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RECESS bunker feed

The RECESS occupation experiment begins on Saturday July 31, 2010.

In this initial experiment, I will occupy the bunker for one week. I will eat, drink, work, and survive with the resources and equipment I have cached; hunting and gathering when absolutely necessary. A live video feed will be displayed at Mark Moore Gallery through the duration of the experiment. When I leave the bunker (on raiding runs) I will document and stream the results via cell phone.

The experiment ends on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2010. Visit Mark Moore Gallery to experience the live show. Recordings will be made available on my website and youtube channels following the exhibit close on Aug. 16, 2010.

This only the beginning.

As I continue to shape and organize the space inside the RECESS I felt it was time to share a few images of the inside of the bunker:

standing in the bunker

Standing is a bit tight inside my RECESS. The ceiling height was capped at 5'5"  in order to keep with the original concept of the retrofit. The floor (epoxy sealed and painted with traction grit) sits exactly where the deep end of the swimming pool had been. It's plenty comfortable while sitting or lying down.

The drain in the center of the room re-imagines the pool's filtration system as a waste-removal port and emergency flood relief. The walls are bright white from the waterproofing compound. To date, I have hand-powered ventilation, solar power (seen illuminating the room), cellular service, pirate radio, broadband internet, grid power and city water (seen below).

water jugs to be used as a table base

With the deck complete, the next challenge I faced was concealment of the underlying RECESS.

Obviously, I'm not sending invitations. I want to survive the inevitable collapse of modern society, and I want to thrive. The last thing I need is someone stumbling across my RECESS and raiding it, leaving my family standing in the bread line (if there is a bread line). Thus, it is important to mask the existence of the space from neighbors, friends, and would-be marauders.
Until that day, my work here serves another purpose. Having wiped out the swimming pool, the bunker remodel had to be as useful and valuable an addition to my property as possible. If the day of reckoning we've all been waiting for never arrives... Lord help those of us putting function before form when it comes time to sell our homes.

In the first image here you can see the ventilation pipes, bunker drain clean-out, and entry hatch. Our landscape plan was strategically designed to meet two needs:
  1. to use as little water as possible, and provide easy access to water caught on the roof of the property
  2. to conceal the existence of the aforementioned details through cunning and distraction
The first goal was easily achieved. We landscaped exclusively with low water plants and grasses. In my climate, they grow fast, and conceal year-round. The planted areas were shaped into a series of arcs for visual interest, set along the walls to ensure that our vegetation would receive partial shade at various times of the day.

Before putting down the weed cloth and gravel, I trenched in irrigation lines tied to the pool's original filtration return. Low pressure drip irrigation delivers precise amounts of water to each plant at its roots. This minimizes excess watering, evaporation, and unwanted weeds. The black pipe seen on the far end of the deck wall gathers ~75% of the water captured on my roof after a rain, easily allowing the captured water to be taken into the RECESS. If I choose not to capture the rainwater, it quickly and effectively floods the yard and irrigates the landscaping.

The second landscaping goal was addressed with a number of design decisions strategically executed in a sort-of landscape sleight of hand. The landscaping gravel, flagstone, and planter beds raised the lower yard an additional 4" - further obfuscating the existence of a 5.5' shelter below the deck. Plants were selected for high growth rates and year round interest, and placed close to bunker ventilation pipes and other features of RECESS I was determined to conceal.

Low-voltage landscape lighting was employed to create nighttime "interest" (and a clear view of anyone approaching the RECESS at night). Finally, the shade structure utilized two dramatic shade sails, in a bold color, capturing attention and drawing eyes up and away from my subterranean secret.

While the aesthetics have been considered, each choice made reflected an underlying goal of distraction. Guests, visitors, and perhaps even future owners should scarcely notice the indicators of the underground bunker, if at all. In the meantime, my family can enjoy a nice yard, and the comfort we derive from knowing that unlike our neighbors, we are ready for anything.

keep the f*** outWatching the bunker door materialize was especially satisfying after a lengthy design and planning process. This is not a traditional bomb shelter blast door. It's design is unique to the needs of a RECESS.

The door is fabricated from ~300 lbs of steel, and will be reinforced with a combination of stacked plywood and ballistics foam. The exterior surface is a plate made from welded 1.5" angle iron; intended to trap, reflect, and fragment small arms fire (see my bunker door ballistics tests here).

This bunker door opens to the inside, and features a removal hinge to eliminate the possibility of entrapment. Two pieces of 2" square tube steel will lock the door against it's 4" square tube steel frame once the shelter is occupied.
intimidating enemies with your bunker door
The primary goal of this design is intimidation. If a RECESS exists to protect your personal cache of water, food, and essential survival gear then the first purpose of your RECESS door is to discourage entry.

A friend, frienemy, or foe that happens across this door should be inspired by its nightmarish appearance and aggressive surface, and immediately question whether or not they even want to try and enter the space. Notions of firing at the door or attempting to batter it down will be cowed by the apparent impossibility of the task. An actual attempt will prove futile, and a waste of valuable ammunition and/or energy.

Hit the jump for some pics of the final assembly.

