We have become obsessed with boundaries. Where one thing ends, where another begins, what is and isn’t included, who is in, who is out. What are boundaries? What defines a boundary? Is it the line that separates two things, the edge? How can an edge exist without the body, a space defined by that edge?
There are different types of edges, hard vs. soft for example. In the architectural battle against fear, the line has been drawn in the sand and it’s a hard line. In Mike Davis’ City of Quartz he touches on this line. He refers to it as the “architectural policing of social boundaries” p223. Davis makes reference to gated communities, panopticon shopping plazas, video surveillance, “armed response” security signs, and the general “hardening of the urban surface”. In this he makes a special case with the erosion of public space.
“…the quality of any urban environment can be measured by whether there are any convenient and comfortable places to sit.” p232. As reactions to perceived and actual increases in crime and general danger Davis points out the destruction of public space. “To reduce contact with untouchables, urban redevelopment has converted once vital pedestrian streets into traffic sewers into traffic sewers and transformed public parks into temporary receptacles for the homeless and the retched.” p226. Through a turning inside out, these spaces have become marginalized. In the specific case of Los Angeles, a Cold War has been declared on the public domain. It has been subjected to unending scrutiny through an electronic lens, segregated and walled off, and devalued through separatist urban planning.
The value of public space as a social condenser, as a social safety valve, as envisioned by Frederick Law Olmstead creates safety through the exact opposite mode that current fortified strategies do. Through creating a space of mixed use, mixed people perhaps even a mixed or blurred boundary, a place is created where security and safety is created by the presence of people, not their absence. In the creation of “public” spaces, that is, spaces that belong to no one and yet everyone, adjacent boundaries are able to bleed into these spaces and erode the hard line that otherwise separates them, one begins to create an interweaving of the community spatial fabric.
What happens when the edge is blurred outside the public space? Davis points out the location of a jail within a commercial neighborhood as an example; “One solution to the conflict between the carceral and commercial redevelopment is to use architectural camouflage to finesse jail space into the skyscape. If buildings and homes are becoming more prison- or fortess-like in exterior appearance, then prisons ironically are becoming architecturally naturalized as aesthetic objects.” p256.
I’m interested in this term “architectural camouflage”. In a previous post, a question about the “good design” of security measures asked whether it was more important to be beautiful or invisible. If the answer is that it's better to beautiful then that’s something I think is easily within reach and might spark aesthetic and formal debate. If the answer is that it is better to be invisible, then I think the debate might burn a little more strongly. I question the ethical implications for a responsible designer who is creating camouflaged work. Who are they responsible to? If the answer is the general public then it still remains foggy. Who is the general public or at least, what side of the general population do you side with? The ones who wish to know what is happening to them, or the ones that wish to live their lives in peace and safety at the cost of ignorance? Where is the line drawn? Again it seems it becomes a question of boundaries.