Anxious Architecture: Sleep, Identity, and Death in the US-Mexico Borderlands


  • Sam Grabowska University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI USA



The Mexico-US borderlands have been militarised by the technology, weaponry, and policies of both the American Border Patrol agency and Mexican cartels. Upon this contested ground, border-crossers interrupt their taxing journey to build small informal works of architecture. These structures – most commonly fashioned from whatever materials are at hand like thorny mesquite branches, rocks, and grasses – become a locus of crises. Like the migrants, drug mules, or guides who build it, border-crosser architecture has overlapping and competing agendas and motivations. Drawing on the analysis of architectural form, artifacts of material culture, and interviews gathered from fieldwork in the United States and Mexico, I identify three ways architecture acts ‘anxiously’ as a spatial relationship to conflict: 1) sleep (insomnia), 2) identity (anonymity), and 3) death (haunting). In these modes, an architecture born in the borderlands both embodies and emotes anxiety as an adaptive spatial tactic to respond to conflict and trauma.

Author Biography

Sam Grabowska, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI USA

Sam Grabowska is a doctoral candidate in architecture with a cognate in cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her work engages the spaces that people seek and build in times of trauma and she has contributed a chapter to the book, Excavating Memory: Sites of Remembering and Forgetting.


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