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Building of the Month - January 2014

The Lookout Post

Lookout Post 01 - "LOP 20", Ram Head, Ardmore, County Waterford

Figure 1: "LOP 20" at Ram Head, Ardmore, County Waterford

In the uncertain early days of the Second World War the Irish government sought to take action to protect the neutrality it had declared in September 1939.  It was decided that a series of lookout posts ["LOPs"] would be built at strategic points along the Irish coastline to monitor belligerent activity at sea.  The LOPs were manned by coast watchers and the institution they formed was named the Coast Watching Service.

Lookout Post 02 – Contract Drawing (1939)

Figure 2: An extract from the Contract Drawings signed (1939) by William Henry Howard Cooke (1881-1977) of the Office of Public Works.  Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland

Eighty-two LOPs were built or reconditioned between 1939 and 1942 and each was built in situ to an identical design using 137 pre-cast concrete blocks.  Their construction was one of the most widely spread engineering exercises undertaken by the Irish Defence Forces during the Second World War and, located at intervals of five to fifteen miles, the network stretched the entire coastline from Ballagan Point in County Louth to Inishowen Head in County Donegal.

Lookout Post 03 – "LOP 70", Saint John's Point, County Donegal

Figure 3: "LOP 70" occupies a windswept position overlooking Saint John's Point in County Donegal

Lookout Post 04 – "LOP 80", Malin Head, County Donegal

Figure 4: "LOP 80" at Malin Head, County Donegal, forms part of an interesting group alongside the signal tower erected during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15)

Coast watchers worked around the clock in pairs on eight or twelve hour shifts.  One man operated the telephone inside the LOP, the other patrolled outside.  They had to report every activity they observed at sea or in the air in the vicinity of their LOP.  Each LOP was assigned a unique identifying number starting with "LOP 1" in County Louth and finishing with "LOP 82" in County Donegal.

Lookout Post 05 – "LOP 03", Clogher Head, County Louth

Figure 5: A photograph showing a group of coast watchers standing outside "LOP 03" at Clogher Head, County Louth

Lookout Post 06 – "LOP 67", Aughris Head, County Sligo

Figure 6: "LOP 67" at Aughris Head, County Sligo

The LOPs were decommissioned after the Second World War.  Today the LOPs survive in various states of repair, some intact and some falling down as their structures give way to the unrelenting elements or to human destruction.  Some have simply vanished into the surrounding landscape.  A few have been repurposed and have functions relating to marine communication and as aids to navigation.

Lookout Post 07 – "LOP 64", Downpatrick Head, County Mayo

Figure 7: "LOP 64" occupies a cliff-top overlooking the sea stack at Downpatrick Head, County Mayo

The idea for the Lookout Post Projection Project came from learning that a large number of the LOPs survive to this day.  Their uniform architecture and size make them ideal surfaces for a projection project of this kind.  In conjunction with the project, the sites of all eighty-two LOPs were recorded geographically [http://www.lookoutpost.com/geo/lop1/].

Another advantage of the LOPs for the project was the fact that their design is atypical for Ireland's coastal landscape.  Unless one is familiar with the historical significance of the buildings it is impossible to readily deduce their function.  The LOPs are an unusual contrast to the surrounding environment and take one by surprise when gazing along the coastline.  The artistic projection onto the LOPs reinforces the contrast to the landscape.  In the project the seemingly illusionary instants created in the projection process are recorded photographically.

Lookout Post 08 – "LOP 26", Seven Heads, County Cork

Figure 8: Tim Schmelzer setting up the projection onto "LOP 26" at Seven Heads, County Cork

Projecting an image onto a constantly repeating shape is comparable to placing an unfinished sculpture in different environments, each time working on it from a different perspective.  The special architectural properties of the LOPs are well suited to the modelling process, in this case using the medium of a light projection.  Depending on the viewing point, the hexagonal form and the six distinctive windows emphasise various characteristics of the buildings.  Even the partial foundations remaining in a few instances unmistakably hint at the former structures and hence are also included in the project as projection surfaces.  The lateral door opening breaks the symmetry of the structure and creates additional interesting perspectives for the projecting.  The openings also extend the projection surface into the interior and introduce the possibility of selectively adapting the projection to create further depth.

Lookout Post 09 – "LOP 60", Blacksod Point, County Mayo

Figure 9: The ruins of "LOP 60" at Blacksod Point, County Mayo, onto which is projected an image of the coast watchers monitoring activity at sea

The varying degrees of disintegration of the buildings additionally distinguishes each LOP from the other.  In many instances a clear progression of disintegration manifests.  Once the iron beams have succumbed to rust, the ceiling elements start falling to the ground.  After that the window frames collapse, then the side walls, and finally the chimney side.  It is the decomposition of these buildings that starts to breathe new life into them and make them viable for this project.  The act of breaking away from rigid uniformity is echoed in the diversity of the projections employed in this project.

Lookout Post 10 – "LOP 10", Kilmichael Point, County Wexford Lookout Post 11 – "LOP 30", Mizen Head, County Cork

Figures 10-11: The projection selected for "LOP 10" at Kilmichael Point, County Wexford, features the leaping salmon from the florin or two shilling coin.  The brightly-coloured projection on the exterior of "LOP 30" at Mizen Head, County Cork, not only softens the angular form of the lookout post, but also contrasts with the monochrome projection on the interior with its neo-Classical figures

In most cases, however, the surrounding landscape defines the angle of perspective of projection and this, in turn, defines the design of the projection.  Similar to a sculpture, the existing basic structure is always modelled on a different side that is spontaneously defined on site.  The projection motifs are usually selected shortly before implementing them on location and then adjusted in perspective to the architecture.  The photographic archiving of the projections deliberately took place in the evening, using twilight as an instrument to balance perception of the interactions between each projection and its surroundings.

The results of the project were published on the website www.lookoutposts.com.

Tim Schmelzer, Vienna

FURTHER READING

Kennedy, Michael, Guarding Neutral Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008)

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