Safety and Architecture

Jake Copich and Victor Abreu
Defense of the Civilization Through Architecture and Technology

People have been fighting one another since the dawn of time, from competing cavemen during the ice age, to unmanned aircraft gathering intelligence of an enemy from thousands of miles away. The desire to fight is human nature. The inverse of this also holds true, being that it is human nature to protect the things he holds valuable. As the human population began to rise, the structures in which civilizations protected themselves becomes more structurally complex and architecturally sophisticated, as well did the systems of defense that protected these civilizations. Safety is an issue that architecture has to constantly address, forcing design to evolve with the different advances in weapon technology.
Cities of medieval Europe defended themselves through the utilization of large perimeter walls. Before this, cities had what was known as the guild hall. This building used to house the city protection. This type of building lost its position and importance later because of the invention of cannons. Vikings invading medieval cities was a major factor in the development of the city’s structure. To protect themselves, the villages started building walls and fortifying their positions. This eventually leaded to the famous medieval walled cities we see today.
These walled cities were known as boroughs, with the inhabitants come to be known as bourgeois. These fortified towns can be found all around Europe. The structure of the walls had defense written all over it. They were made out of stone. It was actually made out of two separate walls, with the space in between filled with a type of cement. The outer part of these walls was strong and durable, preventing enemy penetration through them. The inside of the walls were large, rough stones. They were around twenty feet in height and around eight feet thick. The base, also known as the footing or batter, was thicker. On the top of the walls were vertical spiked objects that contained slits so that archers could attack. The top was known as the battlement. Not only did they serve a defensive purpose but also as an attack weapon, since projectiles could be dropped to the invading forces beneath them.
This is the case in Dubrovnik Croatia, a port city whose defensive walls were never breached by a hostile force.
The wall helped defend against the two types of attacking forces at the time, foot soldiers and navies. These walls were constructed between the 14th and 15th centuries, and some extensions to make it stronger around the 17th century. The walls were built up high enough to prevent cannon balls from attacking ships to destroy the city, and a soldier on foot had nothing to breach the walls. No enemy army ever got to invade the city during the middle ages, and through time the walls remained almost intact. These walls eliminated the usefulness of the bow and arrow as well as emerging weapons like the gunpowder rifle.

Dubrovnik City Map from
Dubrovnik City Map from

The colonial forts in America were built by the different powers controlling these territories to protect their interest in them. The defensive and security systems to protect the people in cities also secured different interest for their respective European power. Whether it would be a strategic position, the wealth and resources of the place or just to keep a territory. The forts overlooked the towns from strategic places. The stories behind the individual forts are different but as a collective they all helped their European power to hold onto its multiple colonies. As technology evolved, and cities grew larger, walls to protect the cities minimalized evolving from a long thickened wall to smaller but more strategic defensive compounds. These compounds were placed in strategic points in the cities.
To protect their interest Spain built forts that overlooked or surrounded their colonial cities. A good example of these forts would be Fort San Cristobal and Fort San Felipe del Morro. Located in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, these forts served the Spanish colony for centuries. San Juan being a major strategic territory for Spain, it was constantly under attack by other European powers like the British and the Dutch. San Juan was the “Key of the Americas” because it was the first island the ships from Spain stopped in when coming to America, and the last before going back. The construction of the forts began around 1634 and took more than one hundred and fifty years to be completed. Fort San Cristobal started as a city wall, but expanded and strengthened to the point that it became the largest fort built by the Spanish in America.
Fort San Cristobal and Fort San Felipe del Morro were built for land defense, and helped keeping enemy European powers from getting into the island. “Over the next 150 years, San Juan’s defenses became more elaborate. In 1645, King Felipe IV remarked, “It is the front and vanguard of all my West Indies, and consequently the most important of them all—and the most coveted by my enemies.”2 El Morro, for example, became a six-level complex that rose 150 feet above the ocean. This meant that cannons could now cover both land and water approaches. Other work added storerooms, troop quarters, a chapel, and a prison; ramps, tunnels, and stairways offered access to the different areas of the fort.” (Manucy et al.).

Sectional Analysis of Fort San Felipe del Morro from
Sectional Analysis of Fort San Felipe del Morro from

The forts have different levels, allowing them to have different positions to attack with guns and cannons. A unique feature to these forts was the winding tunnels. These passages gave an advantage to the Spanish military because it allowed them to move around without being seen, and giving away their position. The strategic tunnels could also be easily exploded with black powder, stopping any invading group from getting further into the city.
The forts had walls up to twenty feet thick and fifty feet in height.

