Posts tagged with "US-Mexico Border":

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The Architecture Lobby calls for pledges against designing detention centers

The Architecture Lobby (T-A-L) and Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) are once again calling on architects to boycott the design and construction of immigration detention centers and deterrence infrastructure.  Both groups issued a joint statement in April of last year condemning the U.S. Justice Department’s zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy, and are now asking architects to sign a pledge saying they refuse to participate in projects that have anything to do with border walls, Border Patrol stations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, or juvenile holding centers. The pledge also encourages architects and affiliated industry professionals to speak out against the reportedly atrocious conditions of these facilities and to organize in their individual workplace or educational institution to combat any involvement.  “These violent and racist policies are designed to cause fear and chaos,” said T-A-L and ADPSR in a joint press release. “[They] target those seeing asylum and refuge, and weaponize the built environment against immigrants.” According to both advocacy organizations, architects have the responsibility to “uphold the public’s health, safety, and welfare,” and because of this, they must stand up against such human rights violations. Not only is T-A-L trying to get more architects on board via this pledge, but it's also offering services to firms, universities, or groups that need help organizing in the workplace or creating divestment campaigns.    You can read the growing list of pledge supporters here and sign on yourself. This call comes on the heels of the American Institute of Architectsrecent release denouncing the conditions of detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Per its Code of Ethics, AIA members are also urged to “uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.” It said its members must support government policies and regulations that enhance transparency on the issue, as well as fight for the creation of standards that improve the health, safety, and welfare requirements of all buildings. The AIA also called for building inspectors to ensure that structures are in full compliance with current building codes and that any violations regarding health and safety be fixed immediately.  Though these leading architectural organizations believe that socially-responsible architects should be in no way involved in reforming immigration detention centers or similar buildings, there are some architects that think the opposite. Last summer, when CityLab reported on T-A-L and ADPSR’s initial call to boycott, it highlighted the opinion of one designer at Gehry Partners who believed design professionals “should take the lead and devise alternative environments to house immigrants with dignity.” Instead of staying silent, architects should advocate for facilities with natural light, ample space, good ventilation, access to the outdoors, and privacy, she said. It seems, however, that the most pressing architectural issue here is not the creation of new detention centers that are designed in a healthy way, it's that the ones currently being used weren't programmed for housing hundreds and thousands of migrants in the first place. Last July, AN published a piece on the brief architectural success of the Tornillo-Guadalupe International Bridge near El Paso, which opened in 2016 and was anticipated to support a slew of traffic. Though the structure was highly-lauded as a “collaborative binational security effort,” wrote Erseal Kripa and Stephen Muller of AGENCY Architecture, it was a failure due to lack of an economic engine. The site became a census-designated tent city known as Tornillo, where it held thousands of migrant children until it was shut down in January. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it will reopen the site this week to house adults instead due to overcrowding in nearby Texas detention centers.  These situations and calls from both sides of the aisle raise the question of whether architects should step in to revamp the current conditions by offering their design services, or should they instead use their voices to urge political lawmakers to end the detainment of migrants altogether? Is this a black and white issue? Is it ethical for architects to do both?
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Rael San Fratello turns the U.S.–Mexico border into a joyous seesaw playground

Ronald Rael, the architecture chair at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design, and Virginia San Fratello, associate professor of architecture at San José State University, have just installed a row of Pepto-pink seesaws that use the U.S.-Mexico border wall as a fulcrum to allow people on both sides to play across the divide. Here, in Mexico's Ciudad Juárez and New Mexico's Sunland Park, the wall's brown steel slats are spaced wide enough that kids (and some adults) in one country can see the teeter-totters in the other. "There are good relations between the people of Mexico and the United States, and using the seesaw shows that we are equal and we can play together and enjoy ourselves," Rael told Ruptly. In videos circulating on social media, the teeter-totters on both sides of the border wall do indeed look like they are having a blast:
 
