Ways in which a wall can be beautiful

I’m not trying to wade into the swampy waters of rhetoric, opinion or even disapproval regarding the forthcoming US presidential election, but must admit that the idea of Donald Trump's wall is quite [architecturally] compelling. I’ve a passing familiarity with the geography of the Rio Grande and can't help imagining the appearance of this "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful" project. In particular, I like the fact that he throws in beauty as a feature. This would be the most challenging facet of such an undertaking, given the scale of it, though it’s led me to think of ways in which this beauty might be realised, which are as follows:

1. Brutalism

A big, utilitarian concrete wall would be sort of beautiful, in that way that Brutalist buildings are beautiful. Think of the recent addition to the Tate Modern- worth visiting for the concrete alone! Concrete seems a good foil for all sorts of things, too: especially trees and wildness (think of the Barbican conservatory)


2. Art

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, famous for ‘wrapping things’, did a project in 1976 called Running Fence, a temporarily-installed fabric curtain, undulating its way across 24.5 miles of landscape to the north of San Francisco. As a project, it acted like a drawing that illustrated the nature of the terrain, disappearing and reappearing unpredictably, calling to attention the fundamental characteristics of the landscape- something that would likely be overlooked without the curtain. A sort of profile portrait. In the same way, to cut a concrete wall across the land on which the America-Mexico border sits would be a fascinating insight into the topography of that long and varying landscape. 


3. Freedom

When I think of beautiful walls, or at least visually arresting ones, the remaining chunks of the Berlin Wall spring to mind. Like in Christo & Jeanne-Claude's work, what is seen works as a relief that points us to the negative space- to the detail represented by what is outside of the structure itself. In this case, it’s emotional and not just topographical, and it’s good: the remaining slabs of the Berlin Wall's concrete tell the story of freedom, peace and reconciliation- we can imagine the euphoria of those who squeezed between the first gaps to be reunited with loved ones... It stands as a monument for that which is worth remembering, not to preserve what the wall stood for but for that which dismantled it, replaced it, ran through it. On these grounds, then, it seems that the "beauty" of a southern border wall to keep Mexicans out might be a non-starter, as the pope implied in his statement on the matter- “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”.


4. Conclusion: Inclusion

It is, of course, possible to build a big wall that is beautiful. I suppose that's obvious. What's also obvious is that the implicit intent behind DT's wall is not really beautiful at all, if it is predicated in terms of exclusion, alienation and fear. It is easy to respond to threat, poverty, danger or others' needs by putting up walls, whether concrete or otherwise- a flatly un-beautiful human trait that we're probably all familiar with. From my own experience, it seems that learning generosity and how-to-let-others-in is a journey.

Thanks in part to the wisdom of Paul Conway, with whom I discussed the musings covered here, my conclusion is that a change of heart and big signs saying 'Everybody Welcome' would be the best way to make a southern border wall (with doors in) beautiful. You'd also need to work out the wildlife implications, which I haven't really considered. Anyhow, I think that would also be the best way to begin to help the people we want to keep out: bring them in and make them welcome. Watch the effect. 






photo credits in order: https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/fall-2015/articles/climate-change-on-the-rio-grande, http://www.londonhistorygroup.com/?job_listing=barbican-conservatory, http://www.wolfgangvolz.com/xtojc.shtml, http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/fall-of-the-berlin-wall-the-hertha-fans-caught-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-wall-9848043.html