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Architects Deconstruct Trump’s Border Wall

Thursday, November 17, 2016

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With the election last week of Donald J. Trump to the United States presidency, architects and builders are beginning to speculate on the nature of one of Trump’s signature campaign promises, a wall to seal off the border between the U.S. and Mexico—and many say it’s a nonstarter.

As Business Insider reports, from a cost and effectiveness standpoint, a wall the like of which Trump has described in the past likely wouldn’t be feasible, or wouldn’t be worth its cost. Trump himself has backtracked somewhat from his original plan for the border barrier, telling 60 Minutes on Sunday (Nov. 13) that “for certain areas,” he would accept a fence instead of a wall.

President-elect Donald Trump
Transition 2017 - CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During his campaign, Trump said that the wall, a rallying point for supporters concerned about drug trafficking and undocumented immigration, would be made from precast concrete and would stand 35 to 40 feet tall.

According to widely reported Government Accountability Office numbers, fencing already exists along about 670 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, built at a cost of $2.4 billion after authorization in 2006.

Cost Questions

During Trump's campaign, the wall became a rallying point for supporters concerned about drug trafficking and undocumented immigration. At the time, Trump said the barrier would be made from precast concrete and would stand 35 to 40 feet tall. He estimated the wall would cost $8 billion, and said it would be paid for by Mexico.

US-Mexico border fence
Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fencing already exists along about 670 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, built at a cost of $2.4 billion after authorization in 2006.

Earlier this year, experts told The Washington Post the cost of such a structure would more likely be something like $25 billion, accounting for concrete, steel rebar, other supplies and infrastructure needed to carry the building project out.

In September, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that Mexico would “never pay for a wall.” The two men had met just days prior, after which Trump told U.S. reporters that the topic of who would pay for the wall had not come up in the course of the conversation. Pena Nieto, on the other hand, told media he had made it clear Mexico would not pay for a wall.

Trump’s Payment Proposal

Trump’s outline for how Mexico would pay for the wall includes a number of approaches. These include tariffs, increasing visa fees, and putting pressure on the Mexican government through two policy changes.

In one, Trump proposes decreasing visas to Mexican citizens, which he says would hurt the Mexican economy and force Mexico to capitulate to the wall payment. In the other, he proposes to make policy changes that would make it impossible for Mexican nationals in the United States to wire money home to family in Mexico. Trump says the economic pressure that would result would make the wall payment the more appealing option for the Mexican government.

Size and Geography

The sheer scale of the project also raises concerns, according to Business Insider. The wall, as envisioned, would likely take about 339 million cubic feet of concrete, about three times the amount used to build the Hoover Dam, the publication reports. The massive wall would have to cross some mountainous and rocky areas, and in some areas, roads would have to be built just to access the worksite where the wall would be built, adding to the time and cost of the project.

Last month, Mexican design firm Estudio 3.14 released a series of renderings of the border wall, envisioned in pink as a nod to Mexican architect Luis Barragan. The studio’s designs, clearly meant to be taken as critique rather than a genuine proposal, include a prison inside the wall, and lookout areas for Americans to view the Mexican landscape.

Architects and Ethics

Business Insider also quotes one architect, William J. Martin, who calls into question whether working on a project like the border wall would be an ethical quandary for architects, who are bound by commitments to work to uphold human rights and “exercise unprejudiced and unbiased judgement.”

Some American Institute of Architects members bristled last week at a statement released by the professional organization, which had said that architects “stand ready to work with” President-elect Trump. The group’s Boston chapter said the statement “failed to acknowledge the serious contradictions between the Trump campaign and the AIA’s own mission and values.” AIA CEO Robert Ivy issued an apology for the tone of the statement.

Alternative Proposals

All the talk could still be pure speculation: Soon after Trump’s election last week, Reuters reported that House Republicans will likely offer up legislation that would increase border fencing and border patrol forces, but would not involve a concrete wall.

In his 60 Minutes interview, however, Trump insisted that at least parts of the border should be walled off. After admitting that some areas would be better off fenced, he said, “But certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this, it’s called construction, there could be some fencing.”


Tagged categories: Architects; Asia Pacific; concrete; Contractors; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Engineers; Government; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management

Comment from Jim Schrecengost, (11/17/2016, 9:04 AM)

The Chinese built a wall more than 5,000 miles over 700 years ago. The Israelis have a buffer zone consisting of concertina wire and a taut wire fence. very doable

Comment from Mark Anater, (11/18/2016, 8:28 AM)

The Great Wall took centuries to build, killed thousands of laborers, and ultimately failed to prevent invasion. Israel's series of barriers and checkpoints is a testament to the inability of both Israelis and Palestinians to cooperate, definitely not something we should emulate. And what congressman will give up spending in his own district for the $25 billion or so it will cost?

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