“The fascination of boundaries lies in their ambivalent role of dividing and connecting at the same time. They mark the transition between different modes of existence. They transmit and control exchange between territories. They are the playground for discovery and conquest"
- Richter and Peitgen, 1985.
Beyond the ‘Self’, we are inherently a part of ‘collectives’ such as a family, a community, a city, a village, a country, a culture, an ethos, and the universe. In the natural course of life we become aware about the geographical edges and social boundaries such as language, culture, religion and economy that segregate Us from Them. And yet we feel connected to these various 'collectives’ almost simultaneously.
To feel connected we learn about other cultures, art, languages, share ideas, do trade, or just come together and celebrate. The transitory events such as family rituals, work, education, festivals, recreation, public events, journeys, pilgrimages are the means through which we constantly traverse from one domain to the other. In today’s world the digital media has made this transition through the boundaries a lot quicker.
The connectedness takes place when the ’edges’ defining the territories allow for exchange. Prof. Richard Sennett, renowned Sociologist, teaching at the London School of Economics, has demonstrated through the natural phenomenon of “Edge Effect”, how the boundary conditions between diverse habitats are conducive for exchange and hence generate a greater biodiversity. He therefore asks whether the ‘natural systems’ of ‘edge effects’ could be simulated as ‘man-made systems’ for human habitat thereby proposing that the ’public realms’ to be pushed to the ‘edge’ where the human activity is heightened and rich.
Architecture has always facilitated this transition by providing spaces where the territorial or socio-cultural boundaries are negotiated – dissolved, consolidated or maintained. The Haskell Free Library that sits on the border between the United States and Canada speaks of a knowledge exchange between countries. The Hammam restoration project in Kabul, Afghanistan aims at reviving the traditional bathing house culture. It is an example that shows how Architecture can facilitate a boundary that breaks the barriers of social restriction. The Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge in Tehran, Iran is a beautiful example showing how architecture can transform the idea of bridging a physical boundary beyond its functional connotation. The Great Wall of China built in 14th century to divide the kingdoms and protect them from invasion has over time transformed into a world heritage site visited by millions every year exemplifying how architecture adapts and blurs boundaries in time.
Christopher Alexander, in his book 'A Pattern Language' emphasizes the importance of having boundaries in order to ensure a thriving mosaic of subcultures. He further suggests ‘Let this boundary be natural – wilderness, farmland, water-or man-made-railroads, major roads, parks, schools, some housing. Along the seam between two subcultures, build meeting places, shared function, touching each other’
This year, ACA’s 4th International Design Competition has set out to discover, the layers of the architecture of boundaries. The Competition eagerly awaits your unique narrative of these‘spaces on edge’ that represent a core transformational condition, theme or an event set in your part of the world. For this you may need to take a deep dive into the inheritance of the ethos you belong to and simultaneously take a leap out of it to embrace the world beyond it. The English musician John Lennon immortalized an imagination of a world free of boundaries, barriers and borders at a time when it seemed like control over them were the only things that could prove supremacy. He said,
“Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace... You...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one”
- Excerpt from “Imagine” by John Lennon, 1971