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One of the most incredible experiences of my and @vasfsf’s career bringing to life the conceptual drawings of the Teetertotter Wall from 2009 in an event filled with joy, excitement, and togetherness at the borderwall. The wall became a literal fulcrum for U.S. - Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side. Amazing thanks to everyone who made this event possible like Omar Rios @colectivo.chopeke for collaborating with us, the guys at Taller Herrería in #CiudadJuarez for their fine craftsmanship, @anateresafernandez for encouragement and support, and everyone who showed up on both sides including the beautiful families from Colonia Anapra, and @kerrydoyle2010, @kateggreen , @ersela_kripa , @stphn_mllr , @wakawaffles, Chris Gauthier and many others (you know who you are). #raelsanfratello #borderwallasarchitecture

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Joy.

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Although the play equipment is pure fun, the project is also a comment on the reciprocal relationships between countries' border policies and their impact on those who live and work in the borderlands. That thinking extends to the nuts and bolts of the project, too: While the architects' California firm Rael San Fratello executed the design, Ciudad Juárez's Taller Herrería custom-fabricated the seesaws for the installation. San Fratello and Rael's idea for the Teeter-Totter Wall is a decade in the making, though most first learned about it from their 2017 book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary
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Products of border wall research may expand to the rest of the construction industry

Over ten days this past spring, a privately funded group named We Build the Wall hurriedly constructed a segment of the proposed United States–Mexico border wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico. The rapid erection of this so-called “gift to America” shocked nearby communities and the project served as a startling proof of concept for emerging wall construction technologies. Developed under the auspices of the Trump administration’s border wall request for proposals, these are the products of a technological arms race to improve the speed and efficiency in which national security infrastructure can be delivered. The segment is the first product of what will surely become a growing list of building technologies developed as part of the xenophobic border wall project. These technologies will shape project delivery expectations, methods, and outcomes in the borderland and beyond as the building industry and the built environment inherit securocratic technologies developed in the shadow of the wall. As construction companies attempt to curry favor with the administration, there has been an uptick in patent filings for construction systems and project delivery methods explicitly tied to border wall construction. In 2018 alone, there were three such patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), including designs for a border wall built of shipping containers, a “power-generating border wall,” and a “multifunctional solar-powered barrier wall,” which included financing instruments its inventors argued would allow the wall to pay for itself. Fisher Sand & Gravel, the North Dakota company responsible for the construction of the wall in Sunland Park, holds a patent (through its subsidiary, General Steel & Supply Company) for a proprietary “concrete forming system” designed to expedite border wall construction. Claiming the technique would allow completion of the entire border wall within six years and under budget, Fisher was one of six companies picked to build a wall prototype in Otay Mesa, California, after the Trump administration’s RFP for border barriers in 2017. Fisher’s concrete-forming patent describes a novel process which capitalizes on modified construction equipment to rapidly form and cure extensive, continuous, cast-in-place concrete panels. At the core of the proposal are modified excavators adapted to traverse mountainous terrain equipped with “quick connect” arm couplers capable of positioning massive steel formwork. The excavators and steel forms, per the patent’s argument, eliminate the need for numerous, labor-intensive ties and bracing that more typical concrete construction would require, while also eliminating the transportation costs and potential breakage associated with positioning individual precast panels. The steel formwork can be rotated on three axes, controlling for pitch, yaw, and roll, allowing endless adjustments in “attitude, position, and/or orientation," in rugged borderland terrain. The flexible system allows operators to control the wall section of the barrier, facilitating wall designs of equal thickness, tapered “triangular-shaped” walls, or “any other orientation or