Crossing the ‘Borderwall’: Projectiles

Depending on your intake of current event news, the wall—existing and potential—between the United States and Mexico has been a staple feature of this administration’s diet. Among other things it’s divisive, unrealistic, and up for debate on how it will be funded, but author Ronald Rael looks at it in a completely unique way: as an architect, as a citizen, and as someone who grew up occupying the borderlands himself. Ciudad Juárez-based journalist Judith Torrea describes his new book as “astonishing and magical: a realm where the absurdity of a wall is transformed from obstructive and negative to an affirmation of shared humanity.”

The below excerpt appears in a section of the book entitled, ‘Recuerdos/Souvenirs’, which proposes unsolicited counterproposals, both tragic and sublime, for the existing wall along the border.

Automobiles carrying people and drugs are not the only things traveling through the air over the wall. During the Middle Ages, with the rise of fortified castles and city walls, the catapult became an essential tool to launch objects and even bodies over protective walls. It was also a time when the cannon became a standard method of breaching walls. With the catapult’s and the cannon’s shared history of launching humans through the air, it is unsurprising that these medieval technologies would resurface in reaction to the anachronistic security barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Among the projectile launchers created to hurdle the wall are catapults, used by drug traffickers to hurl marijuana and other contraband over the borderwall. Packages of marijuana are bulkier than heroin or cocaine and therefore more difficult to smuggle hidden in vehicles or carried by hand. The catapults confiscated by Mexican authorities are built upon trailers that can easily attached to a truck, making them very portable. These “pot-a-pults,” which can be as tall as 9 feet, are constructed with steel and a strong elastic band and can hurl marijuana bales weighing approximately 4.4 pounds each. These borderland trebuchets have been discovered in use along the Arizona-Mexico border near the cities of Naco and Agua Prieta.

More powerful are the cannons used to launch packets of marijuana over the borderwall into Calexico, California, from Mexicali, Mexico. These homemade cannons are fashioned from plastic pipe and makeshift metal tanks containing either compressed air (produced by an automobile engine) or encapsulated compressed carbon dioxide. These cannons have been known to fire thirty-pound canisters of marijuana up to 500 feet. Thirty-three such canisters, fired out of one of these cannons and valued at $42,500, were recently discovered near Yuma, Arizona.

So, have people also been launched over the wall? An episode of the television program MythBusters tested the theory that in addition to drugs, immigrants themselves were becoming human projectiles and being flung two hundred yards across the border into the United States. The show constructed a human-sized slingshot to see if it was possible. The tests involved the launch of a mannequin over a fictional U.S.- Canadian border and used a chain-link fence topped with razor wire to mark the border—a vision clearly inspired by the U.S-Mexico wall. And although the MythBusters team was able to propel the dummy 211 feet, it was concluded that it didn’t seem possible to launch humans accurately enough to ensure their safety.

Although there is no evidence that migrants are being launched over the wall, human cannonball David Smith Sr., who holds the distance record for being shot into the air (201 feet, in 2002), is the first person whose launch by cannon over the U.S.-Mexico borderwall has been documented. Although it is illegal to enter the United States from Mexico except at an official port of entry, U.S. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar granted Smith permission to cross in this unconventional fashion. So, in 2005, with passport in hand (which he waved to the crowd before blasting off from Tijuana, Mexico), he sailed over the wall and landed squarely in a large net awaiting him in San Diego, California.

When Smith was asked why he did it, his reply was simple: “I did it for the money—I get paid!”

Selections from ‘Recuerdos’ were read aloud by the author to UC Press staff earlier this spring (watch a short video from that talk), and we’ll be sharing excerpts here in the coming weeks.

Learn more in recent features on Borderwall as Architecture in The Architectural RecordThe London Review of Books, The New York Times, and a podcast produced by UC Berkeley’s Berkeley News.


Ronald Rael is Associate Professor in the departments of Architecture and Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Earth Architecture, a history of building with earth in the modern era that exemplifies new, creative uses of the oldest building material on the planet. The Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum have recognized his work, and in 2014 his creative practice, Rael San Fratello, was named an Emerging Voice by the Architectural League of New York.

