February 1, 2008
Beyond the Wall
A young architect finds promise in the concrete barriers that divide Israel and Palestine.
Some of the most imaginative ideas for the future of Israel and the Palestinian territories have come from architects. Often they begin in a self-consciously naive way, putting aside all of the seemingly intractable disputes over refugees, borders, and violence in one willful gesture, as if the solution were just a practical matter of addressing material conditions. Alexander Barker’s 2005 thesis project at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, which he showed last year at the Pecha Kucha Nights in San Francisco and Chicago, followed a similar logic: assuming that one day the conflict would be resolved—whether through two states, a multiethnic nation, or even outright colonization—what would happen to all the temporary concrete barriers being erected to separate urban populations?
“I wanted to test the limits of what architecture could say within political discourse,” says Barker, who now works for Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz. “I was trying to use the best parts of architecture—its utopianism, positivity, and forward thinking—to posit these future scenarios where the barrier can be recycled.” He conceived a range of alternate uses for the modular concrete elements: as housing or offices, bus stops, stalls for souks, seating for a soccer field, and finally a sculpture symbolizing the fallen separation barrier. “It’s a mechanism for getting people to think less about what has happened and more about what could happen,” Barker says.