configuration." Patent drawings show a veritable army of excavators choreographed to position alternating sections of steel formwork with military discipline. As the wall is poured, the edges of completed freestanding sections are incorporated as formwork for infill panels, allowing a nonstop rhythm of pouring and curing along the line. In a self-assured video extolling the virtues of its method, Fisher boasts that its wall, covering the entirety of the land border with Mexico, will protect the U.S. for 150 years to come. A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) test team evaluated the construction of Fisher’s prototype in Otay Mesa and noted that—along with all concrete prototypes—the proposal would face “extensive” challenges in construction. Its concrete design having failed to procure the elusive border-wall contract, Fisher incorporated much of the same proprietary technology and delivery protocols into a modified steel design. Videos online show Fisher’s technique for construction of a steel bollard fence using a similar process to the one outlined in the concrete-forming patent. Workers first prepare a trench and position a fleet of modified excavators around the site. Instead of positioning metal formwork, the vehicles are outfitted with a custom trussed hanger spanning 56 feet on which workers hang prefabricated sections of bollard fence. The vehicles then position the long sections, drop them into the trench, level and align as necessary, and fix the bollards in a poured concrete foundation. Unlike the concrete-forming method, which requires excavators to be positioned on both sides of the fence, the steel fence can be erected with machines working from one side only. During demonstrations, the company pointed out that the construction process would not breach the international boundary. According to Fisher, the bollard-fence hanging system is “patent-pending,” though no record of a new application from Fisher Industries or subsidiaries is yet available on the USPTO database. A remarkably similar design for a “bollard fence” was filed by Neusch Innovations in December 2018 and may be related. Company executive Tommy Fisher relentlessly promoted Fisher’s steel design as a faster, cheaper, and better alternative to other techniques, a bold triad of claims given the realities of the construction industry. The Republican donor has aggressively targeted this message to conservative outlets like Fox News, largely gaining the support of border wall advocates, and even Trump himself, whose fervor for the wall Fisher consistently praises. Trump has allegedly tried repeatedly to influence the public bid process by pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to award Fisher the contract, as yet to no avail. Fisher, meanwhile, has demonstrated his construction technique to politicians in Arizona, claiming the tests prove his company capable of building 218 miles of the border wall in one year. Despite the USACE’s negative appraisal of the design and Department of Homeland Security officials’ negative views of the company, Fisher eventually found a partner to build the steel assembly in the privately funded, pro-wall, conservative nonprofit We Build the Wall. Fisher construction crews descended on Sunland Park over Memorial Day weekend, armed with specially equipped excavators and prefabricated bollard steel fencing. Construction was reported complete ten days later, with about a half-mile of barrier constructed in the formerly pristine environment. The shocking speed of construction, enabled by Fisher’s proprietary methods and equipment, obscured the project’s significant damage. The new border wall, although built on private property, abuts federal property, and its locked gate blocked entry to the American Diversion Dam, a critical piece of national infrastructure. The International Boundary and Water Commission, the agency that manages waterways on the U.S.–Mexico border, has ordered the gate to remain open to allow for operations and maintenance at the dam. Additionally, to create a relatively horizontal cross-section for the border fence appropriate for the company’s method, Fisher filled an existing deep arroyo with 200,000 cubic yards of soil. The effects of this extensive terraforming within a fragile desert ecology are unknown, as the company did not perform an environmental impact assessment. Scientists speculate that much of the disturbed soil was heavily polluted from nearby industry and will precipitate into the Rio Grande, sending more pollutants downstream, mostly into Mexican farms. While we as architects might resist the border wall itself, we must also respond to the myriad advances in the construction industry which have matured in its wake. Efficiencies must not be gained at the expense of human dignity or lives.
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Architects crowdfund money for border fence prototype around Mar-a-Lago

