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Inside Israel’s Bomb Shelters, Hidden in Plain Sight

“By law all Israelis are required to have access to a bomb shelter and rooms that can be sealed off in the event of a chemical weapons attack,” writes Adam Reynolds in his new book Architecture of an Existential Threat, published today by Edition Lammerhuber. As a result, the country is home to close to one million public and private shelters. Reynolds spent three years photographing some of these spaces, documenting structures ranging from basements and empty concrete rooms to open-air bomb shelters and convertible parking garages, in an attempt to create what he calls a “broad cultural and geographical typology of the shelter spaces.”

With so much real estate dedicated to shelters, many double as living and working quarters that are seamlessly integrated into everyday life. Reynolds photographs a dance studio, a synagogue, a toy-filled bedroom and a cosmetics studio, all places that also serve as designated shelters. Others spaces are more thinly disguised or repurposed—a strip of pastel wallpaper hangs in a shelter in a Kiryat Shmona apartment complex; a mural showing trees and ocean covers the exterior of another. But many cannot be disguised. There are industrial air filtration systems, such as at the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital in Tel Aviv, and throughout the book, rooms include thick metal doors with complex locking systems that can be sealed air tight.

These spaces, writes Reynolds, “are hidden in plain sight, part of the visual vernacular of the country. For better or worse, Israelis must balance the ever-present anxieties about war and insecurity with a fierce desire for normality in daily life.”

The series is also on view in an exhibition at the Jewish Museum Vienna through October 8.

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  1. The facilities at the hospital/medical school in Beersheba are designed to protect against rockets. Although Sderot is the closest Israeli city to Gaza, and often targeted, the major city of Beersheba is within range as well.

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