Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Art of Fencestration

Now, it’s no secret, I am in to all things fence-related. I know, kind of an odd statement. In fact, I’m probably the only jerk out there you know that has a full-on fence fetish, if I must own up to it. Analyze that. Well, wait – don’t.
Anyway, so, when I saw a few days ago that Inhabitat had posted on a project by Dutch designer Tejo Remy who uses the fence as a structure for something other than just as a means to divide space, I knew had to relay it here.

[Image: Emily at Inhabitat writes, "not only are the protrusions and recessions of the fence eye-catching, but they allow for a more active interaction between those on either sides of the fence, providing seats, benches, nooks and playspaces for children."]

With ‘Playground Fence’ he turns the barrier into a kind of space unto itself beyond its normal purpose as a mere object or plane between two spaces. Instead, the fence becomes something imaginatively more dynamic, engaging even (from both sides nonetheless), which I think works very well in this context as Remy has executed it.
But, of course, being the border-fence junky that I am, it also makes me think about the same notion applied in those other more brutal contexts where borderzone politics are far more intense than the interface between playground and pedestrian walkway in an urban neighborhood. What about this type of fence-space in divided cities, and places where violence is far more institutionalized in the barriers themselves, where neighborhoods and communities – entire nations for that matter – are split in half by highly fortified security walls, border fences, defensive barriers, and so on?

[Image: Playground Fence, a project by Tejo Remy, via Inhabitat.]

Could this same playground concept apply to these other scenarios, could it be useful in some geopolitically intense border-divided context? I realize the prospect alone may sound totally absurd, especially if I were to ask, could the Israeli Separation Barrier, for example, be converted, recycled, re-used, or re-adapted in a similar fashion... could we go as far as to somehow help it become a space within itself to help suture rather than exacerbate the volatile tensegrity of the spatial divide that is invariably created by the controversial barrier?
In essence, I guess what I am trying to ask, is: could the security wall have any other purpose, dare I even say, a bi-nationally constructive one, other than just serving its current spacio-cidal colonialist strategy of imprisoning the West Bank under the auspices of preventing suicide bombers?

Well, I may have already answered that in a previous mention about how the Israeli Security Wall has enveloped one Palestinian family’s house so that they are now literally inhabiting the wall, imprisoned by it, forcibly detained and trapped within its flexible path completely against their will. So, that would make the short answer a big fat NO.
In a recent interview I did at Postopolis! Lebbeus Woods said of his own considerations about the wall, that to do anything with it – in terms of trying to re-imagine it – would only inevitably turn out to be a de facto endorsement of the wall. And so, in his judgment the only thing more that could be done with the wall at this point was to simply tear it down. Of course, he had an idea for how that should happen which you can read more about in the interview.
Still though, I am curious about the wall as a membrane through which both sides can possibly share something, exchange in a positive embrace. Not because I support the wall, but am just curious to explore all of its effects and consequences, perhaps even possibilities in the interim of attempting to bring it down permanently, wary of course that any positive use in that time may only help to buttress its existence indefinitely.

But could the fence be transformed into a kind of bridge to at least begin the process of deconstruction, towards a structure that unites? I’m not sure what that would look like or whether it is even possible. Before, Subtopia has proposed the idea of setting up an International League of Border Ball Players, for whom some have already appeared to have accepted such a challenge. We’ve also pitched the idea of turning the world’s walls into a kind of global border musical instrument. Surely, the wall can be recontextualized in some way as an early stage in the means of dismantling itself.
If you have any ideas, let us know – love to hear them.
With that said, I have no real final thought here other than to suggest that part of bringing the walls of the future down might somehow be done creatively, as a “creative act” like Lebbeus said. In the very act of re-approaching the wall and destroying it both sides could somehow come together to construct something new simultaneously in the process. So that in the end it is not just one side achieving victory over the other or a massive collaborative celebration of destruction in and of itself, but a re-construction of sorts could come about in its place. Perhaps the materials from a dismantled wall immediately become recycled and go into the construction of another joint project nearby built and shared by both sides. The wall could come down only as fast as an adjacent mutual project could come up in its place.
Etc., etc., etc. Anyway, I'll keep working on it.


Blogger opiniastrous said...

Very interesting. I myself am quite interested in the art of fencestration (I like the name btw). Whilst I would agree that tearing down such walls would be the ultimate objective, they are built for good reason - preventing violence, or at least keeping it out.

The issue that I think should be considered is how to make these fences 'invisible' through the intelligent use of design techniques. For instance, walls implemented to stop VBIEDs gaining access to a particular area could be made by dotting the 'fenceline' with heavy (though small) rocks. Other walls and fences could be designed so that they are actually aesthetically pleasing (here's an interesting security firm with some relevance: http://www.nesta.org.uk/programmes/case_studies/sweet_dreams.aspx ), or simply merge into the environment.

Essentially, the point would be to secure the environment without segregating the people or creating the perception of a hard-handed police state/occupation.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:08 AM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...


Hi. Thanks for your comment. Though, I would argue that the Israeli Security Wall has done nothing to better the situation between the Israeli’s and Palestinians. While suicide bombings may be lower in number, chaos is still rampant, atrocities still occur on both sides, the situation keeps escalating. The violence is only further institutionalized by the wall. The long term effects of that I think are far more damaging than the hideous immediate ones.
So, I think architects too easily get swept up in that traditional role of thinking they need to beautify the barriers, or even that the barriers must exist in the first place.
Can’t architects come up with alternatives to the barriers altogether? At least try? Instead of throwing some flowery design on top of the razor barbed points?
I don’t know.


Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Curious to see and learn more.


10:46 AM  
Blogger ramallah syndrome said...

interesting post bryan. i have to say i always find it difficult to think about the wall in israel/palestine as something potentially progressive or ecunemical; having said that i do think the very process of its dismantling could have positive impacts. i am trying to think about this now in the context of a utopian imagining of jerusalem - what should re-designed city spaces look like in an ideal world? and what kind of social-poltical process could begin to take us there? obviously the wall and barriers would have to go. but how? what does the landscpae post-wall look like? i keep coming back to this notion of 'transgressive architecture or design' - structures and collective (de)constrcution processes that trangress frontiers, borders, official seperations.

there is nothing inevitable about walls and fences - their recent proliferation is the result of a neoliberalized urban order that has literally taken socio-spatial polarization to its most concretized manifestation. certianly their ultimate subversion is in destruction - but i agree that this can be planned and managed in a way that brings mutually mistrusting communities together. still not so sure how exactly this would be done? if u know of any other sources on htis other than woods, it would be much appreciated.

with much respect!

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am interested in the fence design, but I would point out that affluent societies have always incorporated aesthetics into their functional barriers: city and castle walls became ever more artistic as the Middle Ages became the Renaissance, for example.

Another is the use of barrier hedges and other forms of defensive landscaping. Whole forests have been planted as barriers to invasion.

I agree that invisible fences would be more pleasing to the eye, but a fence is also a psychological deterrent. After all, almost any fence can be climbed, but the person who penetrates it must explain to the patrols why he did so; there's no bluffing it out, claiming you got lost, etc. To be an effective form of social control, a fence must also be visible and intimidating.

There is something honest about an unadorned military fence. It puts the observer precisely in his place as an outsider and potential threat. It lets you know exactly where you stand with the persons on the other side of it. When erected by the government, it reminds you that you are cattle to be herded and manipulated by the powerful. Replacing such manifestos with something more sprightly would be deceptive, in my view.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...

thanks for you comments nasser and anon,

nas: i don't think that walls are inevitable, was just using that notion as a launching point to get us more thinking about how we must engage and deal with the wall, different ways of doing that; could in essence the wall serve any other agenda than a neoliberal divisive one?
i am not accepting the wall on any level, but am at the same time wondering how it can be turned on itself, used in a way to defeat itself; to create a sort of backlash, if you will.
i think it is an interesting prospect. rather than just tearing down the barriers (which may be an ultimately more difficult task politically), could they not only be preserved in some unassuming way, but even turned into structures of inclusion rather than the opposite?
it's just a thought.

anon: thanks for pointing out the psycho-effects of the wall. i concur with your analysis. and yes, i would be more into the raw military fence than the pretty sculpted designer fence, because of the inexorable truth captured in that light. the honesty of the barrier, as you say.
but again, i also wonder how architects can develop solutions so that barriers don't need to exist at all.
for example, (it's a big question) but i am curious how everyone would answer it, from architects to engineers to politicians to labor rights advocates to environmental rights groups to border-crossers to border town business leaders, etc., and on and on.
the question is: if you were in charge of a massive comprehensive border development project (let's say, the U.S./Mexico border), and it was your job in a massive singular master plan to "fix the border" (if i must stoop to that language), what would be your agenda, your plan? where and how would you start? there are so many layers to the border and the complex crisis there, i am curious to hear what these different disciplines would do, where they would even begin?
anyway, root causes, that's what i wish architects could try to address more directly.

7:50 PM  
Blogger sarah ross said...

We should not only turn to architects only to deal with this issue. Many architects simply do their jobs- with form, function and client in mind. It seems that in order to address any of the MANY root causes, we'd need to have community stakeholders involved, along with architects, artists, engineers, thinkers, and more!
The idea of "root causes" makes me question if fences are the ultimate "permanent temporary". Surely no one ever thought that a fence could address socio-ecnomic, racial, religious, etc. divides that are themselves contingent and transient. Was the fence supposed to be a short term solution that, when fortified, technologized, and patrolled, worked too well?
At any rate, I do believe that many interesting people have addressed the border through game- at the U.S./Mex border in/Site Art Practices always produces interesting interventions. But the idea of making the fence a musical instrument is a new one to me. I think it's a great idea- I can imagine now- the bars on Remy's fence as the strings of a cello. Other instruments would have to retrofit to walls, barriers, etc. The nice part of this idea is that the fences/walls would make noise- so that one can "hear" a border, and maybe it could be loud enough that it would be removed!

1:04 PM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...


yeah. i see fences completely shaped and re-shaped live by music. barriers contorting to the force of some radical street flotilla of speakers tweaking the fence structure; fences musically made.
this sends ripples across the global fence, the entire thing seizuring.
until perhaps resident frequencies are struck and the border crumbles on its own.

certainly, the fence is the ultimate temporary, the ultimate permanent too! a levee in the flood. it's a joke - and frankly the perfect symbol for all that is going on geopolitically right now, borders, migration, human rights, globalization, militarization, corruption, paranoia, endless spy novel material.
a ruinous beltline of structures that has engineered cultures extinct over time. populations lost in their own stockades. trapped behind their own fences.
gated communities, prison bars, refugee camp barbed wire, borders are etched into our corneas now.
everyone is filed and indexed within a system of bars, a taxonomy of incarceration. the atlas is being made into a Great Border Rolodex!

whatever - it's time to get some sun, see you!

10:51 AM  

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