 


Reimagining the Borderwall

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


Today in history the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which added 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the land that makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as Texas. It is still by this agreement that we recognize the geographical boundaries of the two neighboring nations.

Today we are also reconsidering the boundary between the United States and Mexico in all kinds of new ways, and the forthcoming book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (coming March 2017) is a highly creative and optimistic re-examination of what the physical barrier that divides the United States of America from the United Mexican States is, and could be.

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“A fascinating book, astonishing and magical: a realm where the absurdity of a wall is transformed from obstructive and negative to an affirmation of shared humanity.”—Judith Torrea, journalist and author based in Ciudad Juárez, México

Author Ronald Rael is Associate Professor in departments of Architecture and Art Practice at UC Berkeley, and one of the founding partners of Rael San Fratello, a creative practice and studio whose work has been recognized by the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, as well as named an emerging voice by the Architectural League of New York.

UC Press staff were lucky to have him come speak in our offices recently. His fascinating presentation on his background, and other influences on his work in and around the borderlands, was both timely and inspiring.

Watch the video below to hear more about some of optimistic re-imaginings of the existing wall (and any potential future extensions of it that are currently being assessed).

Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary will be available in March 2017—preorder now and save 30% by entering code16W6596 at checkout.


Mapping the Metropolis: Riot!

As we make our way through Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, we’re dipping into some of the maps and essays featured within the atlas—each offering a vividly imagined version of New York that reveals a richly layered, social history. For more peeks inside, head here.


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Detail from the map “Riot! Periodic Eruptions in Volcanic New York,” featured in the book “Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas”

This week, we take a look at New York City’s history of resistance. “However you classify riots,” write the book’s editors, “New York City has been good at them, or at least good at having them. . . . Riots happen when those in charge can contain that energy no more—or fail to give it proper release.”

Walking through New York means passing through sites of popular uprisings and violent clashes, where people took to the streets to protest and make their strife known. In his essay, “The Violence of Inequality,” contributor Luc Sante writes that nearly half of New York’s riots have been about race, beginning as early as 1712.

The Negro Riot of 1712 was New York’s very first social upheaval. Its facts are scant—between twenty and seventy African slaves allegedly set fire to a building on Maiden Lane, then the city’s northern boundary, and attacked whites attempting to douse the flames, killing nine. Of the forty-three slaves arraigned, eighteen were acquitted, twenty hanged, and three burned at the stake. In 1741 the facts are even murkier—a ship was seized, possibly for piracy, and its African crew were sold as slaves, but they managed to break free and burn down a number of houses, including the governor’s mansion. The Doctors Riot of 1788 was sparked by medical students digging up cadavers for dissection from the Negroes Burial Ground. A petition from African American citizens was ignored by the authorities, but when a newspaper article alleged that the body of a white woman had been dug up, citizens attacked the hospital and the violence resulted in some twenty deaths.

In the 19th century, these riots were sometimes sparked by opponents of slavery—the Eagle Street Riot of 1801 began with an attempt to free slaves—and sometimes by supporters, as when anti-abolitionists ransacked the home of an abolitionist and attacked the abolitionist-owned Bowery Theater in 1834.

The white abolitionists of the period tended to be well-educated members of the upper classes; their activities were resented by many in the white working class—mostly Irish Catholic immigrants—who saw free blacks as competing for their jobs and accepting lower wages. Tempers rose to the point of violence in the Anti- Abolitionist Riots of 1834, when a mob ransacked the Rose Street home of the abolitionist Lewis Tappan and attacked the Bowery eater, whose stage manager was a British-born abolitionist—he appeased them by sending out an actor in blackface to sing “Zip Coon.” The Brooklyn Cigar Factory Riot of 1862 was the work of local Irish and German unskilled laborers who resented the fact that African Americans, who commuted from other parts of the city, were employed as skilled cigar rollers and made more money.

