The border wall as connector

The US-Mexico border wall has a long a history of separating the two countries. The history of the wall goes back to 1848 when engineers began to build stone walls, and then fences to keep livestock from wandering across property lines. Eventually, the wall became more militarized and today it’s both physical and virtual.

“The wall has been constructed from barbed wire, concrete, steel, Vietnam-era landing strips [and] today we have aerostat blimps and high tech sensors, surveillance cameras,” UC-Berkeley architecture professor Ronald Rael explained to DnA.

“It was always very interesting to me that Donald Trump could come in front of very large audiences and announce that he was going to build a wall and audiences would cheer as if finally someone had arrived to build a wall — when 700 miles of wall are already in place,” said Rael. “And for me it would suggest that there is a fundamental ignorance of what is happening on the border.”

The United States and Mexico are closely linked through trade, economics, immigration and culture. And what happens on one side of the border has effects on the other.

To illustrate this idea, Rael created “Borderwall as Architecture,” which includes photographs and a series of whimsical drawings revealing what it might look like if the wall is put to creative use.

“When we do something on this side its consequences are felt on the other and vice versa. And so this is a way to suggest that one can really experience that synergy between the two countries through the construction of something very simple, like a teeter totter.”

Read a few of the proposals below. Excerpts are reprinted with permission from University of California Press.

Copyright Rael San Fratello; used with permission by University of California Press.
Copyright Rael San Fratello; used with permission by University of California Press.

Teeter-Totter Wall

The wall was conceptualized as one-sided: a barrier to keep people from crossing from the south. Considering the structure as a single-sided wall represents a poor understanding of the delicate balance of trade and labor relationships between the United States and Mexico. Mexicans come to the United States to find work, but many long to return to live comfortably in their own country. U.S. industry and agriculture depend upon immigrant labor pools, yet the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have made it increasingly difficult to attract foreign labor.

Perhaps the best way to represent the mutually dependent relationship between the United States and Mexico is through the construction of a Teeter-Totter Wall. People on both sides could directly experience the interdependency between the two countries by enacting the mutual give-and-take required of two nations whose economic success literally hinges upon their relationship with each other. The borderwall and the cities it divides would be a symbolic and literal fulcrum for U.S.-Mexico relations.

Copyright Rael San Fratello; used with permission by University of California Press.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Wall

If the borderwall is to remain as a barrier preventing northsouth traffic, perhaps it can at least facilitate east-west pedestrian and bicycle movement on both sides of the border by being reenvisioned as a linear urban park through certain geographies. Supplemented with green spaces and connected to schools and other parks, the wall could be an ideal organizing condition, as well as physical armature, for an urban park offering pedestrian and bicycle routes through cities. The linear park would have the potential to increase adjacent property values, reduce vehicular traffic, and improve the quality of life on both sides of the border while providing an important green corridor through municipalities.

Copyright Rael San Fratello; used with permission by University of California Press.

Cactus Wall

Perhaps a better solution than maintaining a wall of steel at the border in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument would be to redirect those funds and invest in an infrastructure of planting and mitigation of the natural ecology. A natural obstacle — which Homeland Security considers an effective barrier — could be created through the intensive reintroduction of indigenous plants along the borderwall and in areas where undesignated roads have been created by off-roading Border Patrol agents and smugglers.

A new infrastructure of prickly succulents—a Cactus Wall— would be created both along the wall and throughout the monument. While the intentionality of the plantings might at first seem to be at odds with the wilderness designation of the park, it is still a far more natural and sustainable option than the destruction of the fragile ecosystem of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Copyright Rael San Fratello; used with permission by University of California Press.
Copyright Rael San Fratello; used with permission by University of California Press.

Swing Wall

The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo naturally honors no boundary. It perpetually shifts back and forth across the border, even as it defines the border. What if the borderwall similarly allowed one to move back and forth across the wall, while still being constrained by the definition of a boundary? A Swing Wall would exemplify the incongruity of a boundary constantly in flux—the river—and the fortification of that boundary with the fixed architecture of the wall. People could board the double-sided swing from either side and swing such that their bodies would physically cross to the other side, with no way to actually exit, before returning back to their country of origin.