Pink seesaws across the US-Mexico border win Design of the Year 2020, on Trump’s last day

The Teeter Totter Wall by Rael San Fratello and Colectivo Chopeke allowed children on both sides of the border to play together.

19 January 2021


Despite only lasting around half an hour, the Teeter Totter Wall by architecture studio Rael San Fratello with Colectivo Chopeke went viral and made global headlines when it was installed in July 2019, and has now bounced back into the spotlight at a poignant time. The project, which allowed children on both sides of the US-Mexico border wall to play together via pink seesaws, has been awarded the Design of the Year prize 2020, on the last day of Trump’s presidency.

Rael San Fratello had been developing the idea for the seesaws over a decade as part of its ongoing work focusing on the border wall. The project was intended as a symbol of trade and labour relationships between the two countries, aimed to demonstrate that actions taking place on one side of the border have direct consequences on the other, viewing the boundary as a “site of severance”. “Mexicans throng to the US to find work, but often long to live comfortably in their own country,” studio Rael San Fratello states on its website. “US industry and agriculture is dependant upon immigrant labour pools, yet the Department of Homeland Security, Border Patrol, and Immigration and Naturalization Services have made it increasingly difficult to attract foreign labour. The Teeter Totter Wall demonstrates the delicate balances between the two nations.”

At the time, studio co-founder and professor of architecture at the University of California Ronald Rael said the realisation of the project brought “joy, excitement and togetherness at the border wall,” and that the wall “became a literal fulcrum for U.S.-Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side.”

Upon winning the design prize, fellow co-founder Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San José State University, told The Guardian: “I think it’s become increasingly clear with the recent events in our country that we don’t need to build walls we need to build bridges.”


Rael San Fratello with Colectivo Chopeke: Teeter Totter Wall (Copyright © Rael San Fratello, 2019)

Razia Iqbal, BBC journalist and chair of the 2020 award judges, commented that the idea was “[not] just something that felt symbolically important, it talked about the possibility of things; that all kinds of things are possible when people come together with great ideas and determination”. The Design Museum’s chief executive and director Tim Marlow added that the seesaws “encouraged new ways of human connection and struck a chord that continues to resonate far beyond El Paso in the USA and Juarez in Mexico. It remains an inventive and poignant reminder of how human beings can transcend the forces that seek to divide us”.

The project beat 73 other nominees to the prize, including Banksy’s stab-proof vest for Stormzy’s Glastonbury performance and the Covid-19 illustration, though Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins did win the graphics category for their rendering of the virus. Meanwhile the Impossible Burger 2.0 topped the product design category, the vegan leather Telfar bag won the fashion prize, and Social Design Collaborative’s portable school ModSkool won the architecture prize. The digital category was won by Chilean feminist group Colectivo Lastesis for its protest work against the sexual violence in South America during recent uprisings; while the Hong Kong protestors’ Brick Arches roadblock won the People’s Choice award. Marlow said this year's nominees demonstrated “design’s capacity to explore new ideas that confront some of the difficult issues the world currently faces”.

GalleryRael San Fratello with Colectivo Chopeke: Teeter Totter Wall (Copyright © Rael San Fratello, 2019)

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Rael San Fratello with Colectivo Chopeke: Teeter Totter Wall (Copyright © Rael San Fratello, 2019)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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