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.
Posts tagged with "border":
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. While architects commonly use mock-ups of custom elements, construction details, and assemblies to gain confidence over the future prospects of experimental endeavors, the national security complex amplifies this logic at a much larger scale: building entire mock infrastructures and city-scale installations to test and refine its operations, procedures, and footprint. Among the many replicas of critical infrastructure populating a growing number of law enforcement training sites in the United States, the port of entry (POE) is an increasingly common typology, used for training U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and related forces in the duties of facilitating and managing the various flows of people, vehicles, and goods which enter and leave the country. In the annals of security training, the port is an archetypal and enduring site, a frontline where the oft-competing interests of international commerce and national security collide. Since the establishment of the U.S. Customs Service School of Instruction at the Port of New York in 1935, ports have been a fertile testing ground for young customs officers and border agents to learn their crafts in situ, embedded amid the swirling complexities of life at the edge of sovereign territory. Interstate boundaries belie similar dynamics, with port-of-entry training a common feature of state patrol academies as well. Over the years, security officials have conducted tests to improve efficiency at mock ports of entry. In a multinational security experiment hosted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2004, participants from 18 countries worked through a debugging session for the use of e-Passports, document readers, and facial recognition devices in a makeshift simulated port in Morgantown, West Virginia. Fitting the artificially smooth, fictionalized setting, each participant held simulated travel documents from the nation of “Utopia.” Recently, this pre-collection and efficiency strategy has broadened its scope at operational ports to include the capture of Bluetooth wireless signals from travelers’ portable electronics, which the CBP gathers in order to—per official statements— issue wait-time updates to would-be travelers. The recent Laredo POE Mobile Query Pilot program distributed clearance operations to arriving busloads of simulated travelers, using “smartphones paired with a peripheral to perform document reading and biometrics capture.” With current projections focusing on further streamlining operations and securing territory “between ports of entry,” this extension of port security space continues to spread. Meanwhile, the security objectives of the port site itself have diversified and intensified, with a growing host of initiatives and technologies coming together under one roof. In the first week of September 2001, reflecting a growing dissatisfaction with what was seen as a fragmented operational environment at the nation’s ports, the U.S. Congress began requesting funding to build a port of entry training facility at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) site in Glynco, Georgia. In the following week, the attacks of 9/11 put all of the nation’s ports of entry at an elevated Level 1 alert. Shortly after, border security efforts were consolidated under the newly formed CBP. Officers at ports would be assigned new, broader security roles. The ports and their simulations would need to adapt. FLETC partnered with CBP to construct the mock port, integrating new security directives while building on a history of port simulation on site. As early as 1998, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was using mock stiles at the FLETC site to test systems for tracking foreign-visitor travel through ports of entry. Construction was completed in 2003. The 22,600-square-foot facility boasted “state-of-the-art computer systems” and “primary and secondary inspection points for pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” complete with license plate readers and radiation monitors to acquaint trainees with the layered logistics of port screenings. Since beginning operations, trainees have used the simulated environment for a wide range of practical exercises, conducting mock vehicle searches, training canine units for human detection, and simulating treasury enforcement operations with the use of role players and computer tracking. In 2007, it was common practice for trainees to enter the FLETC port simulation environment after initial training at their assigned real-world POE. In a kind of mirrored urbanism, their environmental awareness would be augmented and accelerated at the mock port, seen as a kind of interchangeable extension of and stand-in for any of the over 300 real-world sites, only for the trainees to return to their home posts for duty. The mock port has been somewhat of a calling card for FLETC and a focus around which other simulated developments continue to aggregate at the center. A 200-acre counterterrorism training environment including “rural and urban neighborhoods, buildings, and roadways” sprawls nearby. A former dormitory was converted to resemble a federal building for training. An intermodal site was built in the complex, where students