Creative Arts + Contemporary Dilemmas = Novel Solutions?

1 Apr

By Carlos Arredondo @

Here is a different take you have probably never heard on a polemic issue that has been talked about more than enough to make most weary. Meet Ronald Rael, architect, author and assistant professor at the University of California Berkeley. Rael has received a number of awards and accolades for his work, but it was the announcement of his project “Border Wall as Infrastructure” this week that could arguably be contested as either a ‘hail mary out of left field’ or an idea oozing brilliance from the mind of a futurist with uncanny foresight. I suppose it is for you the reader to decide which of the two it is, or if it is more accurate to call it something else. In any case, it is nothing less than an extremely thought evoking concept as you undoubtedly have heard nothing like it before.

Ronald observed that the current design of the wall is uni-functional, that is that its sole purpose is to divide, not mentioning that its performance at that is questionable. In addition the cost is immense, a $2.4 billion dollar project for some 600 miles of border fence means the government is pouring in some $4 million dollars into each mile of fence. Ronald’s proposition presents a totally different paradigm in which the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico instead becomes a sort of infrastructure hustling and bustling with intercultural exchange and commerce. A place where people meet and participate in a number of diverse activities. In essence, Ronald has flipped the traditional idea of the fence on its head. Because at the heart of his design ideas is that the fence becomes a place of attraction bringing people together and uniting them rather than dividing them. A sort of genius paradox… if it works (in practice and not just theory).

So how exactly does Ronald see this happening? And what are its forecast benefits? Well, you can read more about his specific designs here or in this inhabitat article. A host of diverse integrated designs would theoretically reap a harvest of economic, ecological, social, environmental, energy, health and security benefits. While there are near 20 amendments to his design in all, here are a few teasers for you:

– Solar-Electric arrays and farms being placed along some of the border walls in some of the most prime solar-real estate areas as well as solar thermal tubes that would collect thermal heat in underground tanks to be used by schools, commercial buildings, and factories.

-Life Safety Border Beacons that would collect storm water and use solar-powered filters to provide drinking water for people and animals thereby preventing deaths. Also, these stations would notify security or border patrol of activity, whether it be immigrants or American citizens.

-Water Treatment Facility would buffer the New River along the Mexicali border while cleaning and purifying water from the most polluted river in the United States. Not only would it prevent harmful toxins from entering but also would produce usable electricity as a by-product via methane.

-Wildlife Walls would create paths for various animals and wildlife particularly in nature reserves which the present wall cuts through putting at further risk populations of already endangered species. A secondary result of this would be the recreational aspect of peoples on both sides of the fence being able to enjoy the local wildlife.

-Linear Urban Parks would offer pedestrian and bike routes through cities and could connect to schools, libraries, and other parks. This could increase adjacent property values, increasing quality of life on both sides of it and building “social capital”

-“Burrito Walls” is one of various ideas of shared spaces that would insert food carts into the wall along with incorporated seats that create a place where conversation, food, and casual social interaction could take place.

If your reaction to these concepts is at all similar to mine, then you might find yourself on a seesaw between “Is this guy absolutely nuts?” and “Are these possibly some of the greatest ideas I’ve heard yet?” No doubt, they are spectacular and outlandishly different… but who would’ve not thought Bill Gates to be nuts in the 1980’s with an idea of personal computers in the homes and hands of mass market consumers everywhere? Point being, it is inevitable that it is the most visionary of men that create the greatest polarity with the presentation of their ideas of the future. The plausibility and fruition of those visions for the future can never be truly told by critics or supporters, but only by time itself. On that note, Ronald himself observed ironically that “Our wall is as unsophisticated as a wall built 2,000 years ago.”

Quoting his words in response to the wall, he says, “It would be easy for me to raise a picket sign and as an architect say, ‘Down with this wall!’. I have to accept the wall because it exists, but as a designer I see that something better is possible. Why not do something intelligent, something incredible? I envision not just a ‘dumb wall,’ but a social infrastructure that connects and improves lives on both sides.” It appears that part of his goal is, “The fence no longer becomes a fence … The fence becomes something else. And once it becomes something else, then we’ve done our jobs as architects. We have torn down the fence, not the structure itself, but we’ve dismantled the idea of it.” Rael says that this could possibly be “the best kind of immigration reform”.

Border Wall Alternatives


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