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Bay Area Architects Show Humanity Of U.S.-Mexico Border With See-Saw Playground

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) -- For one day over the weekend, a team of Bay Area architects turned a portion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall into a small playground called The Teeter Totter Wall.

The project is the brainchild of architect and UC Berkeley professor Ronald Rael. In his book "Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary," Rael designed and sketched the project—a series of see-saws using the wall itself for balance.

But Rael said the project is more than just child's play.

"The teeter-totter exemplifies the notion that any action that takes place on one side of the border has a direct consequence on the other side of the border," he told KPIX 5 in a Skype interview.

"We can see that in the play of the teeter-totter, but we can also see that politically and economically between the two nations."

U.S.-Mexico Border Teeter Totter Playground
Photo: Rael San Fratello

Rael said a decade after he conceptualized the project for his book, he worked with his partner, architect and San Jose State professor Virginia San Fratello, along with builders with a Ciudad Juarez-based group called Colectivo Chopeke, to bring it to life.

Pictures and video show children and adults gathering to play on the see-saws after they were constructed on Sunday.

"There was incredible joy happening at that moment because there were families there and children there, and participants from the other side and they were having a tremendous amount of fun," said Rael. He said his goal was to show the humanity of the border.

"It's important just to recognize that in these places that are perceived as places of horror and poverty, that there is a tremendous amount of beauty in these landscapes and humanity."

Rael said he expected some pushback from either U.S. or Mexican authorities when the building began, but there was none.

"Both the Mexican National Guard and the U.S. Border Patrol asked what we were doing and we told them and they smiled and allowed it to continue," he said. He and his partners built and dismantled the project on the same day.

Rael said his book contains more sketches reimagining the border, including a project that turns a portion of the wall into a "binational library," a makeshift bookshelf where ideas and knowledge can be exchanged from one side of the border to the other.

"I would very much love to continue to do these kinds of projects along the wall," said Rael.

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