What the future looked like

Every architectural drawing calls to the future, but some projections surpass their particular contexts to reveal something wider—and highly timely. It’s easy to recognize the currents of anxiety or optimism that run through the moments that populate this issue, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking they are familiar; these are past futures that never really arrived. Rather, they lie in wait, giving us renewed routes toward understanding what preoccupies us today.

Article 13 of 14

1935: Your Home as an Air Raid Shelter

Text by David Monteyne

Box containing a group of air raid precautions and civil defence publications, published between 1935 and 1954 and held at the CCA. BIB 189773

Two books and some sixty-one British government publications, discarded from the York Public Library, are filed together in a box in the CCA Collection. The publications are peppered with good advice and compelling line drawings depicting, with Churchillian aplomb, “desirable and undesirable features in buildings—considered from the point of view of the disruptive effects of aerial bombs.”

A history of World War II on the British home front can be read through the titles of the publications. The collection begins in 1935 with a Home Office publication entitled “Air Raid Precautions,” which opened by noting that its existence “in no way implies a risk of war in the near future.” Three years later, the Office registered increasing worry by issuing a “Pamphlet on Garden Trenches” (for personal bomb shelter) and “The Duties of Air Raid Wardens.” Handwritten notes in the latter publication note the names and locations for local wardens and other emergency personnel.

The 1939 publications witness preparation for war on a national scale. The Lord Privy Seal’s Office addressed citizens directly on “Some Things you Should Know if War Should Come”: air raid warnings, gas masks, blackouts, and so on. Industries and institutions were given guidance regarding “Camouflage of Large Installations” (including colour swatches) and “Air Raid Precautions in Museums, Picture Galleries and Libraries.”

By 1941, a different mode of preparation became pertinent: “Advising the Public in the Event of an Invasion.” The following year, mere advice gave way to “Consolidated Instructions to Invasion Committees (Confidential),” and statutes related to “War Zone Courts” and “Emergency Powers” of government.

The invasion never came, and the collection remains quiet until 1949, with the first of eighteen pamphlets bound together with blue string in a thick volume entitled “Civil Defence Manual of Basic Training.” Likely, these represent re- printings of World War II materials, as suggested by the addenda slips studiously pasted into the pamphlets by reference librarians, noting “the advent of the atomic bomb.”

This training manual for Cold War civil defence presents a bridge to present-day techniques of homeland security, as practised by architects and policymakers in the United States and elsewhere. As illustrated in this CCA collection spanning twenty years, the basics of Anglo-American civil defence had been established: shelters, both public and private; fire prevention and decontamination procedures; rescue and first aid; emergency mass feeding; and the hardening of buildings against attack, what the British called “structural defence.”

During the nascence of US civil defence, circa 1951, officials drew heavily on the British example in these publications. Through many bureaucratic transformations, the US civil defence agency became FEMA, which surrendered its responsibilities for enemy attack to the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11. Perusal of security design and planning manuals today reveal much the same characteristics determining “desirable and undesirable features in buildings,” whether seen from the point of view of “aerial bombs” or car bombs.

David Monteyne was a 2008–2009 Visiting Scholar at the CCA. A selection of these publications appeared in our 2011 exhibition Architecture in Uniform.


Sign up to get news from us

Email address
First name
Last name
By signing up you agree to receive our newsletter and communications about CCA activities. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information, consult our privacy policy or contact us.

Thank you for signing up. You'll begin to receive emails from us shortly.

We’re not able to update your preferences at the moment. Please try again later.

You’ve already subscribed with this email address. If you’d like to subscribe with another, please try again.

This email was permanently deleted from our database. If you’d like to resubscribe with this email, please contact us

Please complete the form below to buy:
[Title of the book, authors]
ISBN: [ISBN of the book]
Price [Price of book]

First name
Last name
Address (line 1)
Address (line 2) (optional)
Postal code
Email address
Phone (day) (optional)

Thank you for placing an order. We will contact you shortly.

We’re not able to process your request at the moment. Please try again later.

Folder ()

Your folder is empty.

Please complete this form to make a request for consultation. A copy of this list will also be forwarded to you.

Your contact information
First name:
Last name:
Phone number:
Notes (optional):
We will contact you to set up an appointment. Please keep in mind that your consultation date will be based on the type of material you wish to study. To prepare your visit, we'll need:
  • — At least 2 weeks for primary sources (prints and drawings, photographs, archival documents, etc.)
  • — At least 48 hours for secondary sources (books, periodicals, vertical files, etc.)