Date of Degree
Architectural History and Criticism | Military History | Other American Studies | United States History
DEW Line, Cold War, Geodesic Dome, Buckminster Fuller, Radar, Arctic
The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line was a Cold War era project aimed at providing advanced warning of incoming Soviet attack via the northern periphery of Canada and the United States. The Line was comprised of radar stations across the 69th parallel, spanning from Western Alaska to Baffin Island, about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Academic institutions and research labs, private corporations, and military entities collaborated to develop the DEW Line.
The domes used to shield the radar from the extreme terrain were designed by architectural icon Buckminster Fuller, who was elaborating upon a symbolic language of security and enclosure. DEW Line designers' use of advanced technology, which they infused into the infrastructural built environment they produced, promised to address newfound anxieties of unboundedness, fueled by a transformed geographic imaginary, through the tactic of warning.
After years of research and planning, construction began rapidly in the Spring of 1955 and was completed an astounding two years later. Yet by 1958, missile technology had surpassed the scope of the DEW Line's warning capacity and the sites would endure a slow process of decommissioning over the next forty years. The remnants of the sites have permanently altered the landscape of the Arctic, made all the more apparent by rapidly changing climates.
This thesis traces the history of the DEW Line, which remains relatively unknown, in order to examine the delicate intersection of geography, infrastructure, and environment as systems of an ideology of warning. DEW Line advisors imagined the distant north through the promise of warning as an exercise in boundary-making, and as a symbol of a networked future. The DEW Line warns against these potential environmental futures. Though the DEW Line cannot be separated from its history as an agent of warning, that history itself has largely been erased.
Steingard, Jordan, "The Distant Early Warning Line: Geographies, Infrastructures, and Environments of Warning" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.