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JAN - JUN 2023

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Student Design Competition: A New Frontier


The 2023 CAAJ international student design competition, A New Frontier: The Contemporary Border Crossing, launched in January 2023 to consider the meaning of a border, how it is influenced by its context, and how it is manifested through architecture. Students were invited to select any location in the world and explore how their chosen context shapes the idea of the border and the architectural response.


Ninety-one entries were received from students of architecture in twenty-five countries. The selected sites were located in 68 different countries with most submissions focused on the border between two countries, although a few were located at the junction between three countries, some were not at a border at all, and one was the memory of a border. Responses ranged from functional proposals grounded in the reality of their context to more philosophical ideas or commentaries on the chosen context.


While the proposals themselves were unique and varied, the jury noticed a number of common themes, approaches and preoccupations.


Although borders can occupy a wide spectrum between open and undefended to closed and heavily militarized, the vast majority of submissions imagined a border that tends much more towards the “open” end of the spectrum. Proposals were created to be inviting and welcoming, in some cases intentionally omitting any border security. Although not necessarily practical for every context, these students took a very clear stance with their projects, advocating for freedom of movement rather than control of it, leaning into ideas of shared interests and common transborder cultural links. 


Many of the proposals thought of the border as a destination, rather than a space simply to pass through, providing additional programs such as markets, event venues, museums, memorials, and other social spaces. Some proposals intended for the border crossing to support local economies and culture with these community programs. In others, the border provided a neutral space for people from either side to meet and interact within these shared facilities.



There were a surprising number of entries with similar formal solutions. A number of proposals explored donut plans. These were not all arranged the same way in detail, but most created a focus zone in the hole of the donut, an internal courtyard or open common space not associated with the processing components of the border crossing. These more prosaic functions were typically housed in the surrounding outer ring.



Donut plans – Dongjun Lee, Hannam University (left), Paola Andrea Milagros Ramos Moreano, Ricardo Palma University (right)

Another popular strategy was an inhabited bridge, sometimes over a river or other topographical condition, but sometimes just as a device to support an idea of process or to separate different vehicle and pedestrian flows. 

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Inhabited bridge – Byeongjoon Kang, Yulim Park, Jingyu Jeong, Jibin Park and Eunji Yeom, Dongseo University

A third type that appeared in a number of entries was the creation of islands, often manufactured specifically for the border crossing. They typically focused on the creation of a zone between two or more countries where activities could occur free of the need to cross fully into another country, whether for trade, cultural or social purposes. 


Islands - Sen Gee Abee Wong, Hochschule Anhalt University (left), Fareed Aminu-Sarumi, Hochschule Anhalt University (right)

A fourth typology was one that extended the border crossing process in a linear manner, often perpendicular to the border, with a number of nodes that housed activities often associated with the community context. Page 001.jpg

Perpendicular to the border - Jacob Kleiman and Husna Kahn, University of Waterloo


Porous Border (Syria and Turkey)


Melis Altuntas, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences

Mert Yavas, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences


Located on the border between Syria and Turkey, this proposal seeks to re-create the porosity of the border that once existed on the chosen site. Prior to 1953 the site had no formal border crossing, which facilitated daily movement between countries and an exchange of economy and culture. The two countries were disconnected with the formalization of the border crossing, and more recently, a wall. In contrast to this, the proposal takes the form of a wall that is rotated 90 degrees to open into a pedestrian crossing, both visually and functionally opening the border once again. The structure also provides programmed space including a market and activity areas to encourage gathering.



This submission was seen as an exceptionally strong proposal that addresses the border crossing challenge at a number of levels. It has a strong overall architectural concept that marks the crossing point in an otherwise hardened border through a simple but evocative move. The twist of the wall to create the opportunity for passage is at once light, open and sheltering as well as an expressive signal of the end of containment. 

This thoughtful strategy is supported by a refined functional sectional arrangement that places the security programming at grade, supported by sunken gathering spaces below. These lower waiting areas feel like an oasis, comfortable and out of sight of the potentially tension-filled processing areas above, sunken into the earth and shaded by the structure above. The material character of the design is similarly considered with a restrained palette of concrete and rammed earth which is comfortable and contextual, but at the same time robust, solid and appropriate to the function. This is a strong proposal in both concept and execution, well-grounded in the specific location.

Picnic 2.0 (Austria and Hungary)


Aleyna Canpolat, Estonian Academy of Arts

Alp Eren Özalp, Estonian Academy of Arts


Located in the border area between Austria and Hungary, this proposal recalls the Pan-European Picnic peace demonstration of 1989 that advocated for a united Europe. Existing administrative buildings on the site are retained, and new structures are added around them to create a landscaped area and rooftop garden that are open to the public. Program spaces are also provided, including kitchens, workshops, an event space, and of course, picnic spots, to act as a social hub between the two countries and a reminder of the varying border conditions that have existed throughout history.



