How should architects respond to the call to design a border wall? Architect and educator Ronald Rael recently released Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary as an answer. Borderwall as Architecture is a collection of proposals, counterproposals, speculations, and research findings that encourage a critical engagement with border conditions. The findings were generated through his research studios with students and collected on a blog of the same name. The book couldn’t come at a better time or with a greater sense of urgency thanks to President Donald Trump’s insistence during his presidential campaign to have Mexico pay for a wall and the resulting rapid-fire progression of actual wall-building proposals. For historical context, it was just a month into the Trump presidency when Homeland Security issued a Prequalification Request for Border Wall Prototypes on the Federal Business Opportunities website. This was quickly followed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Procurement Innovation Lab, which issued a new Request for Information (RFI) pertaining to the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. The RFI’s stated purpose was to “solicit ideas from industry and other partners for the more comprehensive long-term strategy related to the border wall.” Six months later, these prototypes are being built along the border east of San Diego while the funding battles continue in Congress. Rael’s richly illustrated collection shows the ways in which the borderlands condition the U.S.-Mexico divide, how border fences function and how they are often subverted. Borderwall as Architecture collects stories of jump ramps, catapults, and tunneling machines; methods of getting over, under, and around existing controls. There are environmentally restorative proposals, like a green wall of indigenous cacti, a wall that generates solar power, and one that effectively channels and collects water. There are artistic and culture proposals too: from a “Theatre Wall,” “Climbing Wall,” “Sport Wall,” “Burrito Wall,” and “Birthing Wall” to outright hilarious ideas such as the “human cannonball,” which would shoot a person over a section of border wall, passport in hand. In many ways, Rael’s Borderwall proves to be a guide to outside-the-box thinking spatially as well as politically about the border. The border is a microcosm of political and social issues. From the economic impacts of migration and trade to questions of nationalism and identity, it is a place where fears and aspirations are projected from afar. The reality of life in the borderlands looks very different than its image. Where one stands relative to a wall—i.e., “Which side are you on?”—says a lot about the politically charged moment that Americans, both in Mexico and the U.S., find themselves in. What does it say about our moment when, on the one hand, the federal government is collecting “speculative” design proposals, and on the other President Trump is currently saying things like “We are thinking about building a wall as a solar wall. So it creates energy. And pays for itself”? The bidding process is so fraught that even Engineering News Record reports that large contractors were skittish in putting in their bids, and many of the successful bidders have been revealed to been under criminal investigation. In this context, Borderwall as Architecture becomes a critical toolbox, challenging readers with speculative proposals, informing with realpolitik discussions, and engaging guest writers such as Teddy Cruz and Michael Dear to encourage architects to think expansively about the southern border and imagine better solutions. Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary University of California Press $21.91
Posts tagged with "Border Wall":
Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel is facing blowback over his nonprofit arts group “MAGA,” which popped up late last year offering tours of the eight border wall prototypes currently on display at the border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Over 25 artists, art workers, and writers have contributed to an open letter calling out MAGA for normalizing the border wall by attempting to label it as an art installation. MAGA, which echoes President Trump’s infamous campaign slogan ("Make America Great Again"), has primarily lobbied for the border wall mock-ups to be classified as a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Satirically positing Donald Trump as a “conceptual artist,” MAGA also charged fees for tours of the site, leaving from the leaving from The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), and promised visitors that they would see “historic land art”. Not so fast, said the open letter from activists in the art world, as they blasted Büchel, MCASD, and the gallery Hauser & Wirth (a gallery representing Büchel) for promoting and normalizing white supremacy. The New York Times and other media outlets that reported on the tours and petition without engaging with the appropriateness of the venture were also called out. As the full letter states, “We, the signatories of this letter, want to say it loud and clear that nothing about a xenophobic and white supremacist project, artifact, wall or building should ever be spectacularized and promoted by artists or arts institutions.” In response to the allegations, MCASD has explicitly denied hosting MAGA’s tours via a Facebook post, saying that the museum was only used as an unofficial meeting point and was unaware of the group’s aim. “To me, borders and walls can never just be abstract ideas to be conceptualized from a distance allowed by an exuberance of privilege and mobility,” LA-based artist and writer Gelare Khoshgozaran, who launched the letter, told Hyperallergic. “They are everyday lived experiences that have affected my body, my well-being and mental health, my family, my racialization and mobility, as well as my art and writing careers.” At the time of writing, hundreds of artists, musicians, and activists from across North America have added their names to the letter.