train for emergencies interfacing with other forms of vulnerable infrastructure; buses, trains, aircraft, and subway systems dot the site. With an increase in demand for CBP port agents, a planning proposal in 2015 included increased training capacity at the mock port site, expanding “simulation areas and laboratory and practical exercise areas” for trainees. While the FLETC port site specializes in the required training for CBP port agents and other federal agencies, other simulated port environments expand the breadth of security training offerings, along with the types of sites and constituencies they engage. The HAMMER Federal Training Center in Richland, Washington, reportedly designed by the U.S. State Department, hosts a 1,000-square-foot mock port of entry, decked out with a “vehicle inspection pad, radiation portal monitors, and sealand cargo containers.” Training exercises here focus on law enforcement searches of containers for possible threats or smuggled material. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory uses “a series of mock port-of-entry configurations” to conduct mock-inspection exercises, anticipating and resolving emerging threats. PNNL works in concert with the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to conduct studies in how to improve radiation-detection technologies and procedures to eliminate false positives and improve detection response. At times, it seems, the simulated environment cannot match the fidelity of its real-world counterpart, and training takes over operational port sites. Multiple agencies recently converged at the Ysleta POE, in El Paso, Texas, for hazardous material (HAZMAT) training simulation. Trainees responded to a mock battery-acid contamination scenario, in which three role-playing victims were affected by defective forklift batteries in transit on an 18-wheeler. CBP partnered with the DHS’s Office of Science and Technology to construct a mock air POE to test prototypes for biometric exiting strategies at airports in 2014. The experiments were later conducted in real-world airports. The Nogales Port of Entry has hosted a number of mock disasters and counterterrorism drills, including at least one role-playing suicide bomber. Since 2014, the CBP has been authorized to partner with private-sector interests to construct and improve POEs. The federal agency is allowed now to accept donated real estate to construct or expand its operations at ports, in a bid to expedite the retooling of this critical security infrastructure. The architectural and operational experiments conducted in the nation’s parallel network of simulated port urbanisms prevision this next generation of border stations. We imagine these new sites will be a different kind of test-bed—where real estate speculation and commercialization of the port as commodity will create a new layer of managerial complexity at our nation’s borders.
The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture (UTSoA) has announced two new teaching hires as part of the school's ongoing Race and Gender in the Built Environment Initiative. Edna Ledesma has joined as a teaching fellow for the next academic year and Miriam Solis will begin a tenure-track position in the Fall of 2018. This announcement comes on the heels of the university naming Michelle Addington as dean of the school earlier this year, though the initiative pre-dates her tenure at the school. UTSoA is a leader among architecture schools when it comes to diversity, having originated several internal commissions and programs as far back as 2008 to address the growing calls for equitable representation in academia. The school in recent years has announced new academic tracks in Latin American Architecture and expanded the offerings of its Community and Regional Planning program, one of the most robust programs of its kind. In many cases, it is not simply a matter of who the school is hiring, but also what research those scholars bring into the fold and how they contribute to a heterogenous learning environment. Ledesma, who holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Science from Texas A&M University and has two previous graduate degrees in design, focuses on issues related to border communities and the cultural landscape of immigrant populations in Texas. Ledesma’s research formally began in 2013 when she organized a series of design engagements called “dialogos” in the South Texas city of Brownsville. Her work seeks to bridge the gap between communities and city governments to help define the design agency of traditionally under-represented groups. Ledesma noted that she was drawn to this fellowship because of UTSoA’s distinct interdisciplinary approach to design and research, which often allows for cross-pollination among the school's academic programs. Solis will enter her professorship next year with a PhD in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley after completing a Switzer Fellowship for her work in environmental planning. Her research focuses on social and environmental justice related to the development of urban infrastructures, an area of research that she has contributed to through her years of experience in California. One of Solis’ ongoing projects concerns the equitable redevelopment of San Francisco’s wastewater system which has historically negatively impacted African American communities.
