Our new president—who continues to insist without supporting facts that massive voter fraud cost him the popular vote—announced his intention this week of moving forward on one of his signature campaign promises: the construction of a massive border wall with Mexico.
A year ago, when he began parading around this ludicrous idea during the early debates, most people (most sane people, and even a few Republicans), didn’t take him seriously. This was obviously a stunt, being promoted by a carnival barker/reality TV star, whose chances of securing the nomination seemed remote at best.
Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
At this point, it’s unclear how all of this will all shake out. The construction of a border wall is a massive capital project, requiring billions of dollars. (Ask the East Germans.) Can it be executed by executive order? Does it require congressional approval? Could Democrats (and perhaps a few saner members of the opposition party . . . I nominate Lindsey Graham) block it? What’s the scope of this monstrosity? Is it a full wall, covering the entire length of the border? Or a “show wall” that might double as a tourist destination and home to a hotel and casino? I don’t know. But I do know that I have learned my lesson: dismissing an idea simply because it’s foolish, costly and grotesquely un-American is, in 2017, glib and shortsighted (and, oh yeah, elitist, too).
So, let’s assume the worst: Some version of a border wall is likely to be constructed.
What are the implications of this for understandably appalled architects and designers? Given all of our pressing infrastructure needs (airports, schools, roads, bridges, the list is endless and crumbling), it is bitterly ironic that this president’s first capital “investment” is both unnecessary and fundamentally racist.
And that might not be the worst of it. This wake-me-when-the-bad-dream-is-over aspect to this idea also obscures a more uncomfortable fact: our president will have no trouble finding architects and engineers willing to cash his (our) check. (Getting Mexico to help pay for it might be another story, god bless them.)
So, how does the architecture and design community respond? In the immediate term, they respond as engaged—and enraged—citizens. If they are members of a professional organization, they can contact their national leaders and demand that the group take a public stand against the wall by strongly discouraging members from participating in this crazy farce. (Bob Ivy, here’s your opportunity for a do-over.) They can work with their individual chapters to plan local acts of protest. They can call and write their elected officials. And, since desperate times call for desperate measures (allow me the cliche), they can think more radically: What if large portions of the design and construction industry participated in a National Day of Protest? (Or even a strike.) This would be a very powerful statement that might galvanize opposition to the wall, where it matters: Congress.
And should architects, designers, and engineers fail (along with the rest of us) to block the wall, then what? Depending on the border wall’s size and scope (does our president mean what he says, or is he simply trying to score cheap political points?), it will require the work of dozens of design and construction firms. The companies that agree to take on this dirty work need pay a steep public relations price for their involvement. As long as we as a country are still capable of it, these firms should be publicly shamed. When the bids go out and the short lists are assembled, opposition designers—aligned with the professional organizations with guts and a conscience—need to confront the participating firms with pickets, phone calls, and a social media barrage. These are the democratic tools that we have at our disposal; we need to use them, while we still have them.