The map and Sante’s essay focus on mass eruptions sparked by race as well as those rooted in wealth and class—inequality being a chief theme among these uprisings. 2011’s Occupy Wall Street makes its mark on the map as does the deadliest riot in American history, The Draft Riots of 1863 where thousands of pro-South and pro-slavery New Yorkers lashed out in a deadly mix of racial hatred, economic insecurity, and class warfare as they rampaged through Manhattan, beating and murdering black men, soldiers, and police. But the map also contains some of the weirder and more inexplicable riots in the city, such as the fashion faux-pas that launched a citywide crime spree: The Straw Hat Riot of 1922. 

Take a peek at a few highlights and plots on the map below:

Nonstop Metropolis is available in paperback and hardcover.


Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

Mapping the Metropolis: City of Women

As we make our way through Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, we’re dipping into some of the maps and essays featured within the atlas—each offering a vividly imagined version of New York that reveals a richly layered, social history. For more peeks inside, head here.


In New York, most of the city streets, stations, monuments, and bridges have been named for men. In Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Power of Names,” featured alongside the map “City of Women,” she describes the conventions and power structures behind the naming of cities and even whole regions:

“. . . names perpetuate the gendering of New York City. Almost every city is full of men’s names, names that are markers of who wielded power, who made history, who held fortunes, who was remembered; women are anonymous people who changed fathers’ for husbands’ names as they married, who lived in private and were comparatively forgot­ten, with few exceptions. This naming stretches across the continent; the peaks of many western mountains have names that make the ranges sound like the board of directors of old corporations, and very little has been named for particular historical women, though Maryland was named after a Queen Mary who never got there.”

Here, editors Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro along with cartographer Molly Roy have renamed New York’s subway stations with the names of women by plotting the places where significant women have lived, worked, gone to school, danced, painted, wrote, and rebelled in order to come up with “a feminist city.”

CityofWomen_SolnitNMNY

Solnit goes on to recognize some of the outstanding women whose efforts have contributed to society as a whole and what the map “City of Women” symbolizes:

“New York City has had a remarkable history of charismatic women from the beginning, such as seventeenth-century Quaker preacher Hannah Feake Bowne, who is routinely written out of history—even the home in Flushing where she held meetings is often called the John Bowne house. Three of the four female Supreme Court justices have come from the city, and quite a bit of the history of American feminism has unfolded here, from Vic­toria Woodhull to Shirley Chisholm to the Guerrilla Girls. Not all the subway stations are marked, and many of the women who made valuable contributions or might have are forgotten or were never named. Many women were never allowed to be someone; many heroes of any gender live quiet lives. But some rose up; some became visible; and here they are by the hundreds. This map is their memorial and their celebration.”

Peruse the map above (click to expand it) and take a look at a few highlights below:

Nonstop Metropolis is available now in paperback and hardcover.


Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

The “Six” Boroughs: Manhattan

This is the fifth of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited BrooklynQueensthe Bronx, and Staten Island. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about Manhattan.


New York City is the cradle of American book publishing (though as this California publisher knows, great books come from all over), and it all started with brothers James and Joseph Harper and their ability to print books at high volumes—thanks to the stereotyping printing process—inexpensively for a mass market.

In what would become Harper’s magazine and the publishing house HarperCollins, the brothers first began their publishing operation two years before the birth of one of the great American writers: Herman Melville. It’s also fascinating to learn that as a great American publisher, Harper & Brothers first rejected Melville and his book, Typee, because it was too fantastic to be true.

Harpers and Harpooners Detail
Detail from the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.” You can spot Herman Melville’s birthplace in the Battery, and see where Harper and Brothers was located.

G.P. Putnam would go on to publish Typee,  which became a best-seller, and Harper and Brothers would pick up Melville’s next six books, including his most famous.

Most people associate Herman Melville with the high seas and a big, white whale, but the Moby-Dick author was quite the urbanite. A native New Yorker, Melville was born in 1819 on Pearl Street in the Battery at Manhattan’s southern end, which he described as the “extreme down-town” and “the insular city of the Manhattoes” who—dreaming of the sea—rushed to the island’s tip.

