace

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