This proposal effectively addresses the idea of a border within a borderless condition, by celebrating the removal of the border between the two countries and their path from a difficult history to a unification. The choice to incorporate and re-purpose existing buildings that are no longer needed for border control is especially strong, allowing them to act as a reminder of the site’s history. The architecture is alluring, with well-conceived spaces and elegant use of materials. The use of wood and greenery is particularly calming, which feels appropriate in the current context, and evokes the feeling of a picnic without being too literal.

A New Frontier: Gate of Passage (Republic of Cyprus)

Marta Kalisz, Wrocław University of Science and Technology


This proposal is a commentary on the barriers that are still prominent within a world of globalization. The chosen context is the city of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, which is divided with a wall to separate Greece and Turkish nationalities. The proposed building functions as both a control point on this border as well as a museum and cultural center. The museum is multi-storey, arranged to take visitors backwards in time as they go up the building, to tell the history of divisions. As one moves up the building the floors open up with fewer and fewer walls, acting as metaphor for the increasing prevalence of borders today.



What is particularly striking about this proposal is the austerity of the architecture, as it captures the sadness of the situation while trying to re-kindle safe community space. It is a somber reminder of the current condition, acting as a mausoleum to the failure of a previously united community and its disintegration into the hardened border and dysfunctional relationship. This mood is conveyed through beautiful, atmospheric renderings and the use of simple architectural forms to create a particular quality of light and shadow. The strong sectional parti diagram tells a convincing story, taking the form and idea of the wall and bringing it inside the building to create space and become a canvas for social experience. On the exterior, the building becomes a marker within the city skyline, acting as both a reminder of, and commentary on, the border condition of this divided city.

14 Days (Canada and USA)


Janson Chan, Dalhousie University

Jonah Kurylowich, Dalhousie University

Jackson Senner, Dalhousie University

Chris Suh, Dalhousie University

Ryan Wyrostok, Dalhousie University


This proposal is located at the Roxham Road crossing between Canada and the United States, which until recently was used as an unofficial crossing due to a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allowed asylum to be possible at non-official border crossings. While this loophole has been closed, another loophole remains that allows people who cross the border into Canada to apply for asylum if they are able to first remain undetected for 14 days. The project seeks to provide a haven for asylum seekers by constructing cabins and communal spaces within a park that skirts the official border. These spaces can be used by both hikers as well as those who have crossed the border, giving asylum seekers a safe place to hide in plain sight.



The jury was impressed with the provocative nature of this proposal and its deliberate subversion of border control in the interests of other social goals. These students have shrewdly observed that although architecture often has little influence on policy, it can act as a commentary on policy and generate awareness of issues. As such, this proposal is not intended to be a practical border solution, rather it is a discourse on the broader and somewhat arbitrary conditions that are faced by people seeking asylum. In addition to the compellingly provocative concept, the architecture itself and its use of wood, a local vernacular material that resonates with the Canadian identity, is elegant and beautifully rendered.

In-Between Space as Third Place (Indonesia and Malaysia)

Winnie Tay Chyi Ying, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences


Located on the border between Malaysia and Indonesia, the chosen site is an existing informal border crossing between the two countries that facilitates trade and cultural exchange. The proposal maintains the informality of this existing crossing and intentionally omits security measures from the design. Instead, the project supplements the existing functions of the site by creating spaces for business, events, workshops, galleries, and other communal activities to encourage economic growth in the area.



This proposal recognizes that the border in this location has been blurred through economics and embraces this idea of a soft border rather than trying to formalize it. Although not a conventional border crossing in terms of security, it supports, rather than restricts, the activities that already occur here. The architecture is well-developed as a modular mat building, and elegantly rendered. The jury particularly appreciated the concept sketch to convey the emotions of crossing a border, as it clearly evokes the anxiety that is often felt and demonstrates an understanding of the emotional impacts border spaces can have.

Border as a Swing (Iran and Afghanistan)


Moein Mirarefin, Tehran University

Amirhossein Vatanara, Tehran University


This proposal aims to make the border an experience rather than a division. Along the border between Iran and Afghanistan, a series of swings are erected to symbolize the fluid nature of a border as visitors swing back and forth from one country to another, free from the limitations imposed by security and politics. Below the ground, a gallery runs along the line of the border and provides space for cultural exhibits.



The jury appreciated the whimsical nature of the swings, and the idea that borders, and one’s position in relation to them, can be dynamic. Although not a practical solution for the chosen location, the jury could envision this as an installation at an obsolete border to act as a memory of the previous division and a celebration of unification.



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Architect & Creative Director, Number TEN Architectural Group

Columnist, Winnipeg Free Press

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Vice President of Design,  NORR Architects & Engineers

CAAJ Chair

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Founding Principal, Snow Kreilich Architects

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General Manager, Buffalo & Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority

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Associate Design Director, UNStudio

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Architect, NORR Architects & Engineers

CAAJ Competition Co-Chair & Secretary



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The Canadian Academy of Architecture for Justice reserves the right to publish entries on the CAAJ website, or to distribute to other architecture or justice-related publication media (websites, magazines or exhibitions). Credit for authorship will remain with the individual (or named individuals in the case of a team submission). By submitting material individual competitors and teams acknowledge this right.

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