Michelle Stein
Designer
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

Shannon Ruhl
Graduate Student
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA 

Donna Ryu
Graduate Student
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

Rosa Cristina Corrales Rodriguez
Architectural Designer
Choluteca, Honduras

PROJECT STATEMENT:

Throughout modern history, we have built borders as a physical manifestation of social order. The spatial impacts that have resulted to create order have left an imprint of division, disunity, and a zone of emotional and physical disruption. The borders we guard with law and order represent our need to compartmentalize as a means to classify and understand the invisible lines of control and security. In times of crisis, these invisible lines push us towards a reactive rather than substantive fix: put up a wall so tall, only select individuals can cross to the other side. Yet countless scholarly sources tell us that a highly securitized and exclusive border only exacerbates existing relationships of exploitation and discrimination.

Shifting boundaries, negotiating terrain, territorial disputes, or rediscovering markers of the past are a few reasons behind constantly defining and redefining borders. Rather than subjugating a physical structure to adopt a relatively short-term (within the history of a nation) political or generational agenda, we propose a border that embraces the changing needs of each nation and their people, and celebrates diversity through shared initiatives. Exploring opportunities for adaptability and permeability, we reject the border wall as a fetishized object and call for the two nations to live within and around their shared border differently. The result transforms the relationship between the Mexico and the US from one of exploitation to one of mutual benefit.

This Inflatoborder provides a place for shared interaction as neighbors, opening opportunities for diplomacy, flexibility, and interpersonal exchanges at the border zone. As an inflatable, adaptable construct, the border wall can be envisioned according to the desires, needs, and goals of its surrounding conditions. Supported and powered by mutual exchanges and capitalizing on existing strengths, this user-defined process - enabled by an inflatable membrane - encourages communities on both sides to freely come together to share in an activated space.

The inflatable bubbles are situated between infrastructural nodes, retrofitted to utilize the material of existing wall and located at original border monuments. Each bubble is supported with fans located at the base of the monument node, automated to inflate the membrane. Depending on the intent, the air pressure is adjusted by the user to one of three conditions:
1 – low-pressure system (the bubble rests on the ground creating an inflated cushion for use above)
2 – mid-pressure system (the bubble is occupiable with the membrane acting as a complete enclosure), and
3 – high-pressure system (the bubble lifts off the ground and acts as a canopy)

Each infrastructural node generates its own energy for the blower fans and has the potential to power other electronic resources such as wireless internet outputs. The means of energy harvesting is determinant on conditions specific to the site, whether rich in solar, wind or hydrologic resources. The structure of the monument node is a re-appropriation of the existing border wall materials, which vary from steel tube and chain link to railway ties and corrugated metal. In recycling the existing materials of the border wall the proposal reconfigures the lifecycle of the materials that now operate between the two countries.

Where the border traverses agricultural land, an inflatable canopy shades a seasonal roadside market. In dense urban concentrations where public space might be scarce, the whimsical nature of the bubbles attracts children and families to a new bounce play area. The once dividing barrier between two countries is now a welcoming, flexible, and shared construct that can be reconfigured and utilized according to the desires, needs and goals of its local neighbors, instigating a larger change at an international scale.