Boundaries and frontiers: What is the meaning of borders today?
Questions relating to boundaries and where we draw the line are now pervasive in many areas of life, from physical borders between countries and the question of who qualifies for citizenship to the point when children become adults and even how we understand gender. The degree to which we create and value borders is informed by numerous social, political, cultural and moral questions. For designers charged with giving physical shape to cultural phenomena, there are a number of distinctions to consider: global integration versus national identity, metropolitan freedoms versus community belonging, and the public realm versus private space.
In recent years, a more downbeat view has emerged, with borders viewed as either unenforceable or undesirable. Urban discourse buzzes with terms such as ‘non place’ and the ‘endless city’ or the ‘open city’, while the popularity of organisations such as Architecture Sans Frontières and Engineers Without Borders highlight support for the idea that borders are frontiers to be challenged. When ex Domus editor Joseph Grima launched ‘Project Heracles’, a competition to design a Eurafrican bridge to connect two continents, it was admired for the potential to dissolve spatial and cultural boundaries. On the other hand ‘Building the Border Wall’, a competition soliciting designs for Donald Trump’s US-Mexico border wall stirred up considerable hostility and demands for a boycott of architectural news website ArchDaily.com, which had published a call for entries. Other commentators have defended borders, arguing that identity and a sense of belonging depend on a clear sense of boundaries and territorial jurisdictions. Borders, they admit, can undoubtedly be arbitrary social constructs, but engagement with physical and symbolic borders such as for the nation state allows communities gain insight into themselves gives meaning to their lives. Indeed hostility to borders can be corrosive, for example denying a necessary space to live a private life away from the public sphere, and cultivate autonomy and self-determination.
Why have borders become such a contentious issue today? As mobility and human interactions increase, are borders a relic of a bygone age? Or, despite drawbacks, are borders symbolic expression of a social need and necessary to create a humane world?
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Wall_ Thomas Castelazo -Wikimedia Commons