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Generic Functionality

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Cruise liners maximise the number of cabins with sea-facing windows and use their topmost deck to add value to those cabins. It’s the other way around with aircraft carriers. Their sole value lies in their ability to let aircraft take-off and land unrestricted by the immobility and locational inconvenience of terra firma. Everything and everybody above and below the flight deck exists to enable and sustain that functionality.

Aircraft carriers are divided into three types depending on the systems they use for take-off and ‘recovery’. Even the small ones are megastructures.


Crew are divided into Air Wing in charge of everything to do with flying and maintaining the aircraft, and Ship’s Company which deals with everything else. The split is roughly 50-50 with about 2,500-3,000 people each. Aircraft carrier provide an amenity that is communal at the national level though some may say global. The crew however must be provided with sufficient and immediate amenity for them to live and function as optimally as possible.

Daylight and Views: Crew on the flight deck or in flight deck operations are fine and, to a lesser extent, so are people on the hangar deck.


The anchor room has openings that technically, aren’t portholes, but are there to facilitate the attachment of mooring lines.

Battle of Midway ceremony

This is the anchor room of the USS Intrepid. Located in the very prow of the forecastle, the anchor room’s geometry and anchor chains define a space that is incidentally, powerfully and generically symbolic and, as a result, occasionally serves as a general-purpose ceremonial space. The space is not trying to be impressive.

From this next plan, it looks like crew quarters are safely located amidships and some distance from the double hull. Armor plating is better at stopping missiles than windows so this positioning represents an amenity of sorts, even if its purpose is to keep people alive so the vessel can continue to function. Absence of windows means that for most of the time, more than half the crew may as well be on a submarine. Submariners take Vitamin D supplements and are fed Vitamin-D fortified milk and eggs. Daylight-balanced illumination in bathrooms and corridors ought to help but I couldn’t find any information on his or on non-seasonal Seasonal Affective Disorder.


Movement: Passageways and stairs are narrow. Lower rank gives way to higher. In principle, the same applies to queues in the ship’s store, bank and medical and dental clinics. It’s one-way traffic with the starboard (right-side) lengthways passageway for movement towards the front and the port (left-side) one for movement towards the rear.   


ExerciseThe flight deck is often open for running during breaks between flight operations, as is the hangar bay. Exercise contributes to the crew’s overall performance and effectiveness and aircraft carriers therefore have gyms with free weights or universal machines, stationary bikes and rowing machines. None of this equipment is electrical. 


Death: Accidental electrocution is the most likely cause of death on an aircraft carrier. 

Fuel and energy: A nuclear powered aircraft carrier can prowl the seas for 20+ years without refuelling. Its two reactors power steam turbines that, in addition to powering the vessel, also generate electricity and desalinate sea water. Not being diesel powered means more space for more aviation fuel. Another requirement is to carry food for three meals per day for 6,000 people. This takes up space.

The seven kitchens on the George HW Bush are manned by 93 cooks and produce 16,000–18,000 meals a day, from 6am breakfasts through to midnight rations (‘mid rats’). The food bill is about US$45,000-60,000 per day. Chicken Wings: “Take 3,500 lbs (1,600 kg) of chicken …” There’s a 15-day set menu cycle and weekly deliveries of both fresh and dry goods even when at sea so this is not a particularly closed system. (Deck space is for airplanes, not chickens or alfalfa.) Without re-stocking, food supply for 6,000 people becomes a problem after 70 days


Illness prevention 1: Fresh food brought on board is frozen as soon as possible to prevent stomach-borne illnesses. The day’s ingredients are brought up from the hold and stored in large walk-in refrigerators and freezers close to the kitchens. 

Illness prevention 2: Stairwell railings anywhere are a common source of germ transfer. Experienced sailors go up and down without touching them.


Sleep: Sleeping arrangements on the USS Midway are fairly standard with single bunks called racks stacked in threes and sleeping about 60 persons to a compartment. Personal storage is in space beneath the mattresses and one small upright locker per person.

Midway berthing 1-325

Waste management: It used to be the case that all non-combustible refuse was disposed of at sea according to the following regulations.

garbage regulations.jpg

These days,


The Canadian company Pyrogenesis‘ plasma-arc gasification system is installed on USS Gerald Ford. Per hour it blasts 200 kg of combustible refuse back into its constituent molecules.


This site will update you on the status of the US Navy dumping of seawaste.


For now, the best way of dealing with plastics has been found to compress and store them. Technologies for this are now mature.

HaircutsOne barbershop providing 1,500 haircuts per week means one per person every four weeks. Assuming 24/7 operation, that’s one every 6.7 minutes. Permissible styling variation is greater than I imagined. (Navy Personnel Command’s Grooming Guidelines)

Reuse and Recycling: Most modern aircraft carriers live long enough for this to be a problem. The last aircraft carrier decommissioned the fast way was the Japanese carrier Amagi. Kure Bay, 1945.


Aircraft carriers exist for other machines so it’s not surprising humans have little love for them when they become obsolete and immobile. Aircraft carriers revert to being nothing more than a level surface and much darkness beneath – much like the real land they always imitated, only now for no reason.


Enabling aircraft to take off and land at sea is a highly specialized function. Other than admire their once agressively purposeful silhouette, there’s not much you can actually do with an obsolete aircraft carrier.


USS Intrepid became New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. 

USS Midway became San Diego’s USS Midway Museum.

All nuclear powered navy vessels go to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington where they are stripped of equipment and pollutants and then cut up for scrap. The USS Enterprise was to have been, in 2017, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier to undergo this process but the Navy is now ‘considering‘ ‘commercial recycling’ and is open to other suggestions, prompted partly because USS Enterprise is too wide to pass through the Panama Canal.


Taking the long way around is cost-prohibitive. Towing an aircraft carrier around Cape Horn is not something you want to be doing even in clement weather.


It’s one of those problems somebody should have thought about earlier.


The new and larger locks on the Panama Canal are set to open June 26.


There are other ways to get rid of an aircraft carrier. On 17 May 2006 USS Oriskany went out in style.


Onboard explosives were detonated to sink it and create an artificial diving reef off the coast of Florida.


Aircraft carriers are the mainstay of 20th century military operations. They are highly specialized machines enabling the functionality of other machines that themselves are highly specialised.

Castles were the mainstay of 12th century military operations. They were highly specialised buildings enabling people to survive and, to this end, had solid construction and many rooms, some of which were located and sized for access and administration. The same set of spaces could be used as castle, hospital, care home, hotel, hostel or prison. The castle was not trying to be flexible. It’s just that all those different uses over the centuries involved putting people in rooms and providing them with admin and communal amenity.

Thinking about buildings in this way might leave us with ones that are easier to adapt and better equipped for the long haul.

We find castles picturesque. This and the fact they also tend to be in places with nice views only enhances their generic functionality. We’ve been conditioned to believe that buildings exquisitely evolved to meet specific programs are what exemplary architecture should aspire to be. This is probably not such a great idea.

biggest dinosaur

Architecture or evolution? Architecture can be avoided. Less architecture is more. etc.

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  • Once again another great post!

    Interesting point about moving about ships (based on 8 years in the Royal Canadian Navy). If two or more people are talking in the flats (as the corridors are called) they will stand backs to the bulkheads, to allow anyone transiting through to pass between them. It is not at all rude to pass between people who are talking, a habit which has gotten me in some trouble in the real world.