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Architect envisions border wall as good neighbor

By Kathleen Maclay
La Prensa San Diego

SAN DIEGO — The U.S.-Mexico border wall may be here to stay, but a University of California, Berkeley, assistant professor of architecture has some provocative ideas about how to redesign the barrier to slow illegal immigration and at the same time transform it in an economically, environmentally and socially beneficial way, to benefit both countries.

Ronald Rael envisions a wall dotted with multi-purpose installations with a life-saving water collection site, a treatment plant for toxic wastewater from the New River, a swing, a volleyball court, a solar farm and even a confessional

“It would be easy for me to raise a picket sign and as an architect say, ‘Down with this wall!'” says Rael. “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.”

Rael says the approximately 700-mile-long series of separation barriers between the United States and Mexico has proven ridiculously expensive, environmentally destructive, culturally hostile, often deadly, ineffective and hobbled by technical problems.

He hopes his proposed wall, depicted in a series of drawings with both practical and pointedly satirical features, can be a new model for the United States and Mexico and for other countries wrestling with similar conflicts.

“Border Wall as Infrastructure,” a proposal by Rael San Fratello Architects, an award-winning Oakland, Calif.-based team comprised of Rael and partner Virginia San Fratello, was a finalist in the 2010 Working Public Architecture (WPA) 2.0 Competition organized by UCLA’s cityLAB.

The contest was inspired by the Great Depression’s Work Projects Administration and by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government’s economic response to the Great Recession.

In keeping with concepts behind the 1935 Work Projects Administration, Rael conceived of a wall that serves public works needs while also improving security, boosting the U.S. economy by cleaning up pollution and by supporting conservation, promoting cultural exchange, and saving the lives of illegal immigrants as well as of ill-advised tourists who get lost in the desert.

Rael’s designs include practical and pointedly satirical features, but for the most part focus on feasible water, renewable energy and conservation efforts.

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