It’s an extreme understatement to say that questions of immigration—specifically those involving the U.S. border with Mexico—constitute one of the most urgent, complicated, and divisive political and humanitarian issues of our time.
Given the stakes, it seems natural to wish the gateway that greets future Americans was more benevolent than a metal fence or concrete wall. We asked our network of design luminaries to lend vision to those wishes—to create welcoming entry points to replace our current harsh, hard border.
Artists and designers have already envisioned playful alternatives to walls and fences, including seesaws, dining tables, and giant blocks of cheese—ideas that reflect on what is. Here, designers and studios hailing from the U.S., Mexico, and around the world transform our barriers into what they are not: figurative lines that can be traversed with safety and even joy.
They may be fantasies, but what lies ahead are peaceful visions of deserts with pools, borders crossed by gondolas, and fences converted into swing sets—fine fuel for driving toward a more humane future.
“Finally, there are no more borders between Mexico and the U.S. People start to get confidence and visit different spots in both countries to discover the newer invisible walls. Our design gives travelers a taste of what used to happen when the border was closed.
“Today, our world faces challenges, but we need to create awareness of past experiences. We recycled old border materials such as the big steel sheets that U.S. used, gave them a mirror finish, and created different memorials spread throughout the old border space between the countries. The idea is to sit or pass through these big, thin plates, see your reflection as if you were a person about to cross the border, and empathize with those who were killed while doing so. These memorials would be spread across the most important border points: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and Nuevo Laredo. Each would have the same visual language, but different shapes.”
“The Tijuana Memorial, located on the beach, consists of monoliths of different heights etched with the names of those killed during those dark ages. The monoliths are in position as if it was a new border, but it’s actually open. People can walk through, think, and feel peace. The second memorial, located between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, is a “U” shape made from the same steel plates, but with recycled poles that give shape to the old border.”
“The third, between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, is a snake shape, but when seen from above, form two hands that almost touch — a symbol of peace between not only the U.S. and Mexico, but Central and South American countries as well.” Jose-bermudez.com
Patrick Tighe Architecture
“Hinge Points seeks to rethink the 650-mile border that divides the U.S. and Mexico. We propose an active border that supports legal and safe immigration control. The new border is both a barrier and a means of engagement. Hinge Points are strategically located in multiple locations along the border and provide various paths to citizenship within a new economic/cultural hub.
“‘Hinge Points’ enable a mutual exchange where multiple cultures come together. The activity zones are opportunities for economic and social development. Contained within each “Hinge” are multiple networks that connect and transition migrants. Programs related to citizenship include U.S. customs and border division, health and social services, educational and community areas, dining, housing, etc.
“The Hinge also serves as a place for shared interaction where opportunities for interpersonal cultural exchange, diplomacy, and commerce all coexist. The architecture is a filter — a welcoming, flexible, and porous construct that transitions migrants seeking a better way of life while simultaneously creating a new hybrid border wall paradigm.” Tighearchitecture.com
“Taking cues from the natural landscape, M-Rad asks the question: What happens when we celebrate cultural collision with the most abundant resource on Earth? If we could tame the waters of the Rio Grande, while extending its lush banks to the remainder of the hot, arid land mass separating the two countries, how many different subculture combinations might emerge? The intersection of two different cultures represents a unique opportunity to discover emergent properties not present in either.”
“Instead of building up, obscuring the terrain, and obstructing the horizon with a monument to division, we propose building down, allowing the symbolic representation of unique countries to remain while providing a free-flowing oasis for flora and fauna. This coursing recreational binational park highlights pockets of activity along its nearly 2,000-mile span, widening and deepening for everything from semi-submerged bridges and aquatic sports venues to spas and watering holes.” M-rad.com
Cadena Concept Design
“The No Border Line”
“The very idea of a border seems weak outside of the bureaucratic purpose of defining where something starts and something ends, and who is in charge of what and where. Marking territory with walls is absurd—what about the line as free-flowing space?”
“The new border will indicate only geographic limits without separating people, a space open for interpretation. The line is no longer constraint but an invitation to come together, a call for a gathering, sharing, an amazing place for laughter and joy. Is it a soccer field? Yes. A playground? Of course. Table tennis anyone? Sure. A long dining table for tacos and hotdogs? Absolutely.”
