On the Border… or Once upon “a line”

“In other words, the political agenda of the border shelters equally the permissible and the undesirable, the tangible and the dark…”
Martí Peran

The concepts of line, border or wall have been always present in human history. Borders are used to divide, to control, to separate, to scale and even, to sell in pieces. As Léopold Lambert explained recently, one line has indeed the capacity of splitting a milieu into two environments impermeable one for another, as the obvious geopolitical examples of border walls around the world remind us. And also, sometimes the border is understood as a huge system of political and economic control in which human beings are seen as just another form of merchandise, as we can read in SCHENGEN, The Castle by Xavier Arenós.

Martí Peran has written about “the border”:

The border can no longer be thought of as a simple physical obstacle which demarcates a line of division, but must be examined as the paradigmatic image of formative processes that organise a fair amount of the social dynamic. Different social and institutional relationships are structured along with the border. These relationships promote mobility, work environment and economic flows, territorial management, cultural (in)comprehension and even certain imaginaries of desire.

Now, we want to focus on some projects that approach differently to walls, borders and lines. We mean that, if we can find borders and walls in China, in Tijuana or in Gaza, why not design for them?

In 1972, Rem Koolhaas, Madelon Vreisendorp, Elia Zenghelis, and Zoe Zenghelis presented their project Exodus or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, where the title “Exodus” alludes to Cold War West Berlin, a restricted enclave encircled by a forbidding wall—in effect, a prison on the scale of a metropolis, and one in which people sought refuge voluntarily. This image becomes the stage for a new urban culture invigorated by invention and subversion.

Exodus or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture. The Allotments. MoMA

“Once a city was divided into two parts.

Of course, one part became the “good” half, the other the “bad” half. The inhabitants of the “bad” half began to flock to the “good” part of the divided city, finally resulting into the urban Exodus.”

Exodus or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture. The Strip. MoMA

Influenced by Superstudio‘s Continuous Monument, they have designed The Strip, an aerial view of their walled city, superimposed on a photograph of London. A wall used to protect its inhabitants from exposure to the mental exhaust of the rest of the world? Utopia vrs Dystopia.

This project is an important precedent on how walls have inspired architects for over the past decades, and it’s also an important reference for the project Tijuana Makes me Happy by Salvador Ortiz [with Sergio Pérez, Ana Gimenez, Laura Mariana Reyes and Jose Rafael Verduzco]. They propose to perceive the wall and its environment as an area of opportunity, leaving out its status of terrain vague. The project seeks to approach all the energy generated by architecture in a closed cycle, since the inception of the main large linear building, which holds inside activities of the entertainment industry. American dream vs. Mexican dream.

Tijuana Makes me Happy

Tijuana Makes me Happy

The topic of energy is present in other “border” project: Border Wall as Infrastructure by Rael San Fratello Architects. The project, that was selected as a finalist in the WPA 2.0 competition, is based on the idea that as expensive as the border wall is, it should and could be thought of not only as security, but also as productive infrastructure –as the very backbone of the borderland economy.

Rael and San Fratello pointed out that walls are organized in single, double, triple or more layers depending on the topography, incidence of crossing, available patrol resources and other factors. After analyzing all these facts, they propose:

The most untapped potential for solar development in the United States lies along the U.S./Mexico border. Solar farms, in turn, are highly secure installations. What if we were to reallocate some of the funds used simply to construct and maintain the border wall for the construction of energy infrastructure along the border? We would actually create scenarios in many instances that are more secure than the existing wall, and that simultaneously provide solar energy to the energy hungry cities of the southwest.

The New River is the most polluted river in the United States, flowing north from Mexicali, and crossing the border at Calexico, California. As a reaction to this pollution, the project also includes a wastewater treatment wall located in the 2-mile long wasteland that buffers the dense border city of Mexicali and, as they pointed, “can offer a solution to the “illegal entry” of toxins to the U.S.” [sic]. But the most important part of the project, by our point of view, is its role as a social dynamizer. According to the project, the border wall “can and should be envisioned as a linear urban park through certain urban geographies. When supplemented with green spaces, connected to schools, libraries and other parks.” The linear park, in turn, has the potential to increase adjacent property values and the quality of life on both sides of the border while providing an important green corridor through the city.