When I designed RECESS, the plan called for a drain in the center of the bunker floor to evacuate rainwater (seep), spills, blood from the slaughter of animals, or human waste.

As plan became reality, I recognized the flaw in my design: property. The bunker was the lowest point in my backyard, so in order for the water to flow out, the pipe would need to exit the side of the hill that my house sits on. Unfortunately, that "hill" was subdivided thirty years ago, and the downhill side is owned by a neighbor whose roof line sits level with my backyard.

trenching in an emergency drain pipe

After about a month of discussion, I managed to convince my neighbor that the 3" white PVC pipe I wanted to punch through our shared block wall was a good idea. He has a large garden at the base of my drain pipe. I suggested the water overflow would be to the benefit of his prize-winning squash.

trenching in an emergency drain pipe

During the first phase of construction, I'd plumbed the drainpipe out past the deck so that I could more easily tie into it. Now, I had to relocate that pipe and dig a very narrow trench sloping downhill to my neighbor's yard to set the extension into.

taking the pipe to the wallthe end of the line

Once the pipe was tied in, I carefully measured down the block wall on the property line, and chiseled through the find the pipe. The result is fairly discrete. The drain pipe exits the wall, turns 90 degrees straight down, and darts into a length of perforated PVC buried in my neighbor's flower bed. If an emergency ever requires me to begin flushing solid waste, I could hop down and crack the length of pipe extruding form the wall.

This was a terrible chore, and one of the most labor intensive tasks of the bomb shelter construction. It was also the last transformation the yard would undergo as a result of the RECESS construction. Everything remaining is landscaping (concealment), fascia, or interior preparation (waterproofing, stockpiling, comfort improvement). 

One of the biggest hurdles in my RECESS construction is the lack of access to the site. It's impossible to get even the smallest construction vehicle into my backyard. The only passage is a single, wheel barrow wide channel with multiple step downs and two sharp ninety degree turns. Accessing via the adjacent properties would mean either tearing down a block wall, or scaling 20' up one from the property below.

the concrete pump truck destroys my plan of "discrete construction"

concrete pumpIn the long run, these barriers serve as an additional layer of protection; insurance that any yahoo with a winch on his pick-up, or enough diesel cached to run a bobcat, won't be able to roll up to my bunker and pull the door off the hinge. In the short run, it meant that every pound of the 20 yards of concrete brought in thus far was done by hand. The final pour (another 7.5 yards of colored concrete) came in over the roof.

This last layer added between five and six inches of additional concrete slab to the top of the existing structure. The presence of the pump truck also completely annihilated my plan for "discrete construction." Every neighbor on the block stopped by to ask what was going on. The upside was that once the pour was complete and the deck stabilized, I had no qualms taking my neighbors back to see our new "deck," because the shelter was effectively hidden in plain sight.

Pour Comlplete 
Pour Complete, the Bomb Shelter is hidden in plain sight

With the initial structure complete, our next task was to cloak RECESS within the new landscape. Jess Dunn, a landscape architect and friend, helped to draft a clever design.

The plan masked the rectangular form of RECESS within a series of curves, and raised the level of the lower yard in an attempt to conceal the existence of the much deeper cavity. One fundamental design consideration was the total eradication of the original pool. The new yard plan had to break far enough from the structure of the previous one that even long-term residents of the neighborhood would approach this as an entirely new space - with an inherent belief that no trace of the original yard (or pool) was left.

We added a new deck of stamped stained concrete, new stairs that carried down to the lower yard, and broke every original line.

Landscape Plan

Here you can see the hardscape beginning to take shape. The decking material will be stamped, stained concrete. The slab sitting above the RECESS is 1000 sq ft, at a depth of 5 inches, reinforced with a rebar grid.

Landscape Plan Executed

The pink insulation delineates the RECESS. 15 yards of sandy soil taken from the banks of the Rio Grande are compressed into the space surrounding the bunker, and the curve of the exterior wall should theoretically assist in the deflection of extreme compressive force. Hit the jump to see a shot of me tying rebar.

backfill and insulation

inner structure completed, ready for concealment

With the inner bunker structure completed, we set to the task of concealment. Here you can see the exterior hatch opening. The hatch yields passage to the ante-chamber of the RECESS, but an 8 inch thick steel door will protect the inner sanctuary. After literally months of back-breaking labor, this is when it all started to feel real.

For clarity, take a look at my sketch up from roughly the same angle:

virtual becoming reality

Sara enters the bunker

Before we pull the forms, my wife slips in to inspect and get a "feel" for the RECESS. At this point, it's a damp, dark, hole in the ground devoid of any trace of creature comfort. Much to my satisfaction, she emerged excited about the chance to "camp out in there" when we're finished.

Note the vertical white PVC pipe to the right of the hatch. This is a clean out for the bunker drain buried 6.5 feet below the surface. The drain pipe needs to be trenched out and extended 15 feet to a block wall on the downhill side of my yard.

Pouring the Roof

03. 4.2010
pouring the inner roof

With the rebar grid in place we poured the roof. Nolan is out front spreading while I and a few others bring loads of concrete in via wheelbarrow.
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