Border Wall Divides Professionals
When President Trump announced his plans to build a border wall, “it felt a little like divine intervention for me,” says Brian Johnson, the principal of Collaborative Design Architects, a small firm in Billings, Montana. Johnson had already been sketching ideas for a border wall that resembled a series of hydroelectric dams, with curved concrete surfaces to foil climbers and a roadway on top for border-patrol vehicles. After Trump’s announcement, Johnson began refining the idea in anticipation of an RFP. He says, “I knew I had developed something capable of being more than just a wall.”
But where Johnson saw opportunity, many other architects felt outrage. “A border wall is just the wrong thing to do,” says Larry Strain of Siegel & Strain Architects in Emeryville, California. “It doesn’t make us safer, it doesn’t protect our jobs, and it is divisive rather than inclusive.” In early March, he and the members of his firm signed a pledge not to participate in the project, although, he says, they’d be happy to design a seat or a gate with the word bienvenidos.
The pledge was written by an advocacy group called the Architecture Lobby, which asked architects to walk off the job on Friday, March 10, to protest the RFP. Among the firms that complied was makeArchitecture of Chicago. According to its director, William Huchting, the six members of the firm stepped outside to discuss their problems with the wall, including its cost and the possible effect on immigrant communities, such as Chicago’s Little Village. “Hardworking immigrants have transformed 26th Street into the most vibrant shopping district outside of Michigan Avenue,” said Huchting. “We fear that this and other thriving neighborhoods will suffer if the wall is built.”
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