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a series of waivers for the construction of a border wall section in New Mexico. The department announced that it would be waiving more than 30 laws, most of them environmental, to begin construction on a 20-mile-long stretch of bollard wall near the Santa Teresa port on the U.S.-Mexico border. Citing the area’s flat terrain and high rates of border crossings, DHS Secretary Kirsten Nielsen successfully petitioned for the waiver on January 22; as a result, the existing vehicle barrier will be replaced with an 18-foot-tall stretch of steel bollards atop concrete. While the shorter barriers, often X-shaped, are effective at stopping vehicles, the widely-spaced posts are easy to pass through or climb over on foot. Under the Bush administration's REAL ID Act in 2005, the DHS Secretary is permitted to waive all federal, state, and local laws when building in the border region. According to Vice, some of the regulations waived include the National Environmental Policy Act, which would have required an environmental review of the project, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. That last waiver is especially damaging as the Santa Teresa port sits within the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most ecologically diverse, and fragile, desert landscapes in the world. Environmentalists immediately slammed the administration for granting the DHS the waiver. "The Trump administration is stopping at nothing to ram through this destructive border wall," said Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Brian Segee. "Trump’s divisive border wall is a humanitarian and environmental disaster, and it won’t do anything to stop illegal drug or human smuggling." While the Center for Biological Diversity considers a lawsuit to block the issuance of the waiver, the conservation organization is also fighting to prevent a similar waiver from taking effect in San Diego. A hearing on the San Diego case is scheduled for February 9, when the Center for Biological Diversity will attempt to argue that the Trump administration lacks the authority to issue waivers that bypass the Endangered Species Act. The DHS has also opened itself up to lawsuits from cultural activist groups with this move. Secretary Nielsen has also waived the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. While the department has pledged to "ensure that impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible," it remains to be seen how the rollback will affect these goals. In an analysis of the border wall expansion across South Texas leaked last November, the Army Corps of Engineers bluntly described the cultural and environmental damage that would result from a similar installation. It’s likely any further expansion of a physical barrier across America’s southern border would exacerbate the damage we’ve already done there, as existing sections of the wall have already limited animal migration patterns for dozens of species.
A new arts nonprofit calling itself MAGA is offering tours of the U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes in California. Erected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, the eight wall segments, erected by six different firms, currently sit near the San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico border. The first prototypes were completed in October 2017. Now MAGA, named for President Donald Trump's abbreviated campaign slogan, is repositioning the wall mock-ups as PROTOTYPES, an installation for curious art world onlookers. As of now, the group's next and final tour is on January 13, but the $20 tickets are sold out. According to a press release, MAGA is also petitioning to get the border wall prototypes recognized as national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The designation of a monument under these rules would require the president's approval. A preliminary search for the nonprofit in the IRS's database turned up no conclusive results. Initial, neutral inquiries into the project and MAGA were mostly rebuffed. "You might want to do your homework, it's better to be thorough than fast," said Andrea Schwan, head of the eponymous public relations firm that blasted today's press release on MAGA. Instead of fielding questions, Schwan told this reporter to read a January 3 New York Times story on the installation, which identifies Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel as the MAGA mastermind. Büchel explained the concept behind the piece, which is worth excerpting in full:
"'I am an artist, but not the artist of this,'" Mr. Büchel said. Instead, he said, MAGA endorses the concept that Americans, by electing Mr. Trump, allowed his obsessions to be given form that qualifies as an artistic statement. The fact that the prototypes were designed and built by six private contractors matters less, he said, than the impression that, upon completion, they constitute an unintended sculpture garden willed into existence by the president and his supporters. "'This is a collective sculpture; people elected this artist,' Mr. Büchel said."The 51-year-old artist has never shied from controversy. His contribution to the Icelandic Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, a mosque erected inside a vacant Catholic church, was shut down by the city over security concerns. Before that, Training Ground, a vast installation planned for the North Adams, Massachusetts contemporary art museum MASS MoCA was cancelled when the relationship between the institution and the artist over the unfinished work. A lengthy court battle ensued. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) is reaching out for more information on MAGA and Büchel's project, and will update readers with more details as soon as possible.
