Opportunity limits | Íñigo García Odiaga

Frontera de Rafah, espacio controlado por el ejército israelí entre Egipto y Palestina.
Rafah border, space controlled by the Israeli army between Egypt and Palestine.

Border spaces, barriers and links.

The old frontiers, geopolitical barriers that operated from the territorial expression of the sovereignty of a country, are blurred at present, configuring intermediate spaces, which define areas of opportunity. They are also the regions in conflict, which show more clearly the tensions and concentrations of activity that borders introduce into the territorial continuum.

While these days are celebrated with multitudinous acts the twenty years of the fall of the Berlin Wall during the night of November 9, 1989, many borders of the planet are reinforced or intensified, generating in this way territorial imbalances on both sides of the line. This “frontier line”, perhaps the greatest expression of the border reality, is currently represented as an intermediate space, derived from that double condition of limit and nexus that borders maintain. In this way, that rigorous territorial cut of yesteryear, would now be considered as a permeable membrane under certain conditions, and under criteria of opportunity or opportunism, which have little or nothing to do with the defense of territoriality or geopolitics linked to the border.

So it is curious to see how, beyond political issues, economic issues are those that maintain, for example, the border with Gibraltar on the Line of Concepción. While the population of El Peñón is around 28,000 inhabitants, the number of active mercantile companies registered within the borders of Gibraltar is around 28,000; that is to say, a mercantile society for each inhabitant. What is paradoxical about this situation is the fact that without a doubt, it is precisely the border reality that makes this tax haven situation possible or what we might call fiscal opportunity. They are therefore the spatial conditions that the border imposes on the territory that in some way activate this space and turn it into what architects Ábalos and Herreros described as “areas of impunity”.

Frontera entre España y Portugal.
Border between Spain and Portugal.

They are therefore those lines loaded with value, which formerly were installed based on geographical elements in the manner of European borders, or in the squadron and the square as in many African borders, which despite the abstraction that the border fact has rigged, those that break the isotropy and the continuity of the territory, configuring new spatial rules in the area linked to the border. It is for this reason that the border space is represented as a multi-layered space, in which problems of social identification with its territory are mixed, economic facts linked to the border or realities based on legal porosities.

The symbolic value of the border and its identity value are also conditioning factors that pervade the territory, due to its simple determination as a frontier space. It is for example striking one of the most popular images of September 1, 1939, date in which soldiers of the Wehrmacht, the German regular army crossed the border of Germany with Poland. This military action, which gave rise to the Second World War, is characterized by the efforts made by German soldiers and police to break the weak mobile barrier that impeded the transit of vehicles, similar to that of any current highway. Up to twelve people appear in the photograph tearing off the existing fence.

Could not they just lift it to allow the passage of the troops?

1 septiembre de 1939 Soldados alemanes rompen la barrera en la frontera con Polonia e invaden el país. EFE
September 1, 1939 German soldiers break the barrier on the border with Poland and invade the country. EFE

The reason for this cruelty must be sought in a more conceptual objective that I practice, since the action aims to eliminate the border, erase it, clean any physical or cartographic relationship of its layout, blurring any discontinuity between the two original territories. By means of this action, both territories, the own and the conquered, merge into one; agglutinating, even if it is simply in a propaganda act a large number of messages, meanings and objectives.

Another model of border, worth mentioning is that existing between Mexico and the United States, and that could be called a socialized border since social involvement acquires great relevance in this border area.

The border line that separates these two countries has a length of 3141 km and is the border with the largest number of legal crossings in the world, around 350 million a year, and is characterized by a large uninhabited space or no man’s land that must be controlled . It is precisely this issue that has led the US government to implement a new strategy to combat illegal immigration based on guaranteeing border surveillance via the Internet.

Frontera entre Estados Unidos y México.
Border between the United States and Mexico.

To this end, 2000 video surveillance cameras connected to an online server have been installed, so that each individual citizen can, from the living room of his home, as a paradigm of private privacy, monitor the border fence and report any illegal activity he receives by sending a simple email. This model that converts any citizen with an Internet connection into a potential border guard, amplifies network operations, not only because of its use of the Internet, the network of networks, but because it activates a process by which responsibility and confrontation with the reality of the border phenomenon becomes collective, in an attempt to reaffirm the patriotic and territorial defense sentiment, something on the other hand, typically North American. It is these, and not others, the mechanisms that govern our borders, so that it is necessary to understand their mechanisms, potentialities and challenges to rethink their operation, far removed from the old customs steps.

Íñigo García Odiaga. Architect
San Sebastián. September 2019

It´s published in MUGALARI, 09.12.04

Íñigo García Odiaga

Doctor Arquitecto y profesor asociado de Proyectos Arquitectónicos, ETSASS. Editor de NOMU. 1/5 del estudio de arquitectura VAUMM. Vivo en Donosti.

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