Border Wall as Infrastructure by Rael San Fratello Architects

Border Wall as Infrastructure by Rael San Fratello Architects

Victor Hadjikyriacou from the University College London, designed in 2009 the Border Blood Bank, a project that aims to reunite two communities that have been separated by the U.S. Border Patrol and provide a blood bank facility accessed by both sides of the border: Candelaria [U.S.] and San Antonio el Bravo [Mexico]. Hadjikyriacou wrote:

Due to the strict border controls and national planning regulations the program has to be split into two separate buildings. However, the air above the site is not governed by these restrictions and is considered as a “no mans land” without any jurisdiction. This offers the potential to create a structure that cantilevers over the border, above the Rio Grande. Taking this notion and creating a cantilevered building achieves a visual link, reminiscent of the old bridge that used to connect the two neighbouring communities.

Border Blood Bank. Neighboring border communities and site location.

Border Blood Bank. Program brief.

There are no doubts that blood is something valuable, no matter if you’re American or Mexican, so this project located in the so-called “no man’s land” suggests a kind of ‘racial mixing’ as a subversive strategy to blur the territorial demarcation.

Eyal Weizman described the politics of verticality as “a product of a constructed political imagination as it is a physical practice that involves architecture and planning.” According to this, is also interesting to mention here Lebbeus Woods‘ project Wall Games, located in Israel [but there could be spin-offs everywhere] and responding to the fact that by continuing the construction of the Wall, Israel is creating history’s largest Ghetto, separating and isolating its own people from the world upon which their survival, and that of the Jewish State, depends.

The project focus on the already constructed portions of the Wall, and uses them as free-standing artifacts in a still-divided and yet still-negotiable landscape:

The Wall Game uses some sections of the wall as a two-sided playing field. Palestinians control one side, Israelis the other. Each side has a team of builders, architects, artists, and performers, who make a construction on their side of the wall, using it as sole support. In other words, the new constructions cannot rest in any way directly on the ground, but only on the wall. They are cantilever constructions. As such, the cantilever on one side must be balanced by the cantilever on the other side, or else the wall will fall to one side or the other, and the Game will be over.

The concept of homo ludens and the important role of games in human behaviour are essential to understand this project. Huizinga wrote in 1955 that culture arises in the form of play, that it is played from the very beginning, and he added “Social life is endued with supra-biological forms, in the shape of play, which enhances its value.” So, if cultures arise in the form of play, maybe it’s not so naïve to think that it is possible that this kind of game can link again some historical opposed adversaries.

Hypothetical Wall Game scenarios by Lebbeus Woods.

We want to think that maybe games, blood banks or green parks can be useful to change the concept that we have of walls and borders nowadays. Maybe it’s time to believe the idea of changing the world and transforming reality, as Bertolt Brecht wrote:

“It takes a lot of things to change the world:
Anger and tenacity. Science and indignation,
The quick initiative, the long reflection,
The cold patience and infinite perseverance,
The understanding of the particular case and the understanding of the ensemble:
Only the lessons of reality can teach us to transform reality.”

UPDATE [07.01.2011]

We want to include here the project Envisioning the border by Edwin Agudelo, that was pointed out by Léopold Lambert [see the comments below]. The project is an attempt to explore the bypass of the border by subterranean ways. Tunnels represents in imaginaries the example by excellence of resisting to the wall since it romanticized the breakout.

Agudelo says about his project:

My interest was in locating, excavating and envisioning three underground border systems: infrastructure (sewage tunnels), natural systems (caves, and illicitly dug tunnels, which through a system of aggregation, might suggest a specific spatial dynamic capable of being programmed for public access […] During our visit to the border in El Paso we were told by US Border Patrol of days where, along just a stretch of a few miles, one to two hundred individuals would penetrate or jump the fence in an attempt to sprint across the barren Texas desert to then slip into the nearby neighborhoods. If this sort of circus can exist above ground, what sort of worlds might we find if we could have a totalizing view of the underground?

This last point described by Agudelo is also related with our proposal Tunneling Gaza, about all this kind of hidden activities that can be find under the borders.

Envisioning the Border by Edwin Agudelo

Envisioning the Border by Edwin Agudelo

As the project Envisioning the border has been published on The Funambulist and also on Brian Finoki‘s Subtopia, you can go there for more info.

Related readings:
– The Wall: Settlement Archeology [Eyal Weizman with Markus Miessen] at Bidoun
Schengen, The Castle [2008] by Xavier Arenós
– Walled world | Image that shows difference between our globalized world.
Lost in the Line by Léopold Lambert

We want to thank La Perifería Doméstica for all his inputs and contribution around this topic.


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