We often think of architecture as just a means to create space, whether it’s a restaurant, a house, an event place – where humans interact. But often times, we’re also held captive by them.
America has had a long history of conflicting ideas of immigration and culture, most notably with its neighbour Mexico. It’s an issue that’s become more prevalent since Trump took office.
Architect Ronald Rael has always found the border wall interesting. His passion in art and design catapulted him into the world of activism. Challenging the idea of border walls, he goes by the maxim “there are no two sides, this is one landscape, divided.”
JUICE had the chance to chat with Ronald to talk about how good design, activism and what to expect at his talk when he comes down for the Kancil Awards at RexKL.
Architecture has always had the power to connect, but we’re just as often held captive by it. You’ve always had a professional interest in borders, particularly the US-Mexico border. How did that start?
The border between the U.S. and Mexico has not always been where it is today. My family has lived, and continues to live today, in the area where the previous border existed and we are products of being borderland citizens. The way we talk, the food we eat, the stories we tell are all shaped by a culture of different worlds coming together—sometimes in beautiful ways, and other times in horrific ways. I’ve always thought about the way we move through different worlds across different kinds of borders (language, culture, geographic, etc.)
The teeter totter wall was a concept you had back in 2009, and now it’s brought to life with the pink seesaws instalment. Was that always the plan, or it was necessary given the political climate in America right now?
It only began to become a plan about 3 years ago, the original drawings were a way to begin a conversation, however that conversation around the teeter totters was the most fruitful and we decided we would find a way to implement them. I think there was a moment when our country seemed so full of the tensions brought on by family separation at the border and the increasing demands for more wall construction, so the time did seem appropriate and much needed to create a moment of togetherness.
The US-Mexico border was intended to keep people away and out but instead, it’s become an attractor for dialogue. In your book, Borderwall as Architecture, you advocate for the reconsideration of the US-Mexico border through design proposals. How do you challenge the idea of the wall?
The book doesn’t suggest designs for the walls. It raises awareness that 700+ miles of wall already exists, and it illustrates the stories of the challenges, problems, and inventive ways that people on their own are rising up against the wall. The drawings might be seen as proposals in some cases, but really are meant to allow us to have a conversation about what it means to build a divided states, rather than a united states.
We love your redesign of the “CAUTION” sign by John Hood, to “REUNITE”. You’ve always look to art, literature and music to find ideas and inspiration. How important is it to have good design, especially in a campaign like this?
I think Hood’s original design is an important work of activist art. The message he inserts into the sign, using civil rights leader Cesar Chavez as the silhouette of the father in the sign, is subversive and powerful. Good design, like Hood’s, saved lives along the highway. Bad design, like the border wall, endangers lives, ecologies, and communities. REUNITE simply builds upon Hood’s message.
How excited are you to come to Malaysia? We’ve got a lot of issues as well here. What can we expect from your talk?
I’m extremely excited to come to Malaysia! Everywhere has issues, and design is essentially drawing solutions to issues. I will be talking about issues related to material scarcity, family separation, the borderwall, and our experiments in using design to address these issues.
Challenge your mindset at Kancil Creative Festival 2019
Kancil Festival and Awards is taking place at RexKL for a two-day event, organised by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As). After last year’s success, this second edition of Kancil Creative Festival is going bigger and better, bringing you diverse speakers from all across the globe.
The theme is “belief creates”, where the festival will showcase passionate personalities from a various disciplines, to share their philosophies on how creativity together with faith, can be powerful as a driving force to shape ideas.
You can expect chaotic creative fun with exhibitions, mini workshops, dialogue sessions and immersive experiences centred around the idea that with utmost conviction, the human minds can conceive the most amazing things.
Festival tickets are limited to 500 seats and are priced at RM2,200 for the public, and RM1,900 for 4A’s members. You can click here to purchase tickets.
For more information, head to festival.kancilawards.com