Following an unsuccessful attempt at floating a line of Pink Floyd-style golden pigs in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, architecture studio New World Design has turned its attention to a new piece of protest art. The group is now crowdfunding on GoFundMe to build a 30-foot-tall, golden wall “prototype” outside of the president’s Mar-a-Lago compound and golf course in Florida. As the government shutdown over $5.7 billion in southern border wall funding has dragged on to become the longest shutdown in history, New World Design is looking to raise $570 million for U.S.-Mexico Border Wall: A Study in Absurdity. The project is a tongue-in-cheek response to the viral, but unsuccessful, campaign to crowdfund the border wall. The 30-foot-tall, ornamented picket fence would be plated in gold and “lethally” electrified. Six new coal-fired power plants across the U.S.-Mexico border would power the barrier. The group has proposed first installing it at Mar-a-Lago as a “legitimate constructibility test,” a callback to the eight border wall prototypes built and tested in Otay Mesa, California. This project is much less tangible than Flying Pigs on Parade: A Chicago River Folly, and the group expects that it won’t hit its sky-high goal; any of the money raised will instead be donated to the International Refugee Assistance Program.
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Artist draws the U.S.–Mexico border outside Houston

Artist Molly Gochman is drawing her newest land art piece directly on the surface of the earth, at a large enough scale that it will only be legible as a whole to passengers flying in or out of the nearby George Bush International Airport in Houston. Border US-MX, 2018, International Airport Houston will be a temporary artwork in the shape of the U.S.–Mexico border drawn in a bright red color in the middle of a highway interchange. Gochman said in a statement that the work is meant to raise awareness about human trafficking. Her ongoing Red Sand Project is a participatory artwork that invites people to fill in cracks with red sand, and then document and share the result to encourage discussion and activism on the issue. Gochman said in a statement: "The undulating, irregular border of Texas—created by the natural curves of Rio Grande—in contrast with the straight lines and edges of the other states, highlights the arbitrary ways in which borders are drawn." The 650-foot-long work evolved out of "the ways in which borders and migration connect to vulnerabilities and susceptibility to exploitation," Gochman said in a statement. The work will be up through the end of April.
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All eight border wall prototypes fail basic penetrability test

As the Trump administration prepares to potentially declare a national emergency to jumpstart construction of a wall along the U.S.’s southern border—as well as possibly using storm aid funds to do so—the viability of the wall itself has come under fire. In a photo obtained by NBC News, one of the steel bollard border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa, California, was easily breached using an off-the-shelf saw. The eight border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa (directly across from Tijuana in Mexico) were assembled in early 2017 after an executive order directed the Department of Homeland Security to design and build a southern border wall. Four concrete wall segment mockups, and four from mixed materials, were assembled in the desert. The 30-foot-tall prototypes were graded on their aesthetic qualities in August 2018, but testing in late 2017 has revealed that all eight may be easy to penetrate. On “Pogo Row”, a testing area near the California-Mexico border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were instructed to try to breach the eight border wall segments—and eventually broke through all eight. Using saws and other hand tools, teams were able to cause holes “larger than 12-inches in diameter or square,” the DHS standard definition of breaching. According to a redacted version of the CBP report obtained through a freedom of information request from the San Diego-based KPBS, replicas of each prototype’s first ten feet were tested for breaching. One (redacted) technique proved so destructive during the first test that further experimenting was postponed, as officials feared it would destabilize the structural integrity of the other models before they could be thoroughly assessed. No testing on how well the walls were able to resist tunneling appears to have been conducted, despite that being a major design criterion in the Request for Proposal. Additionally, none of the eight designs met the requirements for adaptability across the thousands of miles of the border’s rugged, varied terrain. For its part, the DHS has argued that no wall is impenetrable and that by slowing migrants trying to breach it, Border Patrol agents are given time to respond. DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman told NBC that the prototypes were only meant to inform the final design moving forward. When asked about the photo obtained by NBC yesterday, President Trump responded that, “that’s a wall designed by previous administrations.” While previous administrations have used steel bollards at the border, the prototypes tested were built by the Trump administration.
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Government shutdown over border wall could drag on well into the new year

