To unite children from both sides of the border wall, UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design professor Ronald Rael designed an art project that turned the wall into a play area, which was awarded best design of 2020.
The project, coined Teeter-Totter Wall, was temporarily installed within the U.S.-Mexican border wall in July 2019 and was designed in collaboration with Omar Rios of Colectivo Chopeke, a Mexico-based art collective, and architect Virginia San Fratello, according to Rael. It won the 2020 Beazley Design of the Year, an annual award and exhibition run by London’s Design Museum.
“It was an idea about inequality, equality, balance and the idea that actions on one side of the border have a direct consequence on the other side,” Rael said. “This project shows a different narrative of the borderlands as a place where grandmothers, moms and kids live every day and can be connected despite the oppression of the wall.”
The project consisted of three pink teeter-totters, or seesaws, that were installed in between the slats of the border wall for less than 20 minutes, according to a press release from the Design Museum. It allowed children from El Paso, Texas and the Anapra community in Mexico to play together from opposite sides of the wall.
The U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican police were present as children and mothers gathered at the seesaws and allowed the entire event to take place, according to Fratello, who added that she was surprised by their compliance.
“The children were thrilled to have the opportunity to play on the teeter totters!” Fratello said in an email. “I think the children and the mothers understood the significance of the event, they see the horror of the border wall in their backyard everyday and this was an opportunity to turn something negative and into a moment of joy and positivity.”
The idea for the project first arose from sketches Rael created in 2009 when documenting stories about the border for his book “Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary,” Rael said. A decade later, Rael, Fratello and Rios worked with Mexican metal artisans for six months to make the sketches a reality.
Aside from Teeter-Totter, Rael said there are about 30 other project ideas he and Fratello designed to tell the story of the border wall, which they hope to construct in the future.
“The work that we have been doing on the border is meant to tell a story of the consequences of constructing a wall and the damaging effects it has on people on the landscape, in cities and communities,” Rael said. “What I appreciate from the award is that it allows the messages embedded within this event to have a much farther reach.”