• image001
    A section of the existing border fence in Brownsville. Photo by Lost Pines

We, the Texas Society of Architects (TxA), a regional state component of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) with more than 7,200 members, wish to register our concern about President Donald Trump’s proposal to construct an enhanced structure along the US/Mexico border, more than 1,950 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Depending on the terrain, access, and other construction factors, it has been estimated that the cost of a 30-foot high reinforced concrete wall could be anywhere from $17-$25 million per mile, or $20-25 billion for the entire project—a cost likely be borne solely by the taxpaying citizens of the United States.

This proposed wall is controversial. As in the general population, some of our members support the border-wall concept and accept its perceived benefits, while others are apprehensive about the ability of such a project to accomplish its stated objectives, especially given the likely significant expense. As architects, we have chosen to set aside attendant political issues to focus on environmental and economic ones instead.

The Texas portion