Cesar Lopez

Project: BORDERLANDS: An Exploitation of the U.S. / Mexico Political Geography
Date: Spring 2013
Credit: Cesar Lopez
Advisor: Brian Price, David Gissen.
Award: Thesis Award and Jury Nomination

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez confront one another like an estranged couple – surrounded by desert and mountains, separated only by the thin trickle of the Rio Grande River. Historically these cities have exchanged many moments with one another having once been a single thriving community. Today, they are severed by the recent re-enforcement of the U.S. / Mexico political geography due to the escalating violence of the Mexican Cartel War. Narcotic trafficking has colonized the borderland region by occupying the vacant homes and structures abandoned by people fleeing to safety. The intent of this thesis is to create new spaces that exist free from the political geography. These new spaces must be a place that promotes a large sense of user-ship rather than ownership and provide an opportunity for of a new set of exchanges and relationships amongst the citizens in the borderland.

The border between these two cities is not some abstract line drawn on a map. The border is defined as the Rio Grande River where according to bi-national legislation; U.S. and Mexican territory is only defined as land leading up to the river fronts. In consequence the river, the river span and the air space above are considered to be a No-Mans-Land. Therefore, the river currently flows through concrete channels built to put an end to the rivers natural habit of changing course, flooding, muddying boundaries.

I take this legislation and create a series of operations that exploit this rule into create new spaces that are unaffiliated with the political geography. The main character in this thesis is the Rio Grande River and how it is transformed into an agent acting as something that binds as well as defines new territory. First, by alleviating the Rio Grande River from the network of upstream levees and dams we can split the river into two separate paths – expanding the border from a single line to an extra-territorial space. Second, the river is multiplied creating a network of river tributaries that will stitch the two cities together. This reconfiguration of the river/border will lead to additional architectural operations that will identifying the disparate and delinquent vacant spaces currently occupied by the Mexican Cartel and subtract them in an effort to remove their negative impact. Once these spaces are empty and excavated they will facilitate the river tributaries as a new canal system circulating both human and river flow throughout the two cities. This will blend and blur the border into both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez appearing everywhere not as a fence or barrier but as a connective network of water that will facilitate active social and economic program. Thus redefining and re-presenting the image of the border as a new experience.

With these operations set in place the border is no longer El Paso or Juarez, Mexican or American space. Instead this thesis offers a new political gradient of national territory in attempt to diversify the borderland through the creation of new spaces. The borderland that is no longer just a space of political subjectivity but rather the river now offers new moments of interaction and exchange amongst two communities and cities of common history and culture.