The architecture of the 1,989-mile United States-Mexico border is inconsistent. Over 150 years, governments and civilians have erected fences of barbed-wire, cement, and double-layered chain link along the political line, but many stretches have been left open. In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which called for 700 miles of fortified fencing. Areas where the Department of Homeland Security proposed building this wall are routinely lower-income and more Latino/a-populated in contrast to areas left open.[1]

Architectural theorists argue that enclosing space is a form of violence. To erect walls is to restrict movement, an element of freedom. Meanwhile the border’s fortification commits violence itself, designed to inflict pain on those who pass.[2]

Gaps in the fence increase this violence. The breaks in the wall are often placed in impassable terrain, like the desert. Between 1999 and 2012, 2,269 people died crossing this region.[3] This “access” makes violent architecture more inhumane.

However, creative activists along the border are responding. Architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello present alternative versions of the border wall too impractical to be constructed in real life. Yet, in their impracticality, the works challenge the absurdity of the wall’s violence toward border communities.


[1] Wilson, J. Gaines et al. An analysis of demographic disparities associated with the proposed U.S.-Mexico border fence in Cameron County, Texas. Austin, TX: University of Texas School of Law, 2008. November, 2015.

[2] Netz, Reviel. Barbed Wire: An Ecology of Modernity (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004), 230.

[3] Shivone, Gabe. “Death as ‘Deterrence’: The Desert as a Weapon.” Alliance for Global Justice. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.

[4] Dinan, Stephen. “Border Fence Is in the Eye of the Beholder.” The Washington Times, 24 June 2013,