The United States is entering the thirteenth day of a partial government shutdown after Congress failed to reach an agreement before the December 21st deadline, with President Trump promising to veto any bill that did not include $5 billion for a border wall. On Wednesday, January 2, Trump shot down a $2.5 billion compromise bill proposed by his own vice president Mike Pence, as well as a compromise suggested by Senate Republicans that would couple border wall funding with DACA legislation offering deportation relief and work visas to young undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children. These rejections follow last week's failure to reach an agreement in Congress to stop the shutdown, with House Republicans shooting down a Democratic attempt to fund the government in the short term. This leaves nine federal agencies shuttered, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, alongside the Departments of Agriculture, Justice, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, and State. FEMA announced it would be unable to process flood insurance policies, thus affecting home sales, while many workers, including Forest Service firefighters, TSA employees, air traffic controllers, and Customs and Border Protection agents have to report for work without being paid. The effect is also being felt in the country's national parks, which have been kept open without the workers to maintain them, overwhelming trash and sanitation systems. All told, approximately 800,000 federal employees and the people who rely on them are affected, with roughly 350,000 workers furloughed without pay. That border wall funding is at the center of the current shutdown is perhaps not surprising. Trump has long signaled that the border wall is the hill on which he has planted his flag. But a look at the past several years of failed negotiations on the issue between the White House and Congress, even a Republican-led one, shows just how malleable the definition of the border wall is. Even for Trump, whose cheery Christmas message was a promise that the shutdown would continue until the border wall was funded, the form of the wall has shifted from one composed of solid concrete to a transparent one to "artistically designed steel slats." Beyond the rhetoric of the current showdown, however, over the past two years, only 6 percent of the $1.7 billion allocated for the border wall has been expended by the administration. Tests of the latest prototypes also cast doubt on their effectiveness and sheer feasibility, considering the terrain and environments the wall is expected to traverse. On Thursday, when Democrats gain control of the House, they are expected to approve two bills that would halt the shutdown and maintain current levels of border security funding for measures at the U.S.–Mexico border to the tune of $1.3 billion. This funding is only designated for improving existing segments of fencing and enhancing surveillance capacities. Are the existing fences already part of the so-called border wall? What would Trump's envisioned border wall bring to the existing barriers of sheet metal, barbed-wire-topped metal fencing, and concrete columns? But it remains to be seen whether Trump will approve those bills or extend his costly political standoff. For perspective, the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 cost taxpayers millions, with $2.5 billion in back pay given to furloughed workers and $70 million lost from national park revenue alone.
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Government grades border wall prototypes on effectiveness and aesthetics

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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Roundup: Special report from the Texas-Mexico border

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.  
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Prada Marfa's immigrant architecture is more relevant than ever

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.
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How the Rio Grande creates geographical—and legal—loopholes