“Every spot along the border calls for sharing and coming together. Here, stories are told, cultures learn from one another, differences mean understanding, friendships are made, bridges are built, families are brought close, and everyone is welcome. Welcome to the new border. A line with no borders!” Cadena-asociados.com
“Symbolic Statue Border”
“The border wall as a functional barrier is a worthless endeavor. In true modernist fashion, function — the function of keeping people out—serves as a guise for one of America’s most ambitious vanity projects. What if we embraced vanity and egotism as the primary purpose of the border? What if the border became a folly, wholly symbolic of the era in which it was created, celebrating the futility of the effort, completely devoid of function or purpose?
“A series of monumental 100-foot-tall cast-concrete figures demarcates the borders. It’s a stylized and glorified image of Donald Trump in various poses: masculine and heroic with an intimidating stare on his face. The figures traverse the border’s varied terrain, plagued by logistical issues of building in such remote areas. Many figures lean or have toppled, a result of cutting corners to reduce costs. At ground level, migrants and travelers freely pass between the monuments’ legs, symbolically opposed but physically unencumbered.”
“The border as it exists today is a construct. It is an idea of a boundary, negotiated in antiquated treaties, represented by arbitrary map coordinates. If the border is where the people of each country agree it should be, could the actual line be crowdsourced? Would our collective belief of where the border is, based on our interaction with it, make the boundary real?
“Millions of recycled polyethylene drums are linked together to physically demarcate the border. Wherever this line sits on the ground marks the border. In its remote areas, travelers and hobbyists plan an unending game of pushing the line back and forth, ceding and capturing territory. In metropolitan areas where government and business interests demand stability, the line is fortified, surrounded by concrete barriers and guards. In other areas, the border is a destination, a super-scale land art installation with a Burning Man–like cult following.”
Joseph Chun and SoYoung Cho
“Illegal border crossers are always fleeing pervasive violence, persecution, and poverty. They embark on a life-threatening journey to get a fair chance at life. Every human being is created equal and deserves a right to pursue a better life. They are largely without adequate survival skills and essential supplies while walking across the desert in scorching weather for days.
“The Oasis is a geo-dome shelter designed to replenish the border crossers while on their dangerous journeys. It is equipped with water, emergency medical kit, a phone, and seating. The exterior is covered with solar panels that power lights that beam across the sky at night, providing them direction and, more importantly, hope.”
“The lights represent a welcome gate intended for stark contrast against the current uninviting, costly metal walls. The solar panels will produce enough power to sustain itself. The shelter would require minimal maintenance and recurring costs. The medical kit and phone can be used for recovery and emergency communication. The Oasis should be placed in a grid format every few miles apart from one another.” Josephchunfurniture.com
“When tasked with solving the problem of transitioning from a closed border to an open one that repurposes the space around it and the border itself, I couldn’t help but wonder: Will bridges, border clinics, roads, and attractive buildings address the task at hand, or is there something deeper or even darker at the core? It became obvious that in light of current events, the design needs to focus on the core problem: the deep cultural wound that divides us and needs profound healing.”
“The zoom-out view of the projects reflects the actual problem… a deep cut, a wound or border that is swollen and infected and in the healing process. When zoomed in, the bridges become, in a very simple way, stitches that heal and a crossing point to a better life. Sometimes, the same problem may have two radically different readings based on the point of view. We usually need space to accurately read any given situation.” Danielgermanidesigns.com
“Looking Up, Not Down: A Proposal For Shared Humanity ”
“Rather than viewing the border as a boundary to cross, we reimagined it as a beneficial ‘third space’ for both countries by creating a new community between them. The new city meets individuals’ core physiological and safety needs that our current ‘border’ lacks. The cable cars represent an exchange of diplomacy and acts as an aerial transportation method for citizens, as well as a means to trade supplies and goods needed for border facilities in both countries. The illuminated sign serves as a beacon of welcoming light, inviting visitors and residents alike inward.” Studioblitz.com