Two Sides of the Border: an exhibition that reimagines the US-Mexico divide
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Two Sides of the Border: an exhibition that reimagines the US-Mexico divide

This collaborative initiative by Tatiana Bilbao, involves student projects, a photo essay by Iwan Baan, and maps by Thomas Paturet that rethink the US-Mexico border regions as one.

by Zohra Khan Jul 25, 2019

“What if we stop dividing the United States and Mexico into two separate nations, and instead study their shared histories, cultures, and economies, and acknowledge them as pieces of a single region?” asked Mexico-based architect Tatiana Bilbao, through her academic initiative titled, Two Sides of the Border.

3 min watch Two Sides of the Border at the Aedes Architecture Forum, Berlin| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
Nile Greenberg (Curator) and Ayesha Ghosh (Tatiana Bilbao Estudio) explain the thematic of the exhibitionVideo Credit: Reframe

Initiated and conceptualised by Bilbao and curated by New York-based designer Nile Greenberg, the exhibition addressed the political climate that continues to exaggerate cross-border differences while refusing to see the larger influence and co-dependency that one region has on the other. First debuted at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery in 2018, the exhibition hosted a second opening this March at the Aedes Architecture Forum in Berlin. Bilbao, an educator herself, involved 13 architectural studios from 12 universities across the United States and Mexico to bring together an array of concepts that imagined the non-existence of man-made borders. Along with the proposals was a photo essay of the various studio sites, documented by photographer Iwan Baan, and new maps highlighting spatial relationships of the two regions created by map maker, Thomas Paturet.

A view across the border from El Paso, USA towards Ciudad Juarez, Mexico| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
A view across the border from El Paso, USA towards Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Image Credit: Iwan Baan

The best way to visualise and understand a region is through a comprehensive atlas. The exhibition, based on the same principle, was presented in the form of an atlas, a book that ‘selectively draws space and defines regions in order to produce a preferred image'. The works were categorised under three perspectives - projective, objective, and subjective.

US-Mexico Eastern beach border | Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
US-Mexico Eastern beach border Image Credit: Thomas Paturet

Projective Atlas

This component explores 129 student projects covering 28 geographical sites through drawings, models and diagrams. Through interdisciplinary architectural and urban interventions, students created probable scenarios and came up with unique solutions for cross-border issues like  housing, migration, farming labour and natural resources.

One such interesting proposal was The Case of José by Columbia University GSAPP student, Minjae Kim. The work talks about a  fictional character named José, who is employed as a carpenter in McAllen in Texas but has his family living in Mineral de Pozos in Guanajuato. Seeing the recent interdependency of the two countries - 90 per cent Hispanic population in one and revived tourism in the other - José decides to take advantage of the latter and returns home. He adds a hospitality programme to his single-family house with architectural elements that connects him to his life in both the countries. Within this new Texan shed house, with a colonial courtyard, he constructs decorative motifs on wooden framing that represents his history in McAllen. When the unlikely merge takes place, he is home without having to leave his story behind.

  • The Case of José by  Minjae Kim, GSAPP, Columbia University   | Two Sides of the Border |  Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    The Case of José by Minjae Kim, GSAPP, Columbia University Image Credit: Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao
  • The Case of José by Minjae Kim, GSAPP, Columbia University | Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    The Case of José by Minjae Kim,  GSAPP, Columbia University Image Credit: Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao
  • The Case of José by Minjae Kim, GSAPP, Columbia University | Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    The Case of José by Minjae Kim,  GSAPP, Columbia University Image Credit: Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao
  • The Case of José by Minjae Kim, GSAPP, Columbia University | Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    The Case of José by Minjae Kim,  GSAPP, Columbia University Image Credit: Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao

A few other proposals include a network of conveyer belts facilitating cross-border movement in The Conveyer City (University of California, Berkeley); the Garden of Redemption (Yale School of Architecture) in Mexico’s Zimapan region with a natural landscape that helps architecture redeem the land from toxicity; and Aeroespina (McKinley Futures Studio University of Washington) that envisions Mexico City’s sinking airport site as the gateway to a new urban ecology.

  • Garden of Redemption by Hyeree Kwak, Yale School of Architecture| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
    Garden of Redemption by Hyeree Kwak, Yale School of Architecture Image Credit: Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao
  • The Conveyer City by Parama Suteja and Felix You, UC Berkeley| Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    The Conveyer City by Parama Suteja and Felix You, UC Berkeley Image Credit: Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao
  • Aeroespina by Laura Durgerian, Mackinley Erickson, Sharon Fung, McKinley Futures Studio University of Washington| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
    Aeroespina by Laura Durgerian, Mackinley Erickson, Sharon Fung - McKinley Futures Studio University of Washington Image Credit: Courtesy of Tatiana Bilbao

Objective Atlas

This included historic maps showcasing 400 years of shifting geographical narrative across the two countries. These were put alongside new maps by French architect and cartographer, Thomas Paturet, who produced aerial imagery that emphasised the fact that nature dissolves all man-made borders and boundaries.

  • San Ysidro Port of Entry| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
    San Ysidro Port of Entry Image Credit: Thomas Paturet
  • US-Mexico Western beach border| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
    US-Mexico Western beach border Image Credit: Thomas Paturet
  • Union Ganadera Ciudad Juarez| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
    Union Ganadera Ciudad Juarez Image Credit: Thomas Paturet

Subjective Atlas

Dutch photographer Iwan Baan travelled across cities in the US and Mexico and captured vignettes of architecture and urbanism in an intriguing photo essay. Baan covered sites that ranged from remittance houses in Guanajuato, a food production facility in Ohio, an ice-cream shop in Kansas, to streets in Texas and sections of the border traversing between the two countries. Looking at the pictures of the buildings, streets, and public space, one cannot identify which city it represents, because they all look the same. It seems the differences emerge only because our collective conscious knows that a boundary exists.  

  • Remittance house, Acambaro, Guanajuato| Two Sides of the Border| Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg| STIR
    Remittance house, Acambaro, Guanajuato Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Alleyway signage in Chihuahuita eighborhood, El Paso, Texas | Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    Alleyway signage in Chihuahuita neighborhood, El Paso, Texas Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Food production facility near Cincinnati, Ohio | Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    Food production facility near Cincinnati, Ohio Image Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Metropolitan growth in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon | Two Sides of the Border | Tatiana Bilbao, Nile Greenberg | STIR
    Metropolitan growth in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Image Credit: Iwan Baan

The initiative evaluates the critical need of shifting the narrative when migration is at the forefront of political discourse and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being renegotiated as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA). 

It becomes all the more meaningful to see students from the two countries coming together to work on a shared vision – to build a future where the term 'border' has no meaning and where creativity surpasses all differences. 

'Two Sides of the Border' exhibition was hosted at the Aedes Architecture Forum in Berlin between 16 March - 25 April 2019.

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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