Masterproject University of East London

Exhibtion, Ron Herron Gallery, London




Lorient and the Kéroman Base

During the Second World War the port of Lorient was of major interest in the battle between the Germans and the Allies in the Atlantic. As early as June 1940, Admiral Dönitz had installed his command post at Kernevel, at the entry of the harbour. By remodelling and restoring the slipway of the existing fishing port, the project of the transfer of the submarine fleet led to the development of gigantic protective works on the point of Kéroman.

In 1941, the first two blocks, 130m wide by 18.50m high were built. The third, 170m by 122m and 20m in height, opening onto the cove of the river Ter, was completed in 1943. This accounted some 650000m³ of concrete, capable of sheltering 40 U-Boats.

The size of the Lorient base quickly became a major menace for the Allies. From January15, 1943 on successive bombardments almost totally destroyed the city center.

When the French penetrated the base after the surrender of the German forces, they found the facilities in working order. The decision to reuse the German facilities was made on May 19, 1945. The Marine National used the site until February 1997. Symbolised by a blank mask in the aerial photographs, the "base des sousmarines" was only open to the members of the navy during these decades. All the public knew of the base was a gateway seen from the submarine roundabout and the silhouette of the bunkers beyond the fishing port, above an enclosure wall surmounted by barbed-wire seen from the Ter.

The base was an obstacle between the city and the sea.

As further north there is another off-limit area used by the military and adjacent the industrial port, being cut-off its coastline is a general problem of Lorient.

The Kéroman site would now give the citizens the opportunity to reconquer the seaboard of the town.

The base had been built on reclaimed land. Draining of the marshland began 1750

At the turn of the century the area used to be the "priveledged walkway of the citizens of Lorient". It was the location of famous garden restaurants. Since it was used as navy base for 50 years, the site is now polluted with heavymetals and petrol. Two bunkers [ K1+K2] are built on wooden piles. They are sinking 4cm a year.

"The construction of the bunkers is the reason for the deconstruction of the city". The relationship between the city and the base is historically loaded. The bombing of the bunkers erased the city center, thousands of inhabitants were killed. Today there is an ongoing discussion wether the bunkers should be destroyed or wether they should be kept as memorial. The bunkers are a tourist attraction. They are motif of a variety of picture postcards. During summer months the base has more than 400 visitors a day.

The strategy aims to establish an urban space which expresses the collective memory of the city, its desire to forget, the simultaneous construction of memory and forgetting...

The site of the base is decontaminated by soil rinsing technics, using seawater. In a controlled way

the site is given back to the tidal changes, the decontamination process is forming a new landscape which is characterized by the rhythm of the tides.

This new mud landscape consists of stable and ephemeral elements: a tunnel "between the water and the sky", floating gardens, moved by the lapping of the waves and casted mudsurfaces as stepping stones are providing access to the bunkers.

The ambivalent historical situation between the city and the bunkers manifests in the constantly changing condition of connection and disconnection caused by the tides.

The sinking of the bunkers K1 and K2 is accelerated so that it can be experienced. Buildings hung inside the submarine pins and lead slabs on top of the bunker K3 function as plummets to pull the bunkers down.

The containers hung below the ceiling of the bunkers accommodate the city archives of Lorient, and are entered from the roof top.

K3 accomodates a proposed shipping museum presenting Lorient's history as leading centre of the shipbuilding industry. The site becomes a mnemonic space.




the stable and the transient analytic drawing | model


idea models



decontamination | the site is given back to the tides



scenario sinking bunkers



scenario sinking bunkers | casted mudsurfaces



weighting down the sinking bunkers



archives container | casted bunker surfaces