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Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: Hyperborder

Hyperborder: The Contemporary U.S.–Mexico Border and Its Future by Fernando Romero/LAR
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

This highly-anticipated book presents an interdisciplinary overview of what is one of the most contested places in the world today: the US-Mexico border. Given the recent decision for the United States government to strengthen border security via both manpower and a lengthy wall, it's no surprise that the area is ripe for research and speculation from an architectural point of view. Fernando Romero and his Laboratory for Architecture, a Mexico City-based practice, bring both together in this well-made book.
Romero's experience with Rem Koolhaas comes across clearly in the former, the thorough research intelligently and clearly presented in three-color visuals, like maps of migrant deaths and water stations or statistics on border crossings and trade. In an area as controversial as the US-Mexico border, this research helps present the myriad aspects of the region in all their complexity, well beyond the simplified dichotomies that the mainstream media pushes. The research educates the reader towards a greater understanding of both borders in general and this one in particular. Certainly one won't find answers to the difficult problems that seem to always return to the border -- be they immigration, the economy, or other issues -- but the questions that strive for an answer will be different. For example, all too often borders are seen as hard lines (hence the attempt by the US government to equate border with wall), but environmental processes (water, air pollution) don't follow those borders, nor do wildlife; if anything this example illustrates how the physical definition of borders negatively impacts things that the wall, in this case, wasn't intended to address in the first place. Where one might have asked, "Do we build a wall here or do we provide 24-hour security?" one may change to questions of, "Is the border a line like a wall, or is it a zone that overlaps each country in an acknowledgment of the interrelationship of each?"
Romero touches on just about every issue surrounding the border, be it obvious (security, narcotraffic, migration) or not (energy, health, education). Interspersed with the text and images related to the research are the future speculations. These 38 scenarios do not fall on one side or the other in terms of issues like security. Instead they paint a picture of where our present course may lead, good or bad, leaving the judgment calls to the reader. This is not a book trying to change one's thinking on immigration, security, or the environment towards a "correct" position. Rather it tries to clearly present these and other issues to reader where their complexity and nuances illustrate the interdependent nature of life on both sides.

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