Someone reminded me the other day of a diagram I drew in my sketchbook some twenty years ago in the course of a trip through the Middle East in a battered Renault 4. By that stage in our long journey we were well used to border crossings, where we needed to sort out not just the usual passport and visa issues but, for the car, police permits, insurance and the all-important carnet de passage. The green arrows in the diagram show our passage through the Israeli/Egyptian border at Rafah, alongside the Gaza Strip. It was slow but straightforward through the Israeli checkpoints, slow and extraordinary through the Egyptian side, with £E20, £E15.40, £E5 and £E12 fees at various points. The Israeli post was all steel, with metal and plastic furniture, logical and sterile, based on some sort of flow diagram of how people pass through. The Egyptian side was of concrete and timber, friendly, dirty and chaotic, with a café at the central point. Lots more seats, because lots more waiting around. And the place was clearly arranged for the convenience of the officials rather than the public.
It all reminded me of a project we had set our students at the AA and UEL a few years before called Border Post. We were interested in exploring the way national cultures stream out from, say, Paris all the way to Narbonne or Biarritz and then abruptly stop or, rather, collide with another culture that has radiated out from, in this case, Madrid. So the Border Post project was intended to be an exploration of how two national cultures might manifest themselves in the design of two adjacent but entirely separate facilities, and what sort of architectural expression might result.
And here it was writ large. Oddest of all was the way a presumably routine event (us passing through) required, at least on the Egyptian side, so much discussion, shouting and anger amongst the eight men who processed us through immigration, customs and traffic police. Mysteries of the Orient.
Posted by Robert Sakula