The ancient contrast between autonomy and its role in society is probably carved into the very essence of architecture, and nothing polarises this dichotomy more than an attempt at defining the margines of architectural work. Despite the fact that the leading or predominant architectural school of thought, which by definition operates at the centre of its discipline, can always be defined by itself, it also inevitably collides with other fields of knowledge. In architecture, as with all disciplines, the core is only truly defined by its edge. As recently pointed out by esteemed sculptor and architect Jože Barši during a panel on architecture and the arts in the Musem of Contemporary Art Metelkova, the role of every discipline is to insist in closing in on and extending its edges and in doing so, redefining itself on its margines. Even though extending these edges has somewhat lost its intra-architectural momentum in the last few decades, recent socio-political developments in Europe have led to a new collision with the edge and have forced many of us to consider an inevitable lesson on border dynamics.
After decades of proselytism about the end of history after 1990, the wheel of history has shown itself to be more of a stuck cogwheel which has started to rotate in an unforeseen and turbulent manner, triggered by an enormous accumulation of energy. Establishing a symbolic border as well as putting up an actual barbed-wire fence is one of the many social – as well as architectural – disillusionments in these unpredictable months. This process is still quite selective at the moment, although control lines have been established. At the same time, an absolute but often overlooked truth appears before our eyes – each and every control, regardless of how abstract it is, has its own definite spatial manifestation. In these days, the alleged space of freedom is being narrowed down for the sake of security. Similarly, the field of architecture unavoidably clashes with the borders of the world of bureaucracy and administration. In the context of such borders, liberal pluralism cannot be understood in the sense of ‘anything goes’ in the same benign manner as only a couple of years ago.
My favourite border is the Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship in Ljubljana. During World War II, this barbed-wire blockade fortified with bunkers was erected by the occupying forces to isolate the rebellious city from its surroundings. From the very beginning, the purpose of a barbed wire fence was not the protection of Ljubljana’s residents, but their repression. On 9 May 1945, which marks the day of liberation, the barbed wire was removed after 1170 days of isolation. Today, the trail is used as a 32km long recreational walkway lined with trees. Every year, thousands of people take a walk along the avenue to commemorate the day of liberation. The reason this gesture is exceptional has nothing to do with populist rhetoric in the sense of how the former wire and soldiers were replaced by walkers, runners, and cyclists. The uniqueness lies within the fact that walking exactly on the borderline means refusing to choose one side or the other, defined by the line of division. In doing so one subverts the border itself, as pointed out by architect Léopold Lambert in an interview in this issue. Walking along the border is also something that awaits the field of architecture in the upcoming years, whether it so desires or not. This is a dangerous step out of the comfort zone, which means that architecture needs to gather enough courage to avoid being stopped by the fear of falling on one side of the borderline or the other.