The project revolves around the hypothetical scenario in which Sweden, for the first time in modern history, closes its border due to the high influx of people. The project occurs on the well-known Öresundsbridge that is the main entry to the country. The settlers establish their own settlement between borders.
Because of the recent war-related and environment-related catastrophes, the influx of people to Sweden have increased dramatically and caused the country to re-introduce the border with passport control on the bridge. This cause many demonstrations and media attention with the main question of: What will happen if Sweden closed its borders?
What prompted the project?
What was happening around me at the time of the project was in many senses unbelievable. In 2017, Sweden was facing its biggest influx of people. As a kid, my parents would tell me about their journey of how they migrated to Sweden. More specifically, to Malmö in the southern region. Which together with Copenhagen created the biggest transboundary region in the world. A promising region for growth and the link was the Öresund Bridge. It is a popular entrance to Sweden. Whether the reason was the damaged farmlands in India, or the recent war in Syria or the fact that people now seek to rather live in urban areas, for many, the destination was Sweden and the passage was the Öresund Bridge. But what happens if the growth is too rapid? For the first time in 70 years, Sweden broke its Schengen Agreement and implemented border control, that still exists to this day. This burst out in global news, and the main debate was about the closure of the Öresund Bridge. The question is: what would happen if Sweden closed its borders?
What case studies did you look to as reference? How important are previous projects as that of Exodus?
The Calais Jungle was a camp created by migrants wanting to enter the UK. Looking at the camp from an unusual perspective, the ones of architecture and urbanism. As documented by the Italian photographer and multimedia researcher Marco Tiberio, there was a common language of materials used for the housing. That of accessible materials such as wooden planks for structure, blankets for insulation and plastic fabric for weather protection. The peculiar thing of this camp was that when the growth was that of a community, public uses popped up. With the same material people built churches, libraries and other common areas for the camp. Main passages and basic trading was developed. That shows an interesting transition from an individual camp to a community. That is when living on a bridge translates from a dystopia to a utopia, or at least trying to. If you look at it from the perspective of opportunities and self-sufficiency, the water under the bridge is rich of food, the wind and the currents are powerful energy sources and the passage under the bridge is one of the busiest underways in the world. The possibilities are endless.
What is your take on the contemporary state and importance of borders?
The first episode of the Scandinavian series ”The Bridge” by Hans Rosenfeldt, begins with a dead body lying exactly on the centre of the Öresund Bridge, on the border. Half the body is on the Danish side and the other half on the Swedish side. The question is which side takes the responsibility? The idea of borders is a rather interesting one and used differently around the world. When I was studying in San Diego I was fascinated by the strict border clearly separating San Diego and Tijuana. On one side you can witness dense housing and high land exploration up until the border while on the other side theres a clear offset of unbuilt land. In other cases such as the border of Portugal and Spain by the Guadiana River the border seems like a gradient, you can even smoothly zipline across the border. During the Battle of the Somme between the British, the French and the Germans the border between the two sides was that of a No Mans Land. The border with it’s width and length was a space itself, other examples are airports.
The settlers arriving on The Öresund Bridge is much like that dead body lying in the middle, if no side takes responsibility then the settlers will remain there. And much like the No Mans Land, the border becomes the space. The Öresund Bridge is literally a passage between two borders, located perpendicularly to the borderline of Sweden and Denmark. And if no one takes the responsibility, then you belong to neither side. That originated the idea of using the occupation of the Öresund bridge as a statement of radically defying the idea of borders.
What informed the design of the post-occupancy phase of the bridge?
The bridge runs nearly 8km from the Swedish coast. The section of the bridge is always 25m wide on the upper concrete deck and 15m wide on the lower steel deck. It consists of segments of 150m between pylons, those signify neighbourhoods with walkable or bike-able distances to different uses and services. The upper floor consist of incremental housing with cultivation areas. The pylons mark important intersections that diverge from the existing circulation that runs linearly along the bridge on the lower deck. They host vertical circulation down to the water level. Unlike the original concept of linear cities developed by the urban planner Arturo Soria y Mata during the 19th century, the world is three-dimensional. Thus any connection with an object lying outside the axis of the city – a source of raw material (the shipments), a food source (the water), an outlet to a port (trade) – will create a node, a gravitational point, an attractor; the gentle pulsing flow along a single trajectory will be interrupted or diverted, in places it will coagulate, atrophy and in places accelerate, vivify. It will become, in other words, a city. That is why the connection with the water is important as it complements the main trajectory of the city. It also gives way for growth. When the population grows, so does the infrastructure. The infrastructure consist of accessible materials obtained from the trading routes passing underneath the bridge. Scaffolding and wood enables a systematic self-built growth with a universal language applied by the settlers.
How would you see this project developing through time? What would happen the moment the population started to outgrow the limits of the infrastructure?
The fact that Öresund is one of the worlds busiest underway just shows you the importance of this location. When the transit settlement, as I call it, gets international attention the possibilities are endless. Let me paint you a picture. As of the case of the camp in Calais, and many others, different charities provide living necessities for the settlers. Maybe fishing gear to feed of the water, or construction materials to build stable homes or wind turbines to utilise the wind. Drones drop packages of food and medicine. Life grows, it becomes a city. Trains on the lower deck circulate linearly. Some Swedish people even move into the bridge, as they are liberal to do so. They bring their expertise and help the bridge city grow. The bridge gets so much international attention that now tours are being held for tourists to see it. Hotels are built in both cities to host the tourists. It starts to generate money. No responsibility, means no taxes. The bridge city is a tax-free zone, so business move there. Banks runaway from Brexit and relocate to the bridge. The settlement can create an urban passage from the center of EU to St. Petersburg and pushing the central European attention to the north. The growth can grow beyond the infrastructure and parallel to the border, on the water, which could help the vision of Malmö and Copenhagen to become a world metropolis. Then the better question becomes, what would happen the moment the world population outgrows the existing land? Overpopulation and rising sea levels are real threats, maybe living on a bridge is not such a crazy idea after all.
Could or should we start talking about a new type of architecture?
In Constant’s vision of New Babylon, he speaks of living on bridges, so that the land is left for agriculture, natural reserves and forests. The fact is that some of the best arable land is in the south of Sweden. And if we look at the growth of the two cities since the beginning of the 19th century, we can see that the growths is inwards like five fingers, taking more and more land. Continuing to build on that land would be a waste. The project is an urban forest of domestic equipment, cultivation and leisure for temporary community uses, with the aim to make a statement about the global protective policies against migrants. The intervention is a linear and provocative structure, established quickly, on the Scandinavian marine border, on a huge scale, and stands as a monumental statement in itself. Therefore the project is not aimed to particularly solve anything, just to simply paint a picture to the question; what if?