The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a report that documented the ways in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing its eight border wall prototypes. The report showed that while the prototypes are being tested for their effectiveness, cost, and constructability, they are also being evaluated on their appearance, at least on their U.S.-facing north sides. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the DHS branch responsible for testing the wall, said that "the north side of the barrier should be pleasing in color and texture to be consistent with the surrounding area." The prototypes were constructed after President Trump, in one of his first acts in office in January 2017, signed an executive order directing DHS to design and build a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border. In March of that year, DHS issued two requests for proposals, one for a concrete border wall, and the other for a wall made from any material. DHS ended up selecting four concrete options and four that mix materials. Caddell Construction, KWR Construction, ELTA North America, W. G. Yates & Sons Construction Company, Fisher Sand & Gravel, and Texas Sterling Construction were the six companies contracted to build the prototypes. The prototypes were intended to be study models, and CBP said that the final design would adapt lessons from a variety of proposals. The GAO report also said that CBP tests found that all of the concrete prototypes presented "extensive" construction challenges and that the other prototypes presented "moderate" to "substantial" construction challenges. The report also found that CBP's cost estimates were off because they hadn't factored in the difficulty of building the wall in some of the border's most inhospitable locations. Much of the U.S.–Mexico border runs through rough terrain that is difficult for construction equipment to access and would present significant engineering challenges. Other aspects of the walls' performance, like scalability and breachability, were not made public out of security concerns. Engineers from Johns Hopkins University developed a test to evaluate the prototypes' aesthetics, and they found three models "that ranked highest in terms of attractiveness," but the report did not specify which designs were those were. The fate of the wall remains in limbo, as Congress has not authorized funding for its construction.
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This past week, The Architect’s Newspaper has published a series of essays from our recently released July/August 2018 issue, focused exclusively on Texas. The collection has been guest-edited by El Paso-based AGENCY and has examined the forces that have shaped the U.S.-Mexico border, and how that border continues to affect the lives of people on both sides. The following essays offer perspectives on property, landscape, material, and infrastructure that shape the U.S.-Mexico border. The authors illuminate critical spatial practices that destabilize assumptions about the border and the seeming simplicity of its binary divisions and exclusionary logics. These perspectives argue instead for constructive transgressions of this destructive border myth as it is being implemented to advance political agendas. These articles are offered as origin stories of a land, a people, and a space whose origins are routinely questioned and defied, entrenched and overcome. How architecture is aiding detention at the U.S.-Mexico border In the first part of this series, AGENCY documents how architecture and design aid detention across the U.S.-Mexico border, and how immigrants seeking asylum are turned away before they can enter the U.S. Photos by Iwan Baan accompany the text. The monorail that could have united El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico The Juárez-El Paso border area has always been tightly knit, and in the 1960s a hanging monorail could have united the two cities. Now that there's a renewed focus on the border as an impenetrable barrier, what can we learn from a time when the border was meant to be crossed? How the Rio Grande came to separate the U.S. and Mexico The Rio Grande has served as a dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico, but as the river shifts course, so too do the fortunes of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, leading to a host of water management issues in both cities. As remittances flow to Mexico, a new architectural style blooms The flow of money from the United States to Mexico has encouraged a new style of architecture in Mexico, as residents have used that money to design and construct new housing typologies by hand. How the Rio Grande creates geographical—and legal—loopholes The continual deposition and erosion of soil by the Rio Grande further muddles the U.S.'s border with Mexico, as the river has historically been used as a dividing line between the two countries. Prada Marfa’s immigrant architecture is more relevant than ever Prada Marfa, conceived during the roiling post-9/11 political era, is an appropriation of native Mexican materials and techniques that satirizes American consumerism; the building is now more relevant to the political conversation than ever, argues one of its designers.
