Checkpoints usually confer notions of extreme tension, the physical intersection where politics, history, and culture confront one another. These forces are made manifest in the actual structures which accommodate them: dilapidated concrete buildings--the ostensible typological form of the checkpoint--visibly wear the stress and bruises inflicted upon them by their daily brush with these violent torrents. Not so with Jürgen Mayer's newly opened Sarpi Border Checkpoint, which is probably one of the friendliest and brightest buildings you're likely to see.
The customs checkpoint straddles the coastal border between Georgia and Turkey, at the edge of the Black Sea. A seemingly exclusive viewing platform floats atop a series of shifting cantilevered folds, which form the body of the narrow undulating tower and balconies with views to the beach and water. The wide base is comprised of a cafeteria, staff rooms, and a conference room, each with their own terraces.
Mayer is renowned for his inviting forms of ambiguous origin and meaning, a cross between the works of the architect Frederick Kiesler and the artist Jean Arp and the interloping figures of complex encryption patterns. The shapes appear by turns dripping and zigzagging, lumpy and smooth, but always retain a fleshy, corporeal quality that carries Surrealist connotations. The Sarpi Border Checkpoint manages to convey the squiggles of Charles Shulz's beloved Peanuts gang and the affably blocky profiles of Nintendo characters, think the bumpy handle of Mario and Luigi's mustache or the gentle spikes of Yoshi's squishy dinosaur body.
The checkpoint is part of a large-scale initiative by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose country is experiencing a boom in tourism and has invested millions in infrastructural projects to attract and service visitors. The building welcomes tourists from Europe and the Middle East, who enter from Turkey to sample Georgia's delights, from the world-renowned beaches to nightlife and other hedonistic diversions. According to the architects, the structure's form is meant to represent "the progressive upsurge of the country." Whatever it means, it's parts naive and shallowly optimistic, but altogether fun.