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This website follows the process and evolution of our AISC competition entry.


Jimmy Darling and Alexandre Mballa-Ekobena are third year architecture students at Ball State University.


This project placed second in the competition for third year architecture students at Ball State. It will be submitted to the national competition on May 21, 2014.



Observing past and current trends, speculations about the future materializes into a narrative.


Detroit’s economic decline over the past decade, plus many failed attempts to bail out the city, is fueling an exodus from the city to find prosperity elsewhere.


Global shifts in socioeconomic powers will become evident in response to the effects of global warming. Canada and other northern countries gain of fertile land and resources. Canada becomes the desirable destination for Detroiters and other American citizens looking for income.


The respective decline and rise of the American and Canadian economies has shifted security at border crossings. High-security crossings seen between the United States and Mexico move north, with the role of defender switching to Canada. New programs allow Americans to gain temporary rights to work in Canada, similar to the bracero program enforced by the United States with Mexican workers in the 1940s. Regulation of immigrants and strict deportation laws protect the Canadian economy and citizens.


The New International Trade Crossing was originally proposed in 2004 to become a publicly owned crossing between Detroit and Windsor, but has failed repeatedly. Detroit has been unable to fund the crossing, and Canada begins to fund the entire project because a publicly owned bridge is necessary for maximizing security.


Natural boundaries, such as rivers, have historically defined borders between two entities. Political borders have been established to geographically define where one governing body ends and where another begins. Advancing transportation technology is blurring borders have started to become blurred; although individuals are on a country’s soil, they technically have not entered until they pass through all security checks and are granted entrance. This analysis of borders interrogates the concept of border crossing stations.


Terra nullius is a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning "land belonging to no one,” which is used in international law to describe territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state, or over which any prior sovereign has expressly or implicitly relinquished sovereignty.



Four groups have been established as stakeholders of the space.


Security is the most important function of the border station because it dictates who enters each country and ensures safety. With the rise of the National Security Act, most citizens want the government to become transparent so acts occurring within the system become visible to everybody. Creating a transparent security system allows everyone to see exactly what is happening, what is being checked as they cross, and what is happening to other users. A major tactic in crime prevention is to make users know they are being watched and processed as they are crossing. Border security is divided between the two countries, with each program staying on its side, creating a security void in the center. Security acts as the nervous system for the crossing, with hubs located at checkpoints and strategic moments along the pathways. Workers have quick access to the pathways of other users to maximize security. Human interaction between the travelers and the security officers will cease to exist during normal checks due to computer automation, which will expedite checks. In the event of detainment or error, officers will take over for further inspection. This will deter crimes by users and security officers alike.


U.S. citizens commuting across the border for work each day need special commuter lanes to facilitate fast access across the border. Frequent traveler programs, such as NEXUS, SENTRI, and Fast, allow individuals to complete pre-screening before they cross the border. When commuters arrive at the border, a simple screening including a retina scan for quick identification, allows them to efficiently cross. Creating a different experience for frequent commuters becomes important. The building’s skin displays crucial information, such as traffic reports and weather.


Some people rarely use border crossings and must complete two separate checks to enter a country. Because they seldom cross, creating a unique experience becomes the forefront. Creating views for these individuals gives tourist users an experience different than other users.


With a public boat dock and park on the U.S. side of the border, a fourth user emerges. The border crossing bridge becomes useful to sightseers who want to experience the cities of Detroit and Windsor, the river, and the bridge, without actually crossing the border. A unique experience is created when individuals from either side of the Detroit River use the pathway and have the ability to communicate from each side of the border.



Creating a three-dimensional flow diagram with different colored yarn representing different users determined the form of the border crossing. Experiment with how the yarn was strung throughout the gridded system identified circulation for the commuters, creating unique experiences for the travelers, important views for the experiential users, and quick access and full views to the security officials. After planning each route was completed, densities were added to pathway based on amount of traffic flow. Analyzing the intersections of pathways determined special programmatic moments to emerge in the given areas. Further refining facilitated circulation with opportunities to strengthen security pathways and hubs.


The main structure of the border crossing bridge consists of large steel supports within cast concrete to create the form needed. Each of the pathways are connected to the main structure through a series of independent supports. Each pathway is made up of a steel and concrete base that then has a series of structural supports that branch outwards to attach the skin. This system will modulate the construction of the roadways while allowing the customization of the skin.


The skin is a structural plastic made up of purified blends of high density polyethylene, primarily from recycled plastics from post-consumer waste, with UV-inhibited pigments, anti-oxidant processing aids, and foaming agents to create a highly stable skin material. The form consists of a series of expansions and contractions along the pathways to create dynamic spaces in relation to users. Openings within the skin are determined completely by views, creating constant views for security officials to watch users as well as for users to watch the security. Openings are also set up to create specific viewports from the bridge out towards the Detroit and Windsor skylines, the river, Fort Wayne, and the Ambassador Bridge. The skin becomes transparent in certain areas to create programmatic spaces for security officials, detainment areas, etc.


Program Changes

Our design process took an innovative approach, questing why individual programmatic elements were required and exploring other solutions.


The caretaker residence has been relocated off site. Each country’s security officers would live within the communities in their respective countries. One philosophy creates opportunities for security officers to become part of the community, making them less isolated and less intimidating to other citizens.


Impoundment areas have also been relocated off site. When a vehicle has been detained, the owner is taken into the detainment center and the car is then taken off site to an impoundment area. The need to keep the structure light as possible, along with keeping efficient traffic flow, dictated that the impoundment facility be taken off site.


Since the border crossing prioritizes efficient traffic flow, vehicles will be constantly moving, eliminating all parking on the bridge.


Innovative technology eliminates the need for a designated customs hall. Users will be processed and checked while remaining in their vehicles.

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