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Competition: (Un)Common Grounds

An open international ideas contest has been launched to rethink the US-Mexico border (Deadline: 15 January)

The competition seeks innovative proposals for a series of interventions along the 3,201km-long boundary that help reconnect communities isolated from each other by the increasingly contentious dividing line.

The project, backed by Paris-based think tank Fondation Architecture, aims to generate ideas that can be used to create a platform for further study, research and explorations concerning the border. The competition comes shortly after Donald Trump’s administration began testing prototypes for a new $21.6 billion border wall near Tijuana.

US-Mexico Border

US-Mexico Border

Source: Image by Gordon Hyde

US-Mexico Border

According to the brief: ‘By analysing the US-Mexico border, the idea is to formulate hypotheses and to attempt to solve spatial equations of territories that isolate themselves and that turn their back to each other.

‘The participants have all the freedom to bring an architectural and/or urban response to the issues that are contemplated and raised by the problem of the border, be it at a specific location, a portion of it, or its entirety. The participants will have the freedom to determine which scale is the most relevant to answer the raised issues or the questions that they will have asked themselves, or that actually occur on site.’

The US-Mexico border runs from Tijuana in the west to the Gulf of Mexico in the east. It currently features around 930km of barriers and fences constructed since 1994. The political boundary crosses both open desert and major urban areas including San Diego, Tijuana and El Paso.

Trump signed an executive order approving the controversial $21.6 billion border wall project on 25 January. The move sparked a diplomatic crisis with Mexico after which Peña Nieto cancelled a planned visit to Washington. The Trump administration suggested a 20 per cent tariff on Mexican imports could be levied to pay for the barrier.

A series of prototype wall structures are currently being tested near Tijuana as part of a Department of Homeland Security search for a team to deliver the new barrier.

Earlier this year Archstorming launched a separate contest for a new ‘wall-less’ customs area in the separated cities of Nogales on the US-Mexico border

The competition sought proposals for a new ‘non-aggressive and socially inclusive border crossing’ to replace the current wall and checkpoint that separates the US and Mexico halves of the divided settlement.

The latest contest seeks architectural responses to the problems caused by the border at any scale and in any location of the applicant’s choice. A €5,000 prize fund will be shared between the winners.

How to apply

Deadline

The registration deadline is 15 January and submissions must be completed by 16 January

Fee

€60

Contact details

Fondation Architecture
75000 Paris
FRANCE

Email: fondationarchitecture@gmail.com
Tel: 0750832959

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Fondation Architecture

The study, research, and exploration platform discusses its ambitions for the contest

Why are you holding an ideas competition to rethink the US-Mexico border?

We intend to politically question territories, to identify spatialities previously confronted with a political topic. The idea is to create an urban and architectural platform for the study, research, and exploration of issues and questions tied to borders. The exercise consists of getting hold of the subject of borders as a symbolic representation of the political arena, be it real, imaginary, or claimed, and to compare it to different levels of the territory and to urban and architectural questions and issues. By analysing the USA / Mexico border, the idea is to formulate hypotheses and to attempt to solve spatial equations of territories that isolate themselves and that turn their back to each other.

The boundary exacerbates topographical and social divisions marked by an indifference to geography. The competition offers the opportunity to reconfigure cities and territories closed on themselves, to reconnect separated, cut, sequenced, folded, torn, fragmented tissues. The members of the jury are composed of a panel of architects and urban planners, who intervene daily in the different fields of architecture, urbanism, geography and political science. Intrinsically in the subject of borders, there cannot be one unique point of view, but a multitude, as much as there are different contexts encountered. The contest makes it possible to bring out new personalities without imposing an intangible dogmatic vision.

US-Mexico Border

US-Mexico Border

US-Mexico Border

What is your vision for how the southern border could be transformed?

Borders are not immutable. They can give birth to places of friction, which could offer an alternative to a mimicry or antagonism. Twin cities that have developed asymmetrically on both sides of the border, however sharing the same geography and culture, may have fewer differences than two cities of the same country.

The participants have all the freedom to bring an architectural and/or urban response to the issues that are contemplated and raised by the problem of the USA/ Mexico border, be it at a specific location, a portion of it, or its entirety. They will determine which scale is the most relevant to answer the raised issues or the questions that they will have asked themselves, or that actually occur on site.

Studying borders specifically makes it possible to focus on political, economic, social and environmental parameters that are constantly changing, evolving and renewing, all of which serve as a pretext for developing innovative responses, flexibility, hybridity and reversibility of different programs and uses.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The idea is not to remain passive witnesses, but stakeholders in the project who take a responsibility to re-examine the hackneyed models. The goal of the competition is not an end in itself, but to be prolonged by debates, diffusions, and publications with the widest public, those who think and build the city, the elected representatives, businesses, and its inhabitants and users.

US-Mexico Border

US-Mexico Border

US-Mexico Border

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The aim is to feed an architectural manifesto. Exacerbation, exaggeration of recurrent figures, of architectural archetypes (museum, concert hall, university, housing, detention centre, prison, transportation infrastructure …), that are seen as so many urban instruments or devices that each raises the question of limit, of the urban/territorial transition and of the social control of its users/inhabitants, and that have a tendency to renovate, catalyse, and hybridize the different layers that make the density of the city in order to enact strategies of urban local appropriation and insertion that are incorporated in urban scenarios of metropolitan and regional integration.

The border offers a concealed potential site on standby, which relates to a true space of negotiation in gestation, an in-between fixed by collective rituals and by power struggles. Borders offer many fictional projection interfaces and transpositions of urban problems on a piece of land, open to new ways of the use

Are there any other border crossing projects you have been impressed by?

What impresses us is not so much another border crossing project as the paradoxes and aporia of power, with the announced end of borders, virtually enabled by technology, which erases the limits to very intense international exchanges of all kinds (financial flows, goods … ) and at the same time the acceleration of the narrowing and physical closure of borders.