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← An architect's subversive reimagining of the US-Mexico border wall

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Showing Revision 8 created 02/25/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. Isn't it fascinating how the simple act
    of drawing a line on the map
  2. can transform the way we see
    and experience the world?
  3. And how those spaces
    in between lines, borders,
  4. become places.
  5. They become places
    where language and food and music
  6. and people of different cultures
    rub up against each other
  7. in beautiful and sometimes violent
    and occasionally really ridiculous ways.
  8. And those lines drawn on a map
  9. can actually create
    scars in the landscape,
  10. and they can create scars in our memories.
  11. My interest in borders came about

  12. when I was searching
    for an architecture of the borderlands.
  13. And I was working on several projects
    along the US-Mexico border,
  14. designing buildings made out of mud
    taken right from the ground.
  15. And I also work on projects that you
    might say immigrated to this landscape.
  16. "Prada Marfa," a land-art sculpture
  17. that crosses the border
    between art and architecture,
  18. and it demonstrated to me
    that architecture could communicate ideas
  19. that are much more
    politically and culturally complex,
  20. that architecture could be satirical
    and serious at the same time
  21. and it could speak to the disparities
    between wealth and poverty
  22. and what's local and what's foreign.
  23. And so in my search
    for an architecture of the borderlands,

  24. I began to wonder,
  25. is the wall architecture?
  26. I began to document my thoughts
    and visits to the wall
  27. by creating a series of souvenirs
  28. to remind us of the time
    when we built a wall
  29. and what a crazy idea that was.
  30. I created border games,
  31. (Laughter)

  32. postcards,

  33. snow globes with little architectural
    models inside of them,
  34. and maps that told the story
    of resilience at the wall
  35. and sought for ways that design
    could bring to light the problems
  36. that the border wall was creating.
  37. So, is the wall architecture?

  38. Well, it certainly is a design structure,
  39. and it's designed at a research
    facility called FenceLab,
  40. where they would load vehicles
    with 10,000 pounds
  41. and ram them into the wall
    at 40 miles an hour
  42. to test the wall's impermeability.
  43. But there was also counter-research
    going on on the other side,
  44. the design of portable drawbridges
  45. that you could bring right up to the wall
  46. and allow vehicles to drive right over.
  47. (Laughter)

  48. And like with all research projects,
    there are successes

  49. and there are failures.
  50. (Laughter)

  51. But it's these medieval
    reactions to the wall --

  52. drawbridges, for example --
  53. that are because the wall itself is
    an arcane, medieval form of architecture.
  54. It's an overly simplistic response
    to a complex set of issues.
  55. And a number of medieval technologies
    have sprung up along the wall:
  56. catapults that launch
    bales of marijuana over the wall
  57. (Laughter)

  58. or cannons that shoot packets
    of cocaine and heroin over the wall.

  59. Now during medieval times,
  60. diseased, dead bodies
  61. were sometimes catapulted over walls
    as an early form of biological warfare,
  62. and it's speculated that today,
  63. humans are being propelled over the wall
    as a form of immigration.
  64. A ridiculous idea.
  65. But the only person ever known to be
    documented to have launched over the wall
  66. from Mexico to the United States
  67. was in fact a US citizen,
  68. who was given permission
    to human-cannonball over the wall,
  69. 200 feet,
  70. so long as he carried his passport in hand
  71. (Laughter)

  72. and he landed safely in a net
    on the other side.

  73. And my thoughts are inspired
    by a quote by the architect Hassan Fathy,
  74. who said,
  75. "Architects do not design walls,
  76. but the spaces between them."
  77. So while I do not think that architects
    should be designing walls,
  78. I do think it's important and urgent
    that they should be paying attention
  79. to those spaces in between.
  80. They should be designing for the places
    and the people, the landscapes
  81. that the wall endangers.
  82. Now, people are already
    rising to this occasion,

  83. and while the purpose of the wall
    is to keep people apart and away,
  84. it's actually bringing people together
    in some really remarkable ways,
  85. holding social events like
    binational yoga classes along the border,
  86. to bring people together
    across the divide.
  87. I call this the monument pose.
  88. (Laughter)

  89. And have you ever heard of "wall y ball"?

  90. (Laughter)

  91. It's a borderland version of volleyball,
    and it's been played since 1979

  92. (Laughter)

  93. along the US-Mexico border

  94. to celebrate binational heritage.
  95. And it raises some
    interesting questions, right?
  96. Is such a game even legal?
  97. Does hitting a ball back and forth
    over the wall constitute illegal trade?
  98. (Laughter)

  99. The beauty of volleyball
    is that it transforms the wall

  100. into nothing more than a line in the sand
  101. negotiated by the minds and bodies
    and spirits of players on both sides.
  102. And I think it's exactly
    these kinds of two-sided negotiations
  103. that are needed to bring down
    walls that divide.
  104. Now, throwing the ball
    over the wall is one thing,