This article is the last in a series that originally appeared in AN’s July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The essays examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. Political Context Prada Marfa is a building born out of the political tensions arising in post-9/11 America, in which Afghanistan, Iraq, and Mexico become scapegoats. In 2003, a United States-led coalition invaded Iraq, beginning an eight-year war, and in 2005, Duncan Hunter, who at the time was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called for the construction of a wall along the entire border between the U.S. and Mexico. This led to his amendment to the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which called for 698 miles of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This paved the way for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which President George W. Bush signed to “help protect the American people” from several purported threats, but primarily terrorism, which was the major focus of the era’s political rhetoric. Borderlands Architecture Prada Marfa is constructed out of traditional adobe bricks which have long been used in the region but are frequently perceived as an inferior material despite their ecological and climatological responsiveness. Adobe bricks provide the foundation for the oldest extant buildings in the region, as well as many of the area’s most important cultural and heritage sites, including artist Donald Judd’s own Block compound in Marfa. Directly referencing Judd and the military building traditions he emulated, the adobe bricks are intentionally set in a cement-based mortar. Judd recognized that this was the technique employed in the construction of barracks, hangars, and forts in the region, and Prada Marfa is constructed to reflect this mistrust of local traditions of the militaristic architecture that secures the border displays. Adobe brick was validated as a construction material, but not adobe mortar, which is more likely to be used on the humble houses of Mexicans and Mexican Americans on both sides of the contemporary border. Material Lineage While the adobe walls of Prada Marfa are indigenous, they are not perceived to be native to the United States, as the tradition is a spoil of the Mexican-American war. The form of the building recalls a West Texas vernacular, which is influenced by the melding of many cultures at the border. The artists Elmgreen and Dragset are from Denmark and Norway, respectively. The details of the interior come from Italy. The specifications for the shelves, the typography (a variation of a type popular with American engravers and typefounders in the last third of the 19th century), the color of paint for the interior walls, the lighting, and the carpet were directly sampled from Prada’s own architectural details for retail outlets in Milan. The inspiration for the facade is sampled from German photographer Andreas Gursky’s photograph Prada II. The building is sprayed with an elastomeric white latex coating to reflect the powerful rays of the sun and withstand the extreme expansion and contraction of the building’s structure in the fluctuating desert temperatures. Xenophobia and Cultural Assimilation Prada Marfa was a very new kind of work. Unlike the reserved and apolitical work of Judd—who in Marfa had already laid claim to art and what it should be—Prada Marfa blurs the boundaries between architecture, art, politics, and culture. The very same night that Prada Marfa opened, xenophobes attacked the work, stealing the shoes and purses, destroying the building’s facade, and spray painting “dum” [sic] and “dumb” on the inside and outside of the building. Prada Marfa represented a very new kind of artistic expression that was unfamiliar in the region and challenged conservative artistic sensibilities, calling into question the juxtapositions between wealth and poverty, the U.S. and Mexico, anglo and Mejicano, of the region that the building highlighted. Since Prada Marfa’s construction, it has had to evolve to survive in the political and environmental climate of both art and the borderlands. Since the first attack on the building, it has been vandalized several times—the glass windows were shoddily replaced by scratch-resistant and shatterproof acrylic to withstand bullets and the continual “peeling out” of cars in front of the building, which kicks up rocks and debris onto the facade. The fabric awnings had to be replaced due to smokers continually burning holes in the cloth with their cigarettes, and the font size of PRADA was increased to almost match the size of the letters on the black metal signs above, suggesting that the delicate typography on the original awnings may not have been good enough in a state where “everything is bigger.” Many other forms of vandalism have taken place. Men’s underwear was shoved into the drain pipes, causing the roof to flood and inundate the interior, which required the shelving to be rebuilt and repainted and the carpet to be replaced. Most dramatically, an artist by the name of Joe Magnano was found guilty of two counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief and required to pay Ballroom Marfa, the caretaker of Prada Marfa, $10,700 and a $1,000 fine for attempting to paint the building blue and pasting TOMS, the logo of a shoe brand founded by Texan Blake Mycoskie, on it, perhaps in an inadvertent attempt to make a structure perceived to be “not from around these parts” more Texan. The vandals who destroyed the building after it first opened, however, have never come forward, although it has been suggested that the borderland surveillance systems used to monitor immigrants traveling in the desert may be able to reveal these criminals. Hajj Prada Marfa has become a pilgrimage site where those making the journey to visit the building have left mementos as part of what has become a kind of hajj to this art Mecca. The various offerings at the Prada Marfa site have included visitors leaving one used shoe, placed around the building or atop the fencing surrounding the building. Perhaps this references the single shoe found in the faux shoe shelves of the store, or maybe the worn-out shoes of immigrants who journey by foot to the U.S. from Mexico until the soles of their shoes wear away, before being picked up in the landscape surrounding Prada Marfa. Not unlike the Jewish mitzvah where visitors to a grave leave small pebbles on a gravestone, visitors have also left small rocks, holding down a piece of paper with a name, message, or a business card, on the narrow ledge that surrounds Prada Marfa. This act reminds us of the harsh reality of a landscape where countless die in the desert, just as the wall has pushed people to greater extremes on their journey north. The shoes and the pebbles left by art pilgrims were systematically removed as they were also perceived as a form of vandalism—a crime, rather than a new tradition—and a fence was constructed around the building made of welded wire mesh, reminiscent of the transformation of the U.S.–Mexico border from a barbed wire fence to stretches of welded steel. The construction of the fence surrounding Prada Marfa, however, has prompted another tradition of offering at the site. While called Prada Marfa, the building is technically just outside the small town of Valentine, Texas. Despite a population of 217, the town is inundated with over 1,000 people on Valentine’s Day, as well as hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards that are sent through the local post office, which has been known as a “love station.” Today, “love locks,” padlocks used by sweethearts to symbolize their love, are attached to the new fence surrounding Prada Marfa, and the keys are thrown away. Perhaps this, too, symbolizes the time we live in, mired in a national struggle between the fences that divide and the love that could bring us together in the borderlands. Ronald Rael holds the Eva Li Memorial Chair in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and his architectural practice, Rael San Fratello, was the designer of Prada Marfa. He is the author of Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary.
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
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.