“There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.”—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

But Melville may not have had such romantic feelings for the city that would at times spurn him. Moby-Dick received terrible reviews, as did Melville’s other works, which Paul LaFarge details in his essay “Sailors and Scriveners”:

Moby-Dick was published in 1851 to famously bad reviews, and it sold poorly—but nowhere near as poorly as Melville’s next novel, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, which is about a young man who brings a great deal of suffering on himself by becoming a writer and moving to New York. Pierre earned Melville $157 during his lifetime and was reviewed by the New York Day Book under the headline “Herman Melville Crazy.” Melville was wrecked . . . By the end of the 1850s, Melville had little reason to love New York City, and yet in 1866 he moved there once again . . .

Like a sailor drawn to the sea, Melville couldn’t leave New York entirely. But perhaps the strongest connection between New York’s publishing industry and the whaling industry is Herman Melville as he tried his hand at both. In the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in Nonstop Metropolisyou can see more of the physical, historical connections between these uniquely different industries.

Harpers and Harpooners Detail2
Detail of the legend from the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

Take a closer look below to stroll through Melville’s Manhattan (click on the map to expand it).

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Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

The “Six” Boroughs: Brooklyn

This is the fourth of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited Queensthe Bronx, and Staten Island. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about Brooklyn.


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Detail of “Brownstones and Basketball” map featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

Brooklyn’s basketball courts are as much a part of New York’s landscape as are its regal brownstones, where each is often within close proximity to the other. Pick-up games have long been a way to get to know the neighborhood and to play and be friendly with neighbors and strangers.

At Coffey Park in Red Hook, Carmelo Anthony honed his game. Marine Park is where Chris Mullin played, and every Saturday there’s serious pick-up.

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“Brownstones and Basketball” map detail, including Red Hook and Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods, among others.

But development since the 1990s has meant more brownstones are renovated and basketball courts are removed, pointing to the loss of something that’s intrinsically Brooklyn. In fact, this last June conflict in the well-off Brooklyn Heights enclave rose when residents attributed Brooklyn Bridge Park’s basketball players—coming from as far as the Bronx and Queens—to “damaging the character of the neighborhood.” Who and what defines that character is up for discussion.

In his essay, “Empire of Brownstone and Brick,” Thomas J. Campanella traces the formation of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and the history of its brownstones. Here’s an excerpt:

In an era when Brooklyn has become a global “brand” beloved by British celebrities who name kids for the borough, it is the iconic building type of the moraine—the brown­stone—that people think of. Like New Orleans with its shotgun houses or San Francisco with its Victorian “painted ladies,” Brooklyn is among a handful of American cities essen­tialized in the popular imagination by a particular kind of residential architecture. The brownstone townhouse signifies Brooklyn as much as the borough’s eponymous bridge or Coney Island’s Parachute Jump—perhaps more so. . . . But the brownstone represents only old Brooklyn, the city of the terminal moraine. Outwash Brooklyn has a signature style of residential architecture all its own—the Tudor-revival home, with its faux half-timbered walls and slate tile roofs. This style may not be popular among creative-class elites who clamor for brownstones—at least not yet. But it too is saturated with significance and speaks to the varied and ever-changing ways that our homes can suggest longing at once for the future and for some imagined past.

And perhaps Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts describes Brooklyn’s development and changes best in her essay, “Freed But Not Free”:

The city, we’re sometimes told, is composed of villages. Fruits of segregation or identifica­tion, shaped by the churn of developers’ schemes and capital’s march, some of the places now called “Villages”—those cubic blocks called projects—evince the city’s old will to push those it doesn’t wish to see to the margins, where they’ll remain (unless of course those projects sit in now-rich neighborhoods and are doomed, too, to be sold off ). All sit atop settlements that came before. . . . Visiting these sites now, we’re reminded that when building on unsteady ground and stolen territory, perhaps the most important material is time, and the ability to inhabit an expanded idea of history like the one that Columbia professor Saidiya Hartman offers us when she asserts, “I, too, live in the time of slavery, by which I mean I am living in the future created by it.”

The images above and below are details from the map “Brownstones and Basketball,” which locates notable brownstones and public courts throughout Brooklyn. You can find the map and both essays in full in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.

brownstone and basketball detail 2
“Brownstones and Basketball” legend

Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

Enter to win free books for #WorldArchitectureDay

We are closing out World Architecture Day with a book giveaway!