In September, the Mexican-born artist Bosco Sodi responded to Trump’s border wall plans with "Muro," a one-day performance installation in Washington Square Park in downtown New York City. “Muro” translates to “wall” in Spanish, an apt title for what Sodi built, brick by brick, with the help of his Mexican creative friends living in the city and anyone who happened to be in the park between 3 and 8 p.m. After every brick was stacked, the wall was torn down by the same people who might otherwise be on both sides of the wall, suggestively breaking down physical and mental barriers. Sodi made 1,600 clay bricks for Muro by extracting raw earth and mixing it with water and sand to form clay–a vernacular Mexican building material. The clay was then shaped and smoothed by hand into solid cubes that were left to air dry in the sun at his studio in Oaxaca, Mexico. Once cured, the cubes were fired in a traditional brick kiln with wood, jacaranda seeds, and coconut shells. Using the same process, Sodi formed clay cube sculptures, which he considers “living sculptures,” for Caryatides, his first solo exhibit at Paul Kasmin Gallery, on view until January 6, 2018. Stacked in a series of volumes, the cubes are a material amalgam of varied terra cotta hues, streaks of green and black, and jolie laide surfaces. The Architect's Newspaper spoke with Bosco Sodi about his exhibit and his process. Architect's Newspaper: Why clay? Bosco Sodi: Clay is one of the early material building materials. It is poetic, representing the essence of human building. I have been using clay for 3 years. It began when I started to go very often to see the [local] clay workers. I visited them and started to experiment. I wanted to do something that was seemingly impossible to develop with the material. It took a year to develop a cube that did not split and break. We made them by hand, and then we let them dry in the sun for two months, then they cook in the kiln. Each [Caryatides] cube weighs 3,000 pounds. AN: What is unique about your process of making these works? BS: Made with no mold, they are completely human-formed. The materials [themselves] are unpredictable; they create a unique result each time. The clay cubes and bricks are made by hand, in the same process to build the wall in Washington Square Park and the sculptures in the gallery. They are political pieces. AN: How is the material political? BS: All of the bricks have different colors, yet they are made the same. They are the metaphor of the dream of what it meant to come [to the United States]. AN: And then, the political meaning came into form as performance at the Muro installation? BS: Yes. We put up a wall in the U.S. made by Mexicans with Mexican elements: sun, water, fire, wind, and earth. It was made in a public place, New York, by Mexicans. Then, we let everyone take it down. It was a social performance where you become part of a happening and a result of the piece. Caryatides, the first solo exhibition devoted to Bosco Sodi’s clay cube sculptures, is on view through January 6, 2018 at Paul Kasmin Gallery on 515 West 27th Street. *This interview was edited minimally for clarity.
