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Out of the cold

review - The Lost Border: The Landscape of the Iron Curtain By Brian Rose. - Princeton Architectural Press, 2005. 144pp. £25 The Hush House: Cold War Sites in England By Frank Watson. Hush House Publishers, 2004. £15. (Distributor: Art Data 020 8747 1061)

Even if Brian Rose's photographs in The Lost Border were indifferent in quality, the book would still be a historic document of lasting value; that they're so considered and accomplished is a bonus. They span a period of 20 years in which the Cold War between East and West that had riven central Europe came quite abruptly to an end.

They begin with a fortified border - the line of the 'Iron Curtain' running from the Baltic to the Adriatic - and end with a memorial: a site near the former East German town of Hötensleben where a guard tower, walls, and the intervening 'death strip' have been preserved (the death strip now a swathe of green).

In between come photos of the Berlin Wall and its demolition, and then the frenzy of construction that transformed Berlin: the void of Potsdamer Platz suddenly filled with cranes. For the best part of two decades, Rose was in the right place at the right time.

The pre-reunification shots, when the 'curtain' was still in situ, are subtle, for often the barrier between East and West is barely visible, the landscape apparently seamless - but then you spot a far-off tower or stretch of wall. In the foreground of a photograph taken near Vacha in the German Democratic Republic, some West German farmers are making hay; it's a peaceful, pastoral scene.

When the fence in middle distance comes into focus, the mood darkens.

One image from 1996 of Zimmerstrasse, Berlin, now has a political resonance that Rose couldn't have foreseen. In a part of the city where the Berlin Wall once stood, a billboard advertises Pall Mall cigarettes, and does so with a picture of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Goodbye Cold War, hello War on Terror.

And as the Cold War recedes, so architectural historians get busy with its legacy.

Already there's been a substantial volume from English Heritage, Cold War: Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989 (AJ 15.1.04), but its photographs are very matter-of-fact. They strip the buildings of an aura that some of them possess - an aura that comes partly from their clandestine past but most often is a question of site, as they gradually merge with the landscape and become ever more cryptic.

It's this quality that Frank Watson captures in The Hush House: a book of photos of former military bases in south and east England, such as Greenham Common. In some, the sense of abandonment is strong: weeds sprout and the grass is wild. Elsewhere, though, in a benign reprise of Rose's photograph of Vacha, the land around a sinister structure is now a source of hay.

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