This article is the fifth 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 rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. The 1896 Heavyweight Championship in boxing was staged in an improbable location: on a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande River. Robert James Fitzsimmons knocked out Peter Maher in a fight that lasted 95 seconds and took advantage of the ambiguous administrative and enforcement conditions of the river boundary. Boxing, you see, was illegal in both Texas and Mexico at the time. After a series of territorial shifts and classic Texas wrangling, the fight promoters decided to stage the fight some 16 hours journey south of El Paso in a remote section of the river away from easy enforcement by Mexican police. In a fight attended by 182 people enclosed inside a canvas tarp fence, Fitzsimmons led with his left, and a minute-and-a-half later, “Maher measured his length on the floor.” And it is indeed this figurative floor, this once and future bed of the river where the fight was held, that was both the legal loophole that allowed this spectacle to take place as well as the ongoing challenge to bright-line models of international territoriality. In the contemporary media environment where border walls and military buildup occupy our imagination of the boundary, it is easy to forget that well over half of the length of this border is defined by the fluvial boundary of the Rio Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande). Article V of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo reads, “The Boundary line between the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande…from thence, up the middle of that river, following the deepest channel…to the point where it strikes the Southern Boundary of New Mexico.” Yet, as this and the dozens of subsequent treaties, commissions, and surveys attest, this very definition of the boundary is subject to the fundamentally dynamic and unsettled nature of the Rio Grande River.   In general, water law recognizes two categories of boundary change brought about by the changing forces of water: one gradual and slow, the other abrupt and discontinuous. The first, known as accretion, is defined as the gradual and imperceptible deposition of material along the bank of a body of water and the lands formed by this process. Its inverse, reliction, is the gradual uncovering of land caused by the recession of a body of water. In both of these cases, the morphology of ownership maps onto the morphology of the river—with alluvial accretions or relictions belonging to the owners of the coterminous land. The second category, known as avulsion, is defined as the sudden and rapid change of a channel of a boundary stream. Such wholesale shifts in the river channel are quite common in rivers such as the Rio Grande that experience wide fluctuations in flow across the year, where oxbows and meanders are cut off regularly during the spring freshets. In these cases, the changes brought about by such large shifts do not easily map onto adjacent property and ownership structures, resulting in the potential for pockets of alternating ownership—and in the case of the Rio Grande, of citizenship—existing across the river boundary. At the heart of these attempts to tame the river through surveyed lines and legal words is a fundamental irreconcilability of language and landscape—an irretrievable misfit between the map and the territory. Writing in his 1857 Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, surveyor general Major William H. Emory highlights this gap when he explains: “The [river] does not always run in the same bed; whenever it changes, the boundary must change, and no survey nor anything else can keep it from changing. A survey of that river, therefore, as it fixes nothing, determines nothing, is of minor importance. It forms of itself a more apparent and enduring monument of the boundary than any that can be made by art.” Against Major Emory’s advice, the International Water and Boundary Commission set out in the early 20th century to “rectify”—or straighten—the natural meanders of the Rio Grande in a futile attempt to make the world out there approximate the bright-lines of boundary law. These so-called Banco Conventions, named after the riverbanks cut away by river avulsion, carried the additional political dimension of citizenship: where those who opted to remain on their original land could either preserve title and rights of citizenship of the county to which said banco formerly belonged or acquire the nationality of the country to which the territory would belong in the future. Yet the engineer’s channelization of the Rio Grande could no more make the river act like the surveyor's line on the plat than it could erase the fundamentally dynamic and relational qualities of being and belonging that mark this border region. Language and law, boundaries and territory, citizenship and rights—these are only a few of the fundamental correspondences that the fluvial geomorphology of the Rio Grande River both narrate and problematize. Jesse Vogler is an artist and architect based in Tbilisi and St. Louis and is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.
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As remittances flow to Mexico, a new architectural style blooms

