inadvertent memorial: the entropic state of the Enola Gay Hangar, Wendover, UT

Enola Gay Hangar, June 2009, photo by Elizabeth Ellsworth

smudge just completed a three day visit to the CLUI's Wendover Complex in Wendover UT. We inhabited SIMPARCH's off-the-grid, sustainable life support building on the historic Wendover airfield--a renovated and completely re-imagined WWII vintage Quonset hut called "clean livin'".

Part of our work there and on the rest of our 32 day research trip now underway, is to look for inspiration for a project on "infrastructure as civic pedagogy."

We found it next to CLUI's Wendover residence support unit. The unit is adjacent to one of the most historically significant pieces of infrastructure at the airfield, the Enola Gay Hangar, a massive building that housed the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Wikipedia defines infrastructure as
the basic physical and organisational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function. . . . In military parlance, the term refers to the buildings and permanent installations necessary for the support, redeployment, and operation of military forces.

As part of our current research trip, we're exploring how "land use interpretation" might offer new ways to understand infrastructure as a “social covenant” (William Morrish). Infrastructure--such as the Enola Gay hangar, the Wendover Airbase, the museum being developed on the base--can be read to reveal social dynamics and values. A close look at what gets built in the name of infrastucture can suggest the meanings and functions of systems intended to create and support communities.

If we frame infrastructure through the lens of land use interpretation, we can decipher "lessons" in public responsibility that are implied by infrastructure priorities, design and development.

Today, the Enola Gay hangar exists as a piece of obsolete, decaying infrastructure. In its current state of near collapse, it is a signal of the continuing--maybe even deepening--complexities of the realities that surround atomic weapons in general and America's role in being the first and only country to unleash them in particular.

But it now seems that the hangar will be transformed from infrastructural relic to memorial infrastructure.

The Historic Wendover Airfield recently received $450,000 in public funds from the Federal Government's "Save America’s Treasures" program. The money will be used to re-roof the metal hangar portion of the building, re-roof the north and south operations offices and shops, and provide siding and windows for the building.

We realized that this visit to the airbase might be our last chance to experience and creatively respond to the hangar's striking state of dematerialization after nearly 50 years of exposure to extreme elemental forces.

After two days of visits, we discovered that the Enola Gay Hangar exists today as accidental memorial architecture.

It inadvertently echoes some of the most celebrated formal elements used by architects whose work memorializes traumatic historic events: interplay of light and shadows, tortured and twisted superstructures, dark corridors that lead to blinding light, access to views of the sky, labryrinth-like passages, physical traces of human presence and absence, metaphoric allusions to historical sites and events.

Berlin Holocaust Memorial, photo by Josh Tidsbury

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, photo by MusicRob

Jewish Museum in Berlin-Kreuzberg, photo by Sebastian Niedlich (Grabthar)

Enola Gay Hangar, June 2009, photo by Elizabeth Ellsworth

Enola Gay Hangar, June 2009, photo by Elizabeth Ellsworth

Enola Gay Hangar, June 2009, photo by Elizabeth Ellsworth

Enola Gay Hangar, June 2009, photo by Elizabeth Ellsworth

Other memorials have preserved civic and military infrastructure--not as restorations--but as the ruins that they became as the results of traumatic WWII events.

The Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial, photo by MC MasterChef

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, photo by Tammy Green

We started to imagine a preserved Enola Gay hangar--not as it was in 1945, nor even as it is today. But transformed into a place that could allow its complex history, meanings, and emotional associations to be felt, remembered, and recognized . . . while at the same time inviting its visitors to activate it, as infrastructure, and as "civic pedagogy," in new ways.

SIMPARCH's transformed Quonset hut--both "preserved" as a piece of Wendover Airfield's history AND re-invented as infrastructure to house and inspire artists in the midst of a still-active military airbase--stands ready to serve as inspiration.

Clean Livin' by SIMPARCH, photo by Elizabeth Ellsworth

Clean Livin', photo by Jamie Kruse

1 comment:

  1. i sent pictures to the smithsonian of the communion set my dad used with the crew of the enola gay the morning before their flight to Hiroshima
    the response no comment
    james a carlin jr md


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