  105. but throwing rocks over the wall
  106. has caused damage
    to Border Patrol vehicles
  107. and have injured Border Patrol agents,
  108. and the response from the US side
    has been drastic.
  109. Border Patrol agents
    have fired through the wall,
  110. killing people throwing rocks
    on the Mexican side.
  111. And another response
    by Border Patrol agents
  112. is to erect baseball backstops
    to protect themselves and their vehicles.
  113. And these backstops
    became a permanent feature
  114. in the construction of new walls.
  115. And I began to wonder if, like volleyball,
  116. maybe baseball should be
    a permanent feature at the border,
  117. and walls could start opening up,
  118. allowing communities
    to come across and play,
  119. and if they hit a home run,
  120. maybe a Border Patrol agent would
    pick up the ball and throw it
  121. back over to the other side.
  122. A Border Patrol agent buys
    a raspado, a frozen treat,

  123. from a vendor just a couple feet away,
  124. food and money is exchanged
    through the wall,
  125. an entirely normal event
    made illegal by that line drawn on a map
  126. and a couple millimeters of steel.
  127. And this scene reminded me of a saying:
  128. "If you have more than you need,
    you should build longer tables
  129. and not higher walls."
  130. So I created this souvenir to remember
    the moment that we could share
  131. food and conversation across the divide.
  132. A swing allows one to enter
    and swing over to the other side
  133. until gravity deports them back
    to their own country.
  134. The border and the border wall

  135. is thought of as a sort of
    political theater today,
  136. so perhaps we should invite
    audiences to that theater,
  137. to a binational theater
    where people can come together
  138. with performers, musicians.
  139. Maybe the wall is nothing more
    than an enormous instrument,
  140. the world's largest xylophone,
    and we could play down this wall
  141. with weapons of mass percussion.
  142. (Laughter)

  143. When I envisioned this binational library,

  144. I wanted to imagine a space
    where one could share
  145. books and information
    and knowledge across a divide,
  146. where the wall was nothing more
    than a bookshelf.
  147. And perhaps the best way to illustrate
    the mutual relationship that we have
  148. with Mexico and the United States
  149. is by imagining a teeter-totter,
  150. where the actions on one side
    had a direct consequence
  151. on what happens on the other side,
  152. because you see, the border itself
  153. is both a symbolic and literal fulcrum
    for US-Mexico relations,
  154. and building walls between neighbors
    severs those relationships.
  155. You probably remember this quote,
    "Good fences make good neighbors."

  156. It's often thought of as the moral
    of Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall."
  157. But the poem is really about questioning
    the need for building walls at all.
  158. It's really a poem about mending
    human relationships.
  159. My favorite line is the first one:
  160. "Something there is
    that doesn't love a wall."
  161. Because if there's one thing
    that's clear to me --
  162. there are not two sides defined by a wall.
  163. This is one landscape, divided.
  164. On one side, it might look like this.
  165. A man is mowing his lawn
    while the wall is looming in his backyard.
  166. And on the other side,
    it might look like this.

  167. The wall is the fourth wall
    of someone's house.
  168. But the reality is that the wall
    is cutting through people's lives.
  169. It is cutting through
    our private property,
  170. our public lands,
  171. our Native American lands, our cities,
  172. a university,
  173. our neighborhoods.
  174. And I couldn't help but wonder

  175. what it would be like if the wall
    cut through a house.
  176. Remember those disparities
    between wealth and poverty?
  177. On the right is the average size
    of a house in El Paso, Texas,
  178. and on the left is the average size
    of a house in Juarez.
  179. And here, the wall cuts directly
    through the kitchen table.
  180. And here, the wall cuts through
    the bed in the bedroom.
  181. Because I wanted to communicate
    how the wall is not only dividing places,
  182. it's dividing people,
    it's dividing families.
  183. And the unfortunate politics of the wall
  184. is today, it is dividing children
    from their parents.
  185. You might be familiar
    with this well-known traffic sign.

  186. It was designed
    by graphic designer John Hood,
  187. a Native American war veteran
  188. working for the California
    Department of Transportation.
  189. And he was tasked with creating
    a sign to warn motorists
  190. of immigrants who were stranded
    alongside the highway
  191. and who might attempt
    to run across the road.
  192. Hood related the plight
    of the immigrant today
  193. to that of the Navajo
    during the Long Walk.
  194. And this is really a brilliant piece
    of design activism.
  195. And he was very careful
  196. in thinking about using
    a little girl with pigtails, for example,
  197. because he thought that's who motorists
    might empathize with the most,
  198. and he used the silhouette
    of the civil rights leader Cesar Chavez
  199. to create the head of the father.
  200. I wanted to build upon
    the brilliance of this sign

  201. to call attention to the problem
    of child separation at the border,
  202. and I made one very simple move.
  203. I turned the families to face each other.
  204. And in the last few weeks,
  205. I've had the opportunity
    to bring that sign back to the highway
  206. to tell a story,
  207. the story of the relationships
    that we should be mending
  208. and a reminder that we should be designing
  209. a reunited states
    and not a divided states.
  210. Thank you.

  211. (Applause)