Divide or Unite: 6 Provocative Proposals for Trump’s Border Wall

Designers and architects have released alternative proposals for President Trump’s wall for the U.S.-Mexico border. Some are fake, some are real. It’s confusing. What are they really saying?

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

It’s amazing how ambiguous architecture can be in its message to consumers. Both renderings and built designs can expertly convey their respective concepts without any help from the architect’s voice, or they can be left wide open to interpretation. The same can be said about television commercials.

On Sunday night, millions of football fans were exposed to countless adverts, most of which cost $5 million or more to secure a prime spot during the 2017 Super Bowl. Some advertisers took the opportunity in the spotlight to speak to the tense political climate our nation currently resides in. But one ad in particular, from a building-materials supplier of all things, took political connotations to the next level by envisioning one family’s arduous trek into President Trump’s wall. While that may sound bold and heartbreaking, the story wasn’t communicated as clearly as you may think.

The 60-second film by 84 Lumber followed the harrowing journey of a Mexican mother and daughter making their way to the United States — or so it seemed. The commercial actually stopped before it got good and they actually crossed the border. With a flash of text urging viewers to go online to Journey84.com to finish the rest of the story, the country was extremely confused. We all thought we knew what the ad was suggesting, but why couldn’t we see the result of their story?

Deemed “too controversial for the Super Bowl,” Fox rejected the original, near-five-minute commercial — now available online — from the midsized, privately owned company. While overall a very beautiful and emotionally gripping advertisement, it didn’t tell the whole truth. The main reason for airing the spot was to recruit open-minded young people to work for 84 Lumber. That was not made clear. Even more unclear was that this seemingly anti-Trump and anti-wall advertisement was actually a pro-Trump and pro-wall piece of marketing. At no point during the ad did it allude to the fact that it was a hiring plea.

The online conclusion shows U.S. construction crews building the wall. When the mother and daughter reach the U.S.-Mexico border and find the wall, you think the commercial is going to be over — very depressingly so. But then out of nowhere, they discover a door, push it open, and the ad ends with, “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”

Image via 84 Lumber

Over the last few days, 84 Lumber has received highly mixed responses for its debut Super Bowl ad. Owner and President Maggie Hardy Magerko told the New York Times that she voted for Trump and the ad was a call to action for people who wanted to join a company that still believed in the American dream. “Even President Trump has said there should be a ‘big beautiful door in the wall so that people can come into this country legally,’” said Magerko in a press release. “It’s not about the wall. It’s about the door in the wall. If people are willing to work hard and make this country better, that door should be open to them.”

Some might argue that sentiment was not the undertone of this commercial at all. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management holds an annual ad review and gave the ad a D rating with one of the leaders calling it “one of the strangest approaches I’ve seen to a Super Bowl ad in a long time.” This isn’t the first time we’re seeing President Trump’s wall come to life online in strange and often surreal ways.

Image via Dezeen

This week, German satirical site The Postillon introduced drawings of its fake, flat-pack border wall by IKEA, an easy setup kit to show how cheaply it could be to build Trump’s vision — $9 billion to be exact. While this may seem like an insensitive and trivial response to a complex political issue, perhaps that was precisely the point: to emphasize the absurdity of such a project. Given that building a simple side table from IKEA makes many people lose their minds, their bogus Börder Wåll, with its 300,000 coils of barbed wire and more than 5.5 million screws, is the very embodiment of construction-based insanity.

Image via Building the Border Wall

More considered conceptual proposals have also emerged. On President Trump’s Inauguration Day, the winners of an international design competition to reconceptualize the wall were announced. According to the website, the “Build the Border Wall” competition was held to “elicit serious discussion about the very idea of a border wall.” The competition asked architects to ask whether or not the idea was patently ridiculous on a purely practical and moral basis.

The top two designs tied for first place. One proposal featured an irrigation wall that would draw water from the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. The wall could revegetate the desert and encourage the U.S. and Mexico to work together to operate and distribute the agriculture consciously and equitably.

Image via Building the Border Wall

The other proposal, Inflatoborder, presented a system of flexible bubbles that could create canopies or play areas, bringing communities together on either side of the wall. While the former design at least tried to tap into a larger picture by bringing sustainability and communal living to the table, the latter feels kitschy, impossible and too cute to be real. Like the satirical IKEA wall, maybe that’s the point.

Image via The Real Deal

In December, DOMO Architecture + Design released its alternative design with a border made of recycled shipping containers. Placed 25 feet into the ground, the 750,000 containers would stretch the 1,989-mile length of the border and create a sloping barrier between the two countries. One of the principals of the Miami Beach firm told The Real Dealthe design was meant to beautify the border. “We wanted to show through design there are alternatives to building a wall, which is both a visual and physical barrier and culturally insensitive to either country. So the solution is more of an open landscape.”

While it’s respectable that this idea offers another eco-friendly and natural solution, it ends up looking like a narrow ditch that snakes through the land. It’s not particularly beautiful until you see the rendering that shows the coastal border.

Image via The Real Deal

Mexican firm Estudio 314 also put out speculative renderings in an attempt to capture the “gorgeous perversity” of the wall. Architizer reported on the firm’s bright pink, Luis Barragán–inspired design in October. The images show the wall, which doubles as a prison, stretching over deserts, mountain ranges and water, alarmingly imposing its authority on the surrounding nature.

Image via Dezeen

Perhaps the most troublesome rendering from Estudio 314’s design shows hundreds of people standing on a section of the wall with an accessible roof. People walking across the top gaze down at a separate population standing on the other side of the border. One can’t help but imagine which side represents which country.

Image via Dezeen

All of these proposals, whether they’re intended to be taken seriously or not, still raise a huge number of questions as to how this border wall will eventually manifest itself. Even though a few designs attempt to present a “better” alternative to a concrete wall, like the one in 84 Lumber’s Super Bowl commercial, the division still stares us glaringly in the face — door or no door.

If this wall (or ditch or canyon or bubble) gets built, an architect will have to design it first. In one way or another, some might argue that the future of our nation and that of Mexico will partially lie in the hands of the chosen architect. The very meaning of security and community is at stake, so architects — don’t be ambiguous. As always, the world is watching what we design.

© Gustav Willeit

Fire Station Vierschach // Pedevilla Architects

Innichen, Italy

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