The Texas Tech University College of Architecture at El Paso (TTU-El Paso) will host a “Border Insecurities Summer Workshop” for students who are interested in emerging conceptions of public space in the borderlands. The program is headquartered in a working train station on the U.S.-Mexico border. Participants will travel to site around the dynamic El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region, including military training environments, simulated logistics cities, testing ranges, detention centers, and military archives, as well as place-specific art installations in Cabinetlandia and Marfa. Students will investigate emerging “securocratic” territories throughout the southwest, uncovering the effects of military doctrine, security interests, and emerging technologies on the built environment of the borderland. Students will work with Arduino and Raspberry Pi to craft working “hackable infrastructures”— small-scale, built interventions that manifest as wearable technologies or other micro-projects of the students’ designs. A final exhibit is planned in a public space in Ciudad Juárez. The workshop is from June 7-July 7, and the deadline to apply is May 15. Details can be found here. AN senior editor Matt Shaw sat down with AGENCY leader and TTU-El Paso professor Ersela Kripa to discuss the workshop and the ongoing design discourse surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border, including the upcoming elections and the recent controversies surrounding architects’ roles in the shaping of borders. We had a bit of trouble connecting, because the school is so close to the border that Kripa’s cell phone thinks she is roaming. Architect’s Newspaper: How did you guys get involved with Texas Tech in El Paso? Ersela Kripa: Tech’s main campus is in Lubbock, Texas, and the school of architecture launched the satellite school on the border in El Paso about nine years ago. We were traveling in this region for the research we needed to do for our book about border issues and national security issues. We were visiting all of the military simulation sites and crossing the border, and we somehow stumbled upon the school. We moved here in September and we’re writing curriculum rooted in this kind of space. What is the relationship between the "Border Insecurities Summer Workshop" and TTU-El Paso’s program? The workshop is an extension of our research, but the program is really interested in supporting it as a forum and a platform for an international conversation here about this border, which is very unique in relationship to other borders. It’s a research and making workshop, but we also want to gather and catalyze the community of thinkers and designers and doers who are already here or working around these kinds of issues. We’re going to work with Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman of the UCSD Cross-Border Initiative, Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao, Chris Taylor of Land Arts of the American West, and Patrick Schaefer of the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness. We’re all already here and looking at the border as a place where the designer has agency. We want to help people be much more in touch with the reality here and more educated about the subject. The border is this incredibly thick zone, as national security is enabled by infrastructure and logistics that start miles south of the border with the free economic zone and the maquiladoras. And then it ends like 100 miles north of our border, inland of the USA, with border checkpoints because there is so much porosity. Checkpoints for products in Mexico are miles south, in the maquiladora kind of warehouses and distribution centers, so that commerce doesn’t even check at the national borders. As illegal immigration crosses the borders, there is other thermal imaging infrastructure scattered all over the desert. There is this kind of incredible landscape that is a border that could be called a hundred miles thick. It is enabled by these kinds of surveillance technologies and logistics. It is almost a military infrastructure. How will that play out in the workshop? In the workshop, we are going to be looking at this kind of technology that enables a securitized, thickened border zone and we’re going to be making very small, wearable technologies that borrow from surveillance language to give agency to the individual again. We have already bought all of the equipment that the students would use, like air quality monitors, touch screens, fingerprint sensors, all of these smaller kind of wearables that can help individuals find anonymity in this very highly surveilled landscape. These hackable infrastructures act as a way to escape the ever-seeing eye of surveillance on the border. For example, at a previous workshop run by my partner Stephen at Washington University-St. Louis, one student made this cooling, plastic wire mask that you can wear on your head, but it runs cooled water around your face so that thermal imaging cannot pick up the characteristics of anyone’s face. So essentially, if you’re moving through these checkpoints, you would just be a headless body in the thermal imaging cameras. So what can students expect from this workshop? We have had incredible response. There are some students from France and Syria and Greece who are working on similar kinds of border issues related to the current Syrian refugee crisis, and so if they actually join us, they would learn from how amazingly porous and fluid our border here, but also more generally, how bi-national logistics shape the politics of a border. For instance, one interesting, amazing thing that’s happening right now is that Mexico is shifting its energy production from coal to natural gas to clean up its air quality. This might seem unrelated, but it’s actually shaping energy production on the U.S. side of the border and so there are pipelines that are being constructed and planned to take natural gas across the border to Mexico. