Rael San Fratello's Pink Seesaws—Bridging the US-Mexico Divide

The art installation aims to show unity between both sides of the US border wall

31.07.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
Ronald Rael, Borderwall as Architecture
Ronald Rael, Borderwall as Architecture

The US border wall is a physical representation of Trump-era hostility that is literally dividing Mexico and the United States.

Photos and videos of children (and adults) playing on bright pink seesaws at the famed US border wall this week have gone viral on social media, as people are touched by the imagery that speaks so much to the division between the two nations. 

The wall has become one of the defining messages of Trump’s presidency. The phrase “build a wall” is one that will always be associated with the 45th president of the United States of America. While the extended wall he speaks of is yet to be erected, an insidious and invisible wall is present and manifests itself in crowded migrant detention centres, children being separated from parents, and tear gas and violence at the border. 

The three seesaws have been installed along the steel border fence on the outskirts of El Paso in Texas and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico; they are the invention of Ronald Rael, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley; and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San José State University, who first came up with the concept 10 years ago. Together, they co-founded the Rael San Fratello architecture studio. 

“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 said in an Instagram post.


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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 borderwall. The wall became a literal fulcrum for U.S. – 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. Amazing thanks to everyone who made this event possible like Omar Rios @colectivo.chopeke for collaborating with us, the guys at Taller Herrería in #CiudadJuarez for their fine craftsmanship, @anateresafernandez for encouragement and support, and everyone who showed up on both sides including the beautiful families from Colonia Anapra, and @kerrydoyle2010, @kateggreen , @ersela_kripa , @stphn_mllr , @wakawaffles, @chris_inabox and many others (you know who you are). #raelsanfratello #borderwallasarchitecture

A post shared by Ronald Rael (@rrael) on

He added that the event was “filled with joy, excitement, and togetherness at the border wall” and described it as one of the most “incredible experiences” of the duo’s career.

Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello established Rael San Fratello as an architectural research studio with previous designs including the Emerging Objects project, which experiments with 3D printing.

They began investigating the US-Mexico border in 2000 and came up with the seesaw concept as the Teeter Totter Wall 10 years ago to demonstrate “the delicate balances between the two nations.”

Rael’s early designs and ideas are documented in his book Borderwall as Architecture, which he published as a protest against the dividing structure.

However, theirs is not the only politically-charged art installation to be seen at the border wall. 

Dozens of architects and designers have also developed ironic wall alternatives in response to Trump’s open call for design submissions, such as a 1,954-mile-long dinner table and Ikea’s spoof flat pack kit, Börder Wåll.

The Japanese art collective Chim Pom created a treehouse in Tijuana—a border city in Mexico, just south of California—with “USA Visitor Center” written on the side.

New World Design also launched a crowdfunding campaign to build a golden picket fence around Trump’s compound in Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this year to shine a light on the absurdity of President Trump’s Mexico border wall obsession. 

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