Zones of Contention | Between Borders and Frontiers

Monument for those who have died attempting to cross the US-Mexican border. Source: wikimedia commons

contention [kənˈtɛnʃən]
1. a struggling between opponents; competition
2. dispute in an argument (esp in the phrase bone of contention)
3. (Literature / Rhetoric) a point asserted in argument.

Recently we published the post on the border, with some projects that present solutions to frontier conflicts around the world. After that, some friends have shared with us projects, speculations and ideas on this subject and we realized that mostly all of them were focused on the US-Mexican border. And this fact just makes us wonder that if there are frontier conflicts all around the world, Why is this geopolitical point so important to concentrate so many speculative proposals?

The border’s total length is 3,169 km [1,969 miles], according to figures given by the International Boundary and Water Commission. It is the most frequently crossed international border in the world, with about 250 million people crossing every year. Fernando Romero adds some facts on his book Hyperborder, where he pointed:

“Hyperborder, the U.S.-Mexico border, is the busiest and among the most contrasting international borders in the world, with over one million crossing daily. It is the ninth longest in the world and the fourth longest in the Americas, with an area bigger than Spain or Sweden and a population larger than Guatemala or Portugal. It is a dynamic site that encompases modern global issues that range from migration to trade to international relations to national sovereignity.”

In this context we want to review some projects that are related with this “line” drawn between the United States of America and Mexico, starting with Adam E. Anderson‘s Zones of Contention, that we found at his blog Design Under Sky.

Zones of Contention by Adam E. Anderson at DUS

Zones of Contention by Adam E. Anderson at DUS

Anderson says that he worked on this project due to a personal interest on zones of contention, borders, and transboundary parks and he adds that “recent rising tensions and legislature in regard to the US/Mexican border and illegal immigration render this particular zone a terribly awesome area of conflict“. Working on what we can call an “unsolicited architecture project“, he designed an hybrid drawing study that aims to construct a narrative of what this border zone might look like if we think on the several generation’s failed attempts to construct what he calls “The Great Wall of America“.

The main issue here is how to transform geopolitical, social and economical matters into an architectural solution that represents the act of crossing from one side to another. Trying to produce an answer for this conflict makes necesary to think on a new framework, that considers the common links of the people that lives in both sides of the line and re-think of the role of architecture within all these needs. Anderson pointed about his project:

The entourage was carefully chosen to depict how the wall becomes inhabited and ideas of culture, but, some of this was intentionally left ambiguous, so that each viewer can construct their own narrative with the characters and components provided. This I hope might challenge each of us to reflect on the arguable relevancy of the contemporary idea of “border.” Furthermore, is there a process for landscape intervention that can be deployed on all zones of contention that might resolve conflict?

Zones of Contention by Adam E. Anderson at DUS

According to Teddy Cruz on his project The Political Equator, there is a need of research and design on the exploration of the intersection between sociopolitical and natural domains and only when we’re able to find the geopolitical and economic dynamics of the conflict, we’re going to be able to use architecture as means to erase the line between borders and the natural and social ecologies they interrupt and seek to erase.

Tony Payan also wrote about this subject and points on his book The three U.S.-Mexico border wars: drugs, immigration, and Homeland Security:

“If the boundary refers to the physical line drawn between the two countries, defining the border is much more difficult because it is the geographical area where the national and cultural characteristics of the two nations meet and mix and where their respective governments implement policies concerning the international boundary.”

This “linear panopticon” which divides the two countries, as Cruz refers to the border-wall has been the inspiration of the project Border Crossing Oasis by OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen.

Border Crossing Oasis by OFFICE KGDVS

This is how the architects describe the project:

“ A nine-meter high wall defines a no-man’s-land between the two countries. Within the white walls a grid of palm trees imposes order on a large, shaded garden. Pavilions for passport control and administration are spread around here and there, becoming part of the garden. The oasis is a point of reference in the vast Tex-Mex landscape, hidden within the open landscape by its walls. In all its simplicity it raises questions about the desire for the promised land.”

Working to create an oblong volume that reminds us Superstudio’s Continous Monument, the project provides a border crossing for pedestrians between Mexico and the US, and interrupts the endless demarcated boundary. With a representation that we found intentional naïve, the project remember us the meaning of the words “no mans land” and makes us reflect on some different ways to transform it on the “promised land” that human populations has been always seeking.

Border Crossing Oasis by OFFICE KGDVS

While there are some architects who proposes to remove the U.S.-Mexico border wall and create a regional watershed remediation strategy for the Rio Grande, we can’t forget to mention Fernando Romero’s Museum, that aims to link El Paso and Ciudad Juarez over the same river. Even if the project is not so new, we can see that the immigration conflict on this liminal zones is constantly under review, as there is still no answers on how to solve the situation that lies in the realm of this spatial politics. Romero‘s project is so out-of-scale that it’s difficult to define if its an answer to the conflict on the border or if it only wants to change the human perception of the surrounding landscape. It is intended to act as a zone of contention too or just designed as a monument for the area?

All these scenarios simply emphasize the need for a forward-thinking attitude about the relationship between the two interdependent nations. The need to create new landscapes, [maybe utopian or maybe designed to be real] is evident and we should change the idea of the border between two nations as a line of control, and start perceiving it as a social, political and cultural space.

Bridging Mexico/USA. LAR | Fernando Romero. Source: Artdaily

Border infrastructure along the Rio Grande by Pierre Bélanger.

“The border is a line at which one stops; the frontier is an indefinite
area in which to proceed. The border is stable and fixed, the frontier mobile and uncertain.
One is obstacle; the other is chance.

Paolo Virno quoted by Angela Mitropoulos
at Notes on the Frontiers and Borders of the Postcolony

Virno’s idea on transforming an obstacle into a chance is the guideline that we found behind all these projects and we can refer again to Mitropoulos’ text, when she pointed:

In other words, if the pessimistic – which is to say, Hobbesian – view of frontier spaces regards them as sites of desolation and suffering whose causes are intrinsic [as an expression of, say, barbarism], in its utopic dimensions the frontier is often horizon approached as possibility.

Going from Toxicwalls to Pneumatic Walls; it is possibe to think that the line, the border, the wall can be substituted by an an aqueduct?

This is the proposal by Adriana Navarro on the Border Wall as Architecture: “An aqueduct. A network shared by both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, physically demarcating space by directly addressing the essential pragmatics of the area. As such, the aqueduct replaces the border, paralleling to the Rio Grande, at points branching out into the cities and connecting to existing systems and infrastructures”.

Aqueduct replacing the border. Andrea Navarro

We want to end sharing Foucault‘s text on heterotopias

There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias.

And as Foucault adds, “I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place.”

This post can be consider the second part of a series that started with On the Border… or Once upon “a line”

Recommended readings:
– On borders and walls [but not between US-Mexico but in Bosnia] Metastructure by Lebbeus Woods
Border Film Project. An art collaborative that distributed disposable cameras to two groups on different sides of the U.S.-Mexico border – undocumented migrants crossing the desert and American Minutemen trying to stop them.


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