e-tat / digital wasteland

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Fenciful, Fencival Charrette

Prunings Twenty-One
Affencive design:
Apropos fifty fences, perhaps Kenna would be interested in snow-draped fences along the USA-Mexico border. Some ten million of them would fit in the 1,951 mile stretch. One suspects, however, that these little snow fences are not what planners have in mind. The New York Times sees it differently, and asked ten designers to come up with alternatives to the sheet metal and wire standard. (Thanks, as always, to Anne)

This is reasonable, given the cost estimate for extending the existing style of fence, some forty billion dollars. If the State Departments figures are pertinent, the standard fence will equate to 60 days worth of cross-border trade. But how much of that can be diverted to pay for the project? Perhaps the smart alternative is to get the fence to pay for itself. A couple of respondents to the NYT indicated as much. But I suspect that they have barely scratched the surface of what it might mean to develop a national barricade as a self-sustaining economy. For one, it might be necessary to expand the permiter to include the boundary region, and think more comprehensively about how that might be affected, and integrated into the design.

So perhaps it's time to open a design charrette for constructing a national boundary. Something more sustained than that of the NYT charrette, some on-line studio for the presentation and consideration of design functions and elements. How might such a thing get started? Have any design schools taken it up already? Through a competition to design a 1,951 mile long carpet, perhaps?

Of Design and Diplomacy?

Brilliant! So many opportunities for intervention, for querying the state of things, for making relationships manifest. There are so many potential 'people of the fence' that one could run an ongoing workshop to take in the multitude of views and aspirations. What is a fence to the displaced of New Orleans? Or to the people who fly over it on holidays? To the people on the 'inside'? Contrast this with the Berlin Wall and the Israel/Palestine wall, and ask whether those walls performed as intended; to enhance socialism on the one hand, and preserve national identity on the other. Such barriers are never simply about keeping people in or out: they are meant to serve - or preserve - social priorities.

I also wonder if this is a return to the cordon sanitaire, the liminal space between states, a space of passage, or of blurring the distinctions between one side and the other? Could it be designed in such a way that those inside are welcome to stay indefinitely, as an alternative to living in the departure lounge of an airport?

If the space can assume utopian qualities, can it also function as the dystopia both nations require? Is the fence meant to keep people in as much as it's meant to fence people out? Could the wall be a prison, to an equal or greater extent than it is a place of passage? Perhaps designers should be asking about what the fence is meant to express on behalf of people either side of it. Should the northern side appear welcoming, open, transparent? As indiative of peace and freedom? Or should that be the face of the southern side?


  • A continuous beauracracy, a wall of offices each manned by a government workers whose job it is to accept or return each arrivee. Eventually this would require a support community that might provide the missing jobs, tax revenues to run the thing.

    A wall of doors.

    By Blogger Tim, at 15 July, 2006 00:32  

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