National Building Museum Exhibits THE WALL, Opening November 6

On November 6, the National Building Museum opens a major new exhibition, The Wall/El Muro: What is a Border Wall? Always in the news, but rarely well understood, the US-Mexico border wall looms large on the landscape, and in the American consciousness. This multi-media exhibition will provide a timely examination of the role of design, architecture, planning and engineering in today’s border issues and challenges, as well as the border wall’s many impacts.  Featuring hundreds of photographs, artifacts, video and other immersive elements, The Wall/El Muro takes visitors on an unprecedented journey, creating a broader context for understanding the 21st-century application of an ancient theme: building walls in the name of national security.  The exhibition is presented in both English and Spanish.

The border wall in the Imperial Sand Dunes, 20 miles west of Yuma, AZ, on February 25, 2019. Due to the constantly shifting contour of the sand dunes, the border wall “floats” on top of the sand and can be lifted and resettled as necessary. U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Jerry Glaser

“Borders are invented, imaginary places,” says exhibition curator Sarah A. Leavitt, Ph.D. “They change over time, and they are policed differently over time. What is happening on our border matters and it was important to me to be able to start telling this story. This is what museums should be for–leading this type of conversation.” 

Visitors will listen to a specially commissioned soundscape of the border near the wall in Otay Mesa, California, hearing insects, wind, and the ever-present security drones. They will listen to voices of local teenagers who have crossed the border, and see an actual full-size section of border fence that once stood between Calexico, California and Mexicali, Baja California.  And, they will be able to touch and sit on a teeter totter which connected children in the US and Mexico, and was awarded 2020’s Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum.  Also included are models of old and new border infrastructure; migrant belongings left behind in the Sonoran desert; and a pop-art poster that once welcomed visitors into the US. Infographics will highlight significant statistics that represent the growing wall infrastructure, as well as its cost and impact. 

The year-long The Wall/El Muro installation will serve as an anchor for a suite of related and interactive programming.  Topics will include the history of the physical border, its impact on the environment and local communities, and the ethics around designing structures of exclusion. The Museum begins these discussions with its first program in November/December, which will be an historical overview of the U.S./Mexico border, its impact on the architecture and planning in the region, and the organic responses to its presence.  

MUSEUM HOURS – Thursday – Sunday, 11 am – 4 pm.  The exhibition is located on the main floor.


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