Cross-Section of Fort Walls from
Cross-Section of Fort Walls from

These two examples in Old San Juan were strategically placed so that invading forces had to capture both of them in order to get to the city they defended.

The history of the forts may be different from one to another, but collectively they all served a simple purpose; to protect the interests in the American colonies. After some modifications and additions, San Juan was one of the most fortified cities in America by 1780. Helping Spain maintain one of its most important territories in America for hundreds of years, from being taken over by multiple European powers that tried but failed to gain control of it.

Old San Juan Map showing the different lines of defense and locations of the forts from
Old San Juan Map showing the different lines of defense and locations of the forts from

This can also be seen in military defense and the strategic capturing of land in World War II. World War II covered such a large amount of area, and had to defend such vast amounts of land, the only logical and economic solution was to defend only the places that would be easiest for an attacking force strike. This. becomes the complete opposite of the large walls of medieval Europe, and

completely dissolves the wall all together. The turrets no longer had the wall in between, bridging the gap, and the distance between them has become much greater, covering hundreds of miles rather then a few dozen feet (Turnbull September 1972).

This can be clearly seen in the defense of German ground forces on the Beaches of Normandy, France. The sites of Utah and Omaha Beach heads were extremely densely guarded, but about a mile inland was almost completely clear of German forces. The Beach was the only viable place for American forces to land, so Germany only needed to defend this one location, thus protecting the entirety of the encaptured French land. Here, a very small amount of infrastructure has been strategically placed to defend the country, a very large amount of area.

Germany defended only the easily accessible beaches that allied forces could land troops on to suppress invasion
Germany defended only the easily accessible beaches that allied forces could land troops on to suppress invasion.

The German forces also defended these beaches by digging he “pill” boxes into the side of the cliffs facing the beach. Architecturally, this becomes very interesting. We have now seen the defense of the city through land mass, such as the compacted soil of the great wall of China. We have seen the mimicking of earth mass in the European walls made of heavy stone. We have seen the complete removal of earth in terms of architecture in the colonial forts of the Caribbean. And now we see the architecture and the earth working together, both their own distinguishable parts, aiding each other, acting as one.
The German pillbox itself was extremely efficient structurally. These buildings had zero ornamentation. These buildings needed to be constructed quickly and perform, protecting the occupants inside from cannon and mortar fire (Baldwin December 1944). The walls of the pillbox were often up to seven feet thick, becoming very reminiscent of the previously discussed walls of Europe. These buildings did however begin to develop their own aesthetic, becoming very recognizable, especially in the American eye. Images of these buildings in propaganda became symbols for the communist life style; the oppressive, impending heavy set buildings of power. The media in America turned these defensive installations into the symbol of tyranny.
The Germans didn’t try to camouflage these pillboxes either
They stood out against the landscape, protecting forward, almost rising from the earth. This possibly shows the confidence of the German government and military. The Germans were so confident in these buildings that they almost invite them to be attacked. They stand out clearly from a distance, allowing for Allied forces to easily target with missiles and mortar shells. The building begged to be attacked just through it’s architectural expression and situation on the site.

The german pillbox was set into the hill side, essentially using ancient methods in junction with modern building techniques
The german pillbox was set into the hill side, essentially using ancient methods in junction with modern building techniques.

The strategy of defense has always and will always have to evolve with the ever hostile environment of combat, and it is up to the cooperation are architecture and engineer to solve these problems both with cleverness and safety in mind. Man may never stop fighting, and he will always need the most basic of necessity of shelter.





Manucy , Albert, and Ricard Torres-Reyes. National Park Services, “Determining The Facts.” Accessed October 21, 2013.

Turnbull, Don. Diplomacy Archive, “German Strategy.” Last modified September 1972. Accessed October 21, 2013.

Baldwin, Hanson. The Marine Corps Gazette, “Amphibious Aspects Of The Normandy Invasion.” Last modified December 1944. Accessed October 21, 2013.

Rosetti, Roberta. Rome Central, “The History of Roman Walls.” Last modified October 07, 2013. Accessed October 8, 2013.

Naval history and Heritage Command, “Normandy Invasion, June 1944.” Last modified June 06, 2010. Accessed October 8, 2013.
Hickman, Kennedy. Military History, “French and Indian War: Fort Ticondaroga.” Accessed October 8, 2013.

Bletcher, Gloria. Iowa state University Department of English, “Life in Medieval Towns and Cities.” Accessed October 8, 2013.

Dubrovnik City Map

Sectional Analysis of Fort San Felipe del Morro, February 2, 2011, Courtesy of Ian.

Cross Section of Fort Wall, Courtesy of William R. Wilson

Old San Juan Map, Courtesy of William R. Wilson

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