GSAPP Alum Addresses “Fencing-in Phenomenon” at Venice Biennale 2021

October 10, 2021

Responding to the theme chosen by the curator of the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, Hashim Sarkis: "How will we live together?", Peruvian architect and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) alumnus Felipe Ferrer raised the issue of how fences and gates have become ubiquitous throughout the country, appropriating public spaces, and what can be done to rectify the situation.

During the event “Peru at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Playground: Artifacts for Interaction,” co-hosted by the Columbia Alumni Association of Peru and the Santiago Center, Ferrer (GSAPP'05) cited a study from the Peruvian consumers association Aspec that more than 90% of the fences in the country are not authorized, and that when firefighters are called, they only able to respond to about 30% of emergencies as they cannot access gated-off areas.

The normalization of fencing in areas – streets, parks and other public spaces – is not unique to Peru; this has happened throughout Latin America and the rest of the world, where even politics are normalizing the extensive use of fences, he noted, pointing as an example to former US President Donald Trump’s proposal to erect a fence on the southern border.

“This is a global phenomenon, a sign of our times of increasingly exclusive economic models and our lack of capacity to solve our problems,” he said. As such, Ferrer and the developers of the Peru Pavilion responded to this issue with a reflection/action regarding how a global issue could be addressed from a local problem, proposing to remove fences from public spaces in different districts throughout Peru, to convert them into artifacts that invite the people to interact. “We need more spaces for integration than devices that exclude, and we have to reflect what the real cost is that this generates in the city and its residents. Public spaces are there for all citizens to sit together as equals,” he added.

The pavilion’s proposal was to convert what Ferrer called “these supposed elements of security, that come in devices for segregation,” into benches, playground games, soccer goals, etc., looking to convert all the energy, time and resources in making the fences to give the materials new life and meaning while also breathing new life into public spaces. The project proposes that the removal of gates enclosing public areas throughout Peru's urban centers would invite inhabitants to freely enter and interact with each other and the spaces.

He focused particularly on the see-saw as “a pedagogical game, which teaches us how to relate and interact with others. The game requires two people and to start, you need to be on the same level. Once they are balanced, they will only be able to move up and down upon mutual agreement. They will take turns, but always depending on the other. With this balance, trust is built, which is essential in building harmony and fluid interaction while playing. This playing begins and ends with both parties at the same level. This is a subtle form of communication developed in a physical, intuitive way.”

The gating-in phenomenon in the country is the result of people previously responding to violence, Ferrer explained. “Peru is still recovering from the scars of a bloody internal conflict that spanned from 1980 to 2000. The people of Lima began to fence off streets as a defense mechanism. After more than 20 years we have not stopped fencing in. Like the rest of the world, with the new urban density, the precarious global politics and the new order that is being formed through the pandemic, we are becoming fearful; we are being induced to distrust the other and ourselves. This situation could further exacerbate fear of the other and increasing atomization. The bars materialize our fears and we must work on ways to transform those fears into opportunities,” he said.

Mónica Belevan, editor of Covidian Æsthetics and designer of the Peru Pavilion’s catalogue, also participated in the webinar that was commented by Francisco Díaz (GSAPP'13), Universidad Católica de Chile Architecture professor, and hosted by Carol Updegrave (GSAPP'87), president of the Columbia Alumni Association of Peru.

Ferrer’s “Playground, Artifacts for Interaction” was the winner of the Curatorial Competition held by The Cultural Patronage of Peru that aimed to shed light on how fences and gates shape residents’ understanding of and interaction in public spaces.

The pavilion itself featured a large gate hanging from a beam with a stop sign prominently displayed. On the other side of the gate, the different artifacts for interaction created from the material of removed gates were on display.