The Problem with Designing Trump’s Border Wall: An online competition spurred by his proposal has launched a fierce debate among architects and border communities.
My latest for the New Republic looks at the controversy surrounding a new border wall design competition launched by Third Mind Foundation, an anonymous group of artists, architects, and others. The design competition takes a clear cue from Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a better and complete barrier along the US-Mexico border.
I focused on what the border wall design competition signals to border communities, organizations and architects who live with the border wall and with the impacts of border security and militarism. I interviewed border residents in all 4 border states – California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Christian Ramirez remembers what life was like before the border wall went up in San Diego. Growing up in San Ysidro, a neighborhood on the city’s southwestern corner, he regularly crossed into Mexico to pick up tacos and bring them back for picnics at Friendship Park, a small coastal area bisected by the border. But after 9/11, new security measures fortified the border wall and extended the barrier into the ocean. “An embrace at that part of the border has been reduced to pinkies touching each other at the border wall,” he said. Now the park, which used to host bi-national religious masses, Christmas celebrations, and family reunions, is locked except for a few hours each weekend, during which federal agents monitor the crowd and people search through the metal grating for a glimpse of a loved one’s face on the other side.
As the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, Ramirez works with 60 community organizations to strengthen oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency tasked with securing the nation’s borders. And so it was with dismay that he responded to news that a website is hosting a Donald Trump-inspired competition for border wall designs. “The sad reality is that the border region is still viewed as a barren land, with no history, no culture, not inhabited. And that has made this rhetoric of militarization and of iron-fisted policies acceptable as the mainstream narrative of the border region,” he said. “Unfortunately, this sort of contest is right up that alley.”
The competition in question—“Building the Border Wall?”—has stirred up considerable debate since launching in early March. When architectural news website ArchDaily.com posted a call for entries, some wondered whether the competition was a joke. Architect Fabrizio Gallanti called for a boycott of ArchDaily, and demanded the cancelation of the competition itself. Many others, including the architecture competition site Bustler, questioned the ethics of sharing and participating in a competition that seemed to promote xenophobia.
Along with the main liaisons to the competition, I also interviewed the Southern Border Communities Coalition, Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans, Border Action Network, Humane Borders, ACLU-New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, Border Patrol Victims Network, a member of the Opata tribe, and Mujer Obrera. Architects who live or design for border regions also offered their perspectives, including Teddy Cruz.
The full article is available here.