There are four ways you can enter to win:

  1. Share your favorite example of urban architecture in a comment on this post below
  2. Share your favorite example of urban architecture on Facebook
  3. Tweet your favorite example of urban architecture to us at @educatedarts. Use #WDA2014 if you can
  4. Subscribe to our monthly Art eNews TODAY

Four winners total (one from each method of entry) will be chosen randomly*, and notified to select their title of choice from the following list:

·      Into the Void Pacific: Building the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair by Andrew Shanken

·      Schindler, Kings Road, and Southern California Modernism by Robert Sweeney & Judith Sheine

·      The Prehistory of Home by Jerry D. Moore

·      White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes by Raymund Ryan

Good luck!

* Duplicate entries will not be counted, though you can enter to win via any and all of the allowed methods.

 


World Architecture Day 2014 Spotlight: Robert Moses’ WPA Swimming Pools

In Great Depression-era America, our federal government invested billions of dollars in New Deal work projects through the Works Progress Administration (later referred to as the Work Projects Administration, or WPA). With the aim of reducing rampant unemployment and improving infrastructures, millions of Americans were employed by the WPA, building bridges and schools, and even painting murals and writing about local history. One of our favorite examples of these WPA projects is New York City’s public swimming pools.

Jefferson Park Pool and Bathhouse, 1 July 1936.  Courtesy of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Jefferson Park Pool and Bathhouse, 1 July 1936.
Courtesy of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Active even today (see “On Schedule, Pools’ Workers Drain the Last Drops of Summer”), Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Mayor Firorello La Guardia first opened eleven WPA-built pools in the summer of 1936. According to NYC Parks, “WPA swimming pools were among the most remarkable public recreational facilities in the country, representing the forefront of design and technology in advanced filtration and chlorination systems. The influence of the pools extended throughout entire communities, attracting aspiring athletes and neighborhood children, and changing the way millions of New Yorkers spent their leisure time… At Thomas Jefferson Pool, more than 10,000 celebrated the opening, at which the Mayor said, ‘Here is something you can be proud of. It is the last word in engineering, hygiene, and construction that could be put into a pool.’”

As author Marta Gutman writes in her Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians article, “Race, Place, and Play: Robert Moses and the WPA Swimming Pools in New York City” (PDF), “No space is intrinsically free, but modern architecture can be a key mechanism for shaping a better social world. During the New Deal, when so many social categories were in flux, some kids took a chance at the new pools. 117 Historical actors in their own right, black and white boys and girls swam together in neighborhoods where progressive New Yorkers worked to make racial integration a matter of fact in daily life, not only an abstract principle. In magnificent new public places, envisioned by a conservative park commissioner, children cut across gender, age, and racial lines in progressive ways, showing adults willing to listen that democratic citizenship could grow through their play during the WPA.”

What does the future hold for health and happiness in urban environments? For swimming in the city, maybe it’s something like Wonderwater’s Urban Plunge, which envisions futuristic “architectural interventions for swimming in clean natural waters in the heart of our cities.”

Happy World Architecture Day 2014!


World Architecture Day 2014: Healthy Cities, Happy Cities

UC Press and the Society of Architectural Historians are pleased to join forces in celebrating World Architecture Day, which occurs on the first Monday of each October. This year’s theme, “Healthy Cities, Happy Cities,” celebrates the role architects and architecture play in the vitality of the urban setting and in the well being of its inhabitants.

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park.  Courtesy Ingfbruno. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
Bethesda Fountain, Central Park.
Courtesy Ingfbruno. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

Whether through better integrating the built and natural environments, providing opportunities for health and happiness through parks and other public spaces, or through responsible design utilizing sustainable materials and energy efficiency, architecture and architects can bring new life to cities, fostering health and happiness among the denizens of urban environments.

What urban architecture inspires you? Share your favorites with UC Press and SAH @EducatedArts, @SAH1365, facebook.com/ucpress, and facebook.com/SAH1365.