This article is the third 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 rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. In discussions of the U.S.-Mexico border region, what often gets lost is a full exploration of the geographic and social networks produced by the lives that span it. Taking in the meaning of the U.S.-Mexico boundary, the largest migration corridor in the world, requires an understanding of both ends of the journey as well as what lies in between. One way to do this is to follow the money—in this case, migrant dollars earned in various locations throughout the U.S. that are channeled back to households in Mexico. The economic term for this capital flow is remittances, typically used by political scientists, demographers, and NGOs that investigate how and if remittances alleviate poverty in receiving regions. I follow this capital flow to its material conclusions as manifested in migrant hometowns. The “remittance house,” a term I use to describe houses built in Mexico by workers performing unskilled or semiskilled wage labor (or migrants “from below”) in the U.S., reveals Mexican pueblos as distant hinterlands of American cities and as critical nodes in our understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands at large. I first became interested in the remittance house through the stories of my co-workers, Mexican male migrants who lived and worked in Berkeley, California, while investing a portion of their earnings into new homes in Guanajuato, Mexico. The Central Bajío state of Guanajuato and its neighboring state of Jalisco have historically high rates of both emigration and remitting. Economist Paul S. Taylor documented migrants using dollars to build or remodel homes in Jalisco as early as the 1930s. Jalisco is an epicenter of remittance construction that includes homes as well as communally funded public projects like rodeo arenas and cultural centers. Today, Mexico ranks as the world’s fourth-largest remittance economy after China, India, and the Philippines, receiving approximately $20 billion dollars annually, and new construction financed by remittance dollars is evident across Mexico’s 32 states. Formally and materially, the remittance house has become a source of curiosity both for people who live in Mexican towns as well as for those peering in from afar. This has to do with the houses' heavily articulated facades that present a dizzying array of representational strategies. Fluted columns, zigzagging concrete cornices, and repetitive pediment-shaped window frames grace facades topped with false fronts that represent gable roofs or brick battlements. These eclectic arrangements clash with the built fabric of small towns composed of adobe or fired brick buildings with teja tiled roofs—towns once marked by uniformity and homogeneity. In the remittance house, architectural style carries great symbolic weight, as design ideas are pulled from various corners of migrant experiences and journeys. Homes with recessed yards, metal fences, carports, and picture windows are referred to as “estilo Californiano,” or “California style.” Yet they are hybrid forms, where the image of wooden stick-frame construction is translated into local masonry traditions, supported by migrants’ desire to have homes “built to last.” New migrant homes have created a maelstrom of commentary throughout small towns. A local architect in Jalisco described the migrant building style as “garigoleado,” or excessively adorned, pointing out a lack of rhythm, proportion, and pattern in the use of generic classical ornamentation, while some neighbors described migrant homes as distinctly modern. Whatever their stylistic attribute, the homes, as defined by artist Walterio Iraheta, are autorretratos—or self-portraits—of their makers. They are a material transformation of the built environment directly linked to the interior world of the self. But the remittance house is not primarily an opportunity for migrants’ personal expressions; it is the material manifestation of the specific political and social conditions under which contemporary social mobility and immobility for migrants takes place. Structural inequality, an absence of access to legal documentation in the U.S., and diminishing opportunities for economic and social mobility in the U.S. and Mexico have produced the spaces in which the remittance house becomes a viable, albeit imperfect, option. To understand these newly constructed homes as imperfect is to ask about the costs and consequences of binational building from below, building a dream home in one place while living and working in another. In order to remit, nuclear families are often separated or fragmented across geographies. For example, mothers and daughters live in a remittance house in Mexico, while fathers and sons work in and send money from the U.S. Meanwhile, elderly parents live in a home built with dollars on a street mostly abandoned or empty due to what neighbors refer to as “the floating population” abroad. Families split by gender or generation incur social and psychological costs as bodies are replaced by dollars, and living at a distance from one’s immediate family is normalized. The project of building a remittance house—of attempting to secure and invest in a future for one’s family—is also susceptible to the complexities of living life as a migrant in the U.S. Both documented and undocumented migrants might lose their jobs, build new relationships in the U.S. while attempting to maintain marriages or relationships in Mexico, become responsible for their ill parents in Mexico, or become ill themselves. Undocumented migrants are especially vulnerable as they live under the terror of apprehension, incarceration, and deportation, and are generally unable to return home without incurring great risk. For any number of reasons, homes may be incomplete or abandoned altogether. Ultimately, the remittance house teaches non-migrants important lessons. They are evidence of migrants’ strengths, the discipline required to achieve personal goals. They are evidence of complex social patterns and costs for families fragmented by global capital, and for whom remitting has become a way of life. Scaling up, they are also evidence of the Mexican and U.S. governments’ unwillingness to enact binational protections and opportunities for a flexible and exploited labor force that the U.S. economy has depended on for over 100 years. Understanding the remittance house in its messy complexity can cultivate the public’s awareness of the extended and complicated spaces that “migrants” are enmeshed in and co-constituting. If Mexican migrants in the U.S. were collectively supported, the term “remittance house” would become obsolete. With the capacity to choose where to live and work, and with the ability to travel, those who built homes in Mexico would join the millions of elite Americans and Mexicans who have second homes or vacation homes. For now, the remittance house captivates, and its meaning reverberates within Mexico and across the Rio Grande.