a million-dollar view

photo: sm

Border City: CHapter 1

Contribution in an edited book: Mandić, S. (2015). A Million-Dollar View. In: Bachhuber. L. (Ed.)(2015). Border City: Chapter 1 (pp.44-45). Weimar, Germany: Bauhaus-Universitätsverlag http://www.vdg-weimar.de/katalog/border_city-1363.html




After the long drive through Tijuana, an emotionally draining experience of surveying destitution, we stepped out of our group’s bus right on the beach. The vastness of the ocean and warmth of the sun were a perfect blend that allowed me a moment of ease. Soon though, I started noticing the intensity of the tension that exists at this exact point where the dry land meets the ocean, and both are intersected by the border wall between Mexico and USA. On an ordinary sunny day, the oppressive severity of the coastal situation met the comforting tranquility of the ocean; the artificially limited movement of the people on the land oddly pairing with the naturally free movement of the people in the water; the endless distance of the horizon matching the in-your-face reality just a few steps from the sand beach.

“…Just look at that million-dollar view!” stated our local host excitedly. “And look who has it”, he said as he waved his hand towards the shabby houses. “This is a great place for a hotel, and that’s what we want to promote.”

As an architect, I have so very often seen and experienced conflicting notions and practices of urban development. Statistics on crime rates, drug-abuse and unhealthy environments are presented as arguments to legitimize the need for areas to be cleaned. This is very often why architects, artists and civil engineers act with a goal of improving the situation. Add to that our perspective as privileged outsiders, who are experiencing the situation on San Diego – Tijuana border in a pre-selected and framed way, the safe and distant imaginationn of our designs and projects can be highly problematic.

“Come on everyone; let’s take a group photo for our website. Also, if you could send an official supporting letter as the Bauhuas University to the city of Tijuana, to inform them of our activity, we would appreciate it.”, ended the tour our guide.

On that beach, I just could not shake off a feeling of wrongness. I see the exotic, I learn something, I realize the struggles, I empathize, and I take photos. But at the end of the day, I know I will leave. Now, this viewing in Tijuana was far from a touristic viewing such as those done the early twentieth century where, for example, “In Canton, a group of tourists, seated in sedan chairs, are carried on the shoulders of several barefoot, bare-chested Chinese men.” (“Tourists Starting for Canton.” 1898., Edison). Still, the question of my contribution to the appropriation and production of space, there and then, for me is still valid.

Nevertheless, it is exactly the discomfort and vulnerability I was exposed to that enabled me to realize the existence of my personal border; erected by my previous education, and hardened by my experience and practice as an architect. The benefit from the ‘Border City’ workshop, in my opinion, is not to think in a direction of offering effective solutions to the problems on the site, but rather to try to understand our own performative actions; to ask ourselves what is our personal role and perspective in specific social, political and economical contexts, and what are the potentials, limitations and consequences of our actions?

The interdisciplinary discussions, which took place at the University of California in San Diego, addressed this question somewhat. Building on the presentations and excursions, a deeper understanding of the complexity of physical divide provided the argumentation that favoured an approach of common construction of knowledge and solutions. As such, this practice would imply avoiding the non-reflexive and contested work of professionals as sole generators of the solutions, but would, at the same time, imply avoiding idealization of what the people want.


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