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 "Ron Rael":
With the scent of wet St. Louis clay wafting through the air, the Data Clay Symposium kicked off at CCA last weekend. Hosted by the Architecture & Fine Arts Divisions at CCA, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and the CCA Digital Craft Lab, the event joined architects, artists, designers, makers, critics and creators to discuss and display their latest syncretic experiments and the possibilities of the seemingly disparate mediums of data (i.e. computation) and clay. Moderated and curated by Joshua G. Stein and Del Harrow, and following on the heels of an exhibition on view at the San Francisco's Museum of Craft & Design, the symposium started with a talk by Future Cities Lab co-founder Jason Johnson and his Creative Architecture Machines research group at CCA, exhibiting student work that integrates robotics, interactivity, coding, and clay extrusions manifested in real time. Ron Rael of UC Berkeley and Emerging Objects followed with his research into Earth Architecture and the ancient strategies of clay building. Walking the line between passive building and high-tech computational techniques with his experiments on evaporative cooling bricks, Rael demonstrated the potential of the ancient and the modern coming together in a coherent and cogent architecture of today. Jenny Sabin of Cornell University and Jenny Sabin Studio presented work connecting biology, coding, and material systems that have fostered her experimental practice, which works at the intersection of rapid-prototyping, scientific exploration, and ceramics. With a BFA in Ceramics and a Masters of Architecture, Sabin has been able to integrate and develop a unique space for a practice that radically combines the digital and the analogue. Andy Brayman, a studio potter of the Kansas City–based Matter Factory, presented his unique take on traditional ceramics and data by showing off his knowledge of code and software platforms through his open-sourced self-education and research developments. The morning session came to a close with work presented by UC Berkeley PhD student Laura Devendorf and her playful syntheses of art practice, technology, and research. Her experiments, work at the intersections of a diverse set of disciplines, presenting innovative promise for the "maker" field.
The afternoon featured a keynote by Dries Verbruggen from Antwerp design studio Unfold. Verbruggen’s talk traced the history of digital design, then referenced his book Printing Things, which investigates the myriad techniques and processes of printing. He touched on notions of copying, iteration, and the physics of the physical world gone digital. One of the most intriguing projects of the symposium, on display at the Museum of Craft and Design, is Unfold's recreation of a potter's throwing wheel in digital form, which can be changed through your hands' interaction.Bobby Tigerman, associate curator of decorate arts and design at LACMA, followed, channeled remotely from Los Angeles, with a historical look at issues of technology and the hand-made, ending with a note that digital craft is on the rise and has prompted stimulating debate and connected cultures worldwide. From the History of Art and Architecture department at UC Santa Barabara, Assistant Professor Jenni Sorkin expounded on the nature of open source, and the hotly-debated realm of ownership and originality in object-hood. Wrapping up the Symposium was Stephanie Syjuco, a sculptor and Assistant Professor in the Ceramics department at UC Berkeley. She glided through her own work, focused on clay, data, and large scale installations, synthesizing traditional ceramic techniques and digital software such as Cinema 4D. Ending the day was an engaging debate revolving around disciplinary identity, scales and modes of production, the quality and quantity of education, and the ability of the arts, architecture, and design to make a real difference in the world today.