The artistic responses to war have resulted in great works of poetry, literature and art, each one vividly capturing the devastation, pain and suffering, and poignant moments on the battlefield.
However, architectural responses to war have been largely expressed through village war memorials, larger national memorials, or rows of white grave markers. Has the architectural response to war come to represent only death?
Of course, one could say, most soldiers weren’t poets or artists, or architects. Even though most soldiers weren’t architects, for many, the most common creative experience of the war had an architectural link – defined by designing, building and living in trenches, within the wider architectural setting of ruined villages, billets and blockhouses. Veterans have been known to recall their own war experiences with these architectural memories serving as a framework; unfortunately, these responses haven’t received the same attention as the artistic ones.
This architecture is a combination of war experiences, memories and a response to war. Architecture plays an important role in the design of war cemeteries, especially how it retains memories that are as relevant to those who survived the war as they are to those buried in them. To begin with, how the architectural treatment of the cemeteries constituting everything from the entrances and perimeter walls to the layout relates to the preserving of an aspect of the wartime landscape. Secondly, those aspects of design that use motifs of the landscape and the broader experience within the architecture; for instance, using a representative element of a battle.
Concepts of space and place also contribute to war architecture – a space being a non-specific area and a place being geographically locatable. Over a period of time, a soldier’s war experience turns the places of their memories into undefined spaces with no relatable features, dislocated from the landscape. By including these soldiers in the design process, it’s possible to ensure the architecture of the cemeteries retained not just the identity of place, but also reconnected the soldiers’ individual memories with the post-war landscape.