Breaking down barriers through seesaw diplomacy
A cluster of bright pink seesaws has been installed along a piece of the border wall between the US and Mexico. The air is filled with laughter and excited chatter as those divided by the controversial barrier play together through it.
The installation’s garnered international publicity for its lead designer, architect Ronald Rael. The day Landscape Architecture Aotearoa called him, Rael was overwhelmed by the global attention and delight the see saws - or teetertotters as he calls them - had attracted.
“I really had no idea it would be so popular,” Rael told LAA. “It is something that will stay with me forever.”
The seeds of the design originated in his and fellow architect, Virginia San Fratello’s desire to artistically demonstrate trade and labour imbalances between the countries. But it took on new meaning as President Trump imposed harsh border policies. The seesaws tell the story of how actions on one side of the border have direct consequences on the other, Rael and San Fratello now say.
Rael enlisted the help of a Juarez-based artist collection, Colectivo Chopeke, to help install the equipment. The steel beams were eased through the slats of the tall fence dividing Sunland Park, New Mexico, from Colonia Anapra, a community on the western side of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.
And word spread quickly with children and adults alike flocking to the make-shift playground.
"The joy that was shared this day on both sides is something that will stay with me forever," Rael posted on Instagram. “It’s been a whirlwind of excitement, interviews, news and sadness. Life itself is a #teetertotterwall. Thanks everyone for all your messages of joy, hope, togetherness, and optimism!!
“One of the most incredible experiences of my and @vasfsf’s career bringing to life the conceptual drawings of the Teetertotter Wall from 2009 in an event filled with joy, excitement, and togetherness at the border wall.
“The wall became a literal fulcrum for US - Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side.”
Rael has written a book - “Borderwall as Architecture” - which one reviewer described as an “intellectual hand grenade of a book”. It examines what over a thousand kilometres of physical barrier dividing the US and Mexico is, and could be.
Borderwall as Architecture began as a graduate level architectural design studio taught by Rael in 2009 at the University of California Berkeley (where he still teaches). He and San Fratello continued to develop it through their design practice, Rael San Fratello.
Why did they finally choose to make the idea a reality ten years on? They say the project is “incredibly important at a time when relationships between people on both sides are being severed by the wall and the politics of the wall.”