Joseph Kennedy and Sonny Eric Xu: Borderline Encounters: The American-Canadian Railway

Maps of Canada and the United States

Borderline Encounters: The American-Canadian Railway presents the collaborative work that Joseph Henry Kennedy Jr. (B.Arch. '15) and Sonny Eric Xu (B.Arch. '13) pursued with a 2017–18 Robert James Eidlitz Fellowship.

The construction of the North American railroad system is legendary. Begun from points on opposite sides of the continent, two teams of workers laid tracks from coast to coast and met in Utah in 1869.

Conversely, the Canadian Pacific Railway (1881) and the American Empire Builder (1929), though built side by side, were separated by a national border and never intended to meet. These railways have been adopted by Kennedy and Xu as the paths of two separate but simultaneous journeys spanning the longest border in the world: one from the perspective of an American (Kennedy) traveling between Vancouver and Toronto on the Canadian Pacific Railway and the other from the perspective of a Canadian (Xu) traveling between Seattle and Buffalo on the Empire Builder Railway.

Kennedy recently completed a yearlong, Fulbright-funded research project at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Xu is pursuing the master of landscape architecture and M.Arch.II degrees at Harvard GSD. The American-Canadian border is the subject of their parallel journey during the summer of 2017 that analyzes the surrounding architectural, landscape, and infrastructural conditions specific to each country on either side of its edge. The adjacent pairs of sister cities divided by the border are compared through their relationship to the geography, social context, and postindustrial infrastructure of North America.

This exhibition is a visual conflation of the documentation of Kennedy and Xu's individual journeys and presents their collective experiences in an installation of drawings, collages, maps, postcards, and models. Through the study of the American-Canadian Border and its various adjacent landscape and urban conditions, Kennedy and Xu hope to better understand how immigration and politics can directly affect the forms and fabrics of the modern city in order to redefine the elements that constitute a border within contemporary North America.

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