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline is already starting to create a bi-national energy region that is, in essence, borderless. We’re hoping in the workshop to look at energy, military security, and environmental issues. We also want to address ecology: natural ecology but also the economic ecology that can thrive if people understand how this border really works and to not think of it as the first image of the fence or the wall. How do you address some of those big questions about the U.S.-Mexico border and design’s relationship to politics? It’s very much appropriate for us to be engaged in the border issue, especially with the current election cycles and the really paranoid rhetoric about walls and immigration. We need to be here and we, as designers, are savvy in hacking power structures. But one type of design or one type of infrastructure can’t possibly solve all the issues of the border. I think our role as designers is to really work with nuances and policies set in place that allow for a border to be controlled in the way that it is and to find ways to hack that. And so, even when we talk about public space, here in El Paso and Juarez, public space doesn’t really make sense as a public park or cafes with outdoor seating. Public space here means spaces of exchange. So there are a lot of transient spaces where families who live on either side of the border meet, such as small markets where people cross back and forth to shop or to exchange money or hire really cheap labor. These logistical spaces are very close to the border. What are some of the Mexican responses to this discourse? We go across to Juarez quite a bit, and they seem to be excited that there is another conversation at the school that is completely antithetical to keeping people out. We have students from Juarez who are actually coming here to study with us and so they’re terrified by the elections because they’re hoping they can actually keep coming to the country. I have a student who lives with her mother on the El Paso side of the border, but her father is on the Juarez side of the border because that’s where he can get a job and so families are truly bi-national here. It’s not possible here in El Paso to keep Mexican immigration out, because some people go over there for dinner, and there are a lot of women who come over here for day jobs that people here rely on. We can allow for the border to be a lot more porous and a lot more humane. That’s what we’re thinking about in our work but also through the workshop: moving product around or moving money around or moving cheap labor around. If we look at those spaces as public spaces, designers would become more relevant on the ground. How do you think that we could make it a more humane place to exist? At the border crossing here, you have to cross a bridge over the river, and we’re in the desert and it’s really, really hot. So when people are lining up to get their passports reviewed and to cross the border, pedestrians are waiting in line next to cars, so exhaust is gathering with these cars waiting to cross. There is a lot of air pollution and really bad air quality, and so we want to address waiting areas and areas of exchange—spaces where people spend most of their time. The border crossing happens in a few seconds once you’re processed, but the waiting on either side needs to be rethought because it’s inconvenient and in the summer, it’s actually unbearable. There are many leftover spaces in Juarez and in El Paso, like parts of these kind of infrastructural, liminal spaces. So there is a former train station kind of canopy on the Juarez side that we’re looking at occupying through arts events and art galleries. There’s a bus canopy on this side, where we did an installation. The idea is to reoccupy these spaces through low-res technology so that people can come together and use them as public space in different ways. What did you think of the "Building the Border Wall?" competition and the debate about engaging or not engaging with it? I would love to engage by re-asking the questions. You know, to design a better border wall, is really simplistic, and I would say, myopic. People who don’t live here think of our border as walls, but we have entire gaps. I mean, we don’t even have walls in most of our borders. It’s just the river that separates the countries. When I ask my students about the border wall, it doesn’t even register to them as a wall because we have so many border crossings. They come from Juarez every day to come to school here with us to broaden the conversation and to locate the designer as a really powerful maker on the ground and to make really good public spaces in the borderland that are very, characteristically and qualitatively very different from other cities. I would engage with it. I don’t think we should shy away from it, mainly because these things are being built without architects, so we need to be in the conversation. We need to shape it, but I also think we shouldn’t be so simplistic as to piggyback on the catch phrase of border wall. I think we need to bring everyone down here so people can understand that the border here is not a wall. It’s actually El Paso and Juarez, two cities together, and as I mentioned, there’s this 100-mile zone between Mexico and the U.S. where the border is completely fluid, and it moves north and south and it is a lot more porous than people imagine. So we would engage with the competition by re-asking or rewriting the brief and also by really questioning what actually makes the border possible. Maybe the response is not necessarily an architectural design competition, but maybe the response is small interventions against technology, against surveillance, against all of the control and the power structures that control this border. Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense? Yeah. So is that where the hacking comes in? Yeah, exactly. We want to give individuals their own agency to act in this region without an architectural master vision. I think it’s smaller but also bigger than that.