LA-88 NIKE Playscape
The story of the unruly sites of abandoned LA-Nike missile silos presents us with an unimaginably vast arena. Both in terms of space, through its
all pervasive global reach, as well as time, through its status as defense mechanisms to defend against nuclear attacks delivered by Soviet bombers in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s the United States. The 275 Nike sites built in 29 states are one highly representative example of these defenses and constitute the world’s first missile base network, predating not only all other air defense missile networks but also all offensive nuclear missile bases.
Despite its tremendous significance, historic preservation and public memory of America’s Nike air defense missile system is extremely limited. The dominance of deterrence, lack of trauma associated with Nike sites, and difficulty fitting air defense into traditional narratives of the Cold War provide a poor foundation for public memory. Each site reached its own demise depending on location and accessibility among many factors.
This research sets focus on the Los Angeles Defense, a ring of 16 Nike sites; and more specifically the LA-78, LA-88 and LA-96 sites. While buildings on Nike sites have been adapted to a wide variety of uses, these underground missile magazines remain the most difficult feature to adaptively reuse. This intention of this research is not to promote historic preservation of these sites, but rather to speculate a new future for the ‘expired’ Nike air defense missile system.
With regards to preservation of these sites, often the buildings most suited to adaptive reuse are barracks and non-specialized, above ground, cheap, quickly constructed buildings. In an age of rapidly developing defense technology, even the most basic buildings stood a strong chance of outlasting their required functions on Nike sites, thus cost and function dictated the design and durability of most Nike site buildings. In that sense, the materials and workmanship involved in the construction and upgrading of Nike sites often runs counter to preservation instincts. These buildings were generally intended to be disposed of, not preserved or restored.
Then again, difficulties adaptively reusing sites generally mean that Nike defenses remain the longest-standing use for the site, and thus evoke the strongest associations. Even when adaptively reused, the highly similar architecture used on these sites and difficulty inherent in remolding those physical remnants does provide former Nike sites a decent degree of association with the Nike system as well.
This research is disseminated through the proposal of a new architectural language that will aim to disassociate the Nike system through aesthetics. However, this is not to say that the past will be forgotten, but rather to evoke new possibilities for these sites without restoring previous constructions.