It’s that time of year again. Cards Against Humanity (CAH), the slightly obscene Chicago-based card game makers, are running their winter “promotion.” With a penchant for deadpan pranks, the company has found a way of raising large amounts of money for seemingly useless or unwanted rewards. In the past, the company has raised the price of its eponymous game on Black Friday as an anti-sale, sold boxes of manure, and sold nothing for $5. In 2016, it dug a “Holiday Hole” with the help of customers's donations, which was literally just a hole in the ground. This year’s promotion is aiming a bit higher, though, as the company has purchased land along the U.S.–Mexico border in order to undermine President Trump’s border wall plan. Already sold out, CAH's promotion offered a set of six surprise gifts throughout December for a $15 donation to the campaign. The money raised will, presumably, go towards the efforts of the company to combat “injustice, lies, racism, the whole enchilada.” According to the campaign’s dedicated website, the border land has already been purchased, and a law firm specializing in eminent domain has been retained to make the process of building the border wall “as time-consuming and expensive as possible.” Not mincing words, the site reads, “It’s 2017, and the government is being run by a toilet.” Elaborating further, it says, “Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a twenty-billion-dollar wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing.” Recently released documents show the Army Corps of Engineers’ assessment of the plan to build the wall in South Texas. The report outlines plans to place the wall through wildlife habitats and RV parks, and anticipates costly legal battles for privately-held land. If Cards Against Humanity has anything to say about it, those legal battles are going to be long and drawn out. As part of the proportion of the campaign, CAH produced a short mockumentary which takes place in the not-to-distant future, outlining its accomplishments in saving America.
Newly released records have cast light on the Army Corps of Engineers’ assessment of border wall plans in South Texas. Spanning 33 miles across the Rio Grande Valley, the 15 proposed walls would tear through wildlife habitats, RV parks and involve costly legal battles over the Trump administration’s efforts to acquire privately held land. The documents, obtained by the Texas Observer with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, have broken down the ease of building each segment into “least challenging," “challenging” and “most challenging.” Only seven of the proposed 21 sections are rated as “least challenging,” with challenges for the other tracts ranging from existing infrastructure to unequal terrain. “Nice RV park, many retirees live there permanently. Western half of segment will impacts upward of 100 homeowners,” reads a two-mile-long “most challenging” entry. Another notes that the wall will need to cut through a dam that holds back a nearby town’s reservoir of drinking water. Others comment on the proximity of housing along the wall’s route, leading to questions over how the federal government will try to reconcile building on private land when there are already 320 cases in the Rio Grande Valley pending from a similar 2007 expansion. This wouldn’t be the first time the Trump administration has tried to push through border wall construction in the area. The 2,088-acre Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas is one of the largest refuges in the country, but the federal government has already begun plans to bisect the park with a levee wall. Despite the backlash from the public and government officials, the government owns the refuge and work is moving forward. Labeled as a pilot project, the images released today depict a concrete based wall topped with 18-foot-tall steel bollards. Reportedly costing $15 million per mile, the Army Corps anticipates a completion date of July 2019. However, these new documents show that the levee wall isn’t Santa Ana’s only concern. The administration now wants to add a 150-foot-wide paved enforcement zone running south of the levee wall, complete with 120-foot surveillance towers, lights, and underground motion sensors. Scott Nicol is co-chair of the Sierra Club’s borderlands team, and put in the original FOIA request. “With this type of construction it would be difficult for Santa Ana to stay open,” said Nicol. The enforcement zone isn’t just limited to the refuge, according to the Army Corps’ analysis. Several entries comment on the difficulty of acquiring the land required for the zone, with one stating “Church and cemetery directly impacted by enforcement zone.” The release of this feasibility study closely follows the recent unveiling of eight border wall prototypes. Although funding for the border wall is still being fiercely contested, it seems the Trump administration is moving ahead in any way it can.
Eight prototypes for President Donald Trump's border wall were unveiled this week on the U.S.-Mexico border, not far from Tijuana and San Diego. The prototypes stand up to 30 feet tall. Four are constructed from concrete while the remainder are each constructed of a different material, including corrugated steel and brick. The contractors who built the prototypes are Caddell Construction, ELTA North America, W.G. Yates & Sons, Fisher Sand & Gravel/DBA Fisher, Texas Sterling Construction, and KWR Construction. On Monday morning, a media tour of the prototypes was led by Roy Villareal, the deputy chief patrol agent of the U.S. Border Patrol's San Diego sector. Two of the designs feature a slatted base through which the other side can be seen. A rendering released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed that the more transparent wall designs are intended for the Mexican side of the border, with the concrete and solid wall types used on the northern, U.S. side of the border. Former border patrol agent Rowdy Adams told CNBC that visibility is also important in identifying potential crossers, "whether it's 10 people or 30 people with ... rifles." Additionally, environmentalists had raised concerns that a solid wall would impede the migration of small animals. Since Congress hasn't yet demonstrated any serious commitment to appropriating the nearly $21.6 billion required for the border wall, it is unlikely any of these prototypes will go into mass production in the near future. However, Villareal suggested that the border patrol might implement some of the designs to replace older, worn-down sections of the existing wall. Even if the wall were to gain full funding, it remains steeped in controversy. Several manufacturers have stated their refusal to supply materials for the wall's construction, including concrete suppliers Cemex and LafargeHolcim. Additionally, three of the six firms selected to build prototypes have previously defrauded the government or otherwise been steeped in controversy. Testing of the wall prototypes will occur in late November by a private contractor that border patrol agents declined to name. The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) is committed to regular, rigorous coverage of the border wall and the controversy that surrounds it. To that end, AN has partnered with El Paso, Texas–based AGENCY to bring readers Border Dispatches, “an on-the-ground perspective from the United States-Mexico border.” Each month, the series explores a critical site or person shaping the mutable binational territory between the two neighboring countries. For more news, opinion, and information on the border wall, visitarchpaper.com/tag/border-wall.
On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tweeted images of the border wall prototypes in California that showed a wall ideation well underway. CBP unveiled plans for the prototyping phase back in September. The new images, taken near the San Diego–Tijuana border, show construction cranes lifting 30-foot-tall concrete slabs. The panels are one of eight wall prototypes that are set to be built and tested. Though all will be between 18 and 30 feet high, four of the walls will be concrete and the rest will be built with other materials. build a wall on the boundary between the U.S and Mexico to, in CBP's word's, "deter illegal crossings." "We are committed to securing our borders, and that includes constructing border walls. Our multi-pronged strategy to ensure the safety and security of the American people includes barriers, infrastructure, technology and people," said Ronald Vitiello, CBP acting deputy commissioner, in a September press release that announced prototype construction. “Moving forward with the prototypes enables us to continue to incorporate all the tools necessary to secure our border." Last month it was revealed that three of the six firms selected to build the prototypes had previously defrauded the government. Despite the project's contentiousness, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported no protests yesterday. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) is committed to regular, rigorous coverage of the border wall and the controversy that surrounds it. To that end, AN has partnered with El Paso, Texas–based AGENCY to bring readers Border Dispatches, "an on-the-ground perspective from the United States-Mexico border." Each month, the series explores a critical site or person shaping the mutable binational territory between the two neighboring countries. For more news, opinion, and information on the border wall, visit archpaper.com/tag/border-wall.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently awarded contracts to six firms to build concrete and non-concrete prototypes of a U.S.-Mexico border wall promised by President Donald J. Trump. Just weeks later, reports revealed that two of the selected firms were convicted of defrauding the government and one firm countered a lawsuit by injured subcontractors with the argument that one of the workers was an undocumented immigrant. This spotty history spells trouble for a process that is already fraught with controversy and estimated to cost billions of dollars. Caddell Construction, a firm based in Montgomery, Alabama, was awarded contracts to build both concrete and non-concrete prototypes. The company settled a criminal case in 2013 with the Department of Justice in which they paid a total of about $3 million for submitting falsified reimbursement claims for mentoring a Native American-owned company on a construction project. This made them eligible for federal funds awarded through the mentor-protege program, which offers federal reimbursements for supporting minority-owned businesses. Fisher Industries, a firm based in Tempe, Arizona, was contracted to build concrete border wall prototypes. The company's history is marked by a constellation of environmental and workplace violations: failure to control dust pollution resulting in health concerns for workers, retaliation against the sexual harassment claims of female employees, and their presidents' ongoing habit of writing off personal expenses as business expenses (for which one executive was sent to prison for 37 months by the IRS; another got off scot free). Last but not least, their eponymous former owner David Fisher was locked away for five years in a 2005 child pornography case. A third bid winner that was selected to build both concrete and non-concrete wall prototypes, W.G. Yates & Sons Construction of Philadelphia, Mississippi, was the subject of scrutiny after the scaffolding on a hospital project collapsed on a group of workers. When the workers sued Yates for damages, Yates argued in court court was that one of the employed subcontractors was an undocumented immigrant and "therefore not lawfully employed." This is a chilling relegation of responsibility for workers safety, especially when applied to the construction of a massive border wall. Yates' workers compensation policy ultimately meant that the company was not held responsible.
Five days after Donald J. Trump took the presidential oath of office, he signed an executive order ordering the construction of a massive border wall, intended to be the cornerstone of his anti-immigration policy as promised throughout his 2016 presidential campaign. Even before the order shifted from rhetoric to reality, architects have been responding to the question of whether they should participate in such a project and what such a massive piece of infrastructure could look like—including Mexican firm Estudio 3.14, which released renderings of a perplexingly aestheticized, Luis Barragán–inspired pink wall to much criticism in October. Now, nearly eight months later, some scattered logistics are falling into place. Last Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection awarded contracts for non-concrete prototype walls to four firms at a sum of about $3.6 million, adding to the four firms already selected to build concrete prototypes. The firms are: Caddell Construction (of Montgomery, Alabama), KWR Construction (of Sierra Vista, Arizona), ELTA North America Inc. (of Annapolis Junction, Maryland), and W. G. Yates & Sons Construction Company (of Philadelphia, Mississippi). Caddell Construction and W. G. Yates were also picked in the previous round of contracts for concrete prototypes. This latest development seems to correlate with Trump's request earlier this summer that the wall be, of all things, transparent. His reasoning? “As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them—they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over,” Trump told reporters on July 13. “As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.” Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, responded: “Over a 2,000 mile border, I think you’d have a higher chance of getting hit by a meteorite than a bag of drugs.” The Washington Post even took the accusation seriously, spoke to some experts, and discovered that a casual toss like the one Trump described would likely require a catapult or other medieval military device. While Trump the architect may lack a basic understanding of physical dynamics, Trump the politician seems to be unhesitant about carrying through on his promise to build the wall. We await to see how this transparency (or lack thereof) evolves.
Congressional House Republicans released two separate spending bills detailing proposals that would impact the Gateway Project and the US-Mexico border wall, on Monday and Tuesday respectively. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled its $56.5 billion Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill that budgets $900 million to the Gateway Program, a project many consider critical to the nation's transportation infrastructure. The Committee's $44.3 billion Homeland Security bill allocates $1.6 billion to construct the border wall. In a win for the $24 billion Gateway Program, the spending bill includes $328 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor tracks, grants for rail repairs, and direct funding for new Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge. (More details on the multifaceted program can be found here.) President Donald Trump’s administration had pulled out of the Gateway Program Development Corporation a week ago, casting doubt on the administration's support. According to Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston provides $3 billion to the U.S. economy, making the Gateway Program a priority. "Safe and reliable passenger rail travel through New Jersey and New York City is essential to that economic productivity," he said in a statement reported by NJ.com. But one of Trump’s key promises during his presidential campaign—building the much debated and controversial border wall separating the U.S and Mexico—is also one step closer to fruition. The $1.6 billion earmarked for the wall fully meets the White House request for construction funds, according to the committee. “Globalization, cyber-security, and terrorism are changing our way of life and we need to change with it," Frelinghuysen said in a press release. “The bill also provides the necessary funding for critical technology and physical barriers to secure our borders.” The $1.6 billion earmark is also likely to set up a government shutdown when the bill makes it way to the Senate, where Democrats are sure to object to any kind of wall funding. Funding for both projects is not yet guaranteed. Both bills will have to pass the full House and get approval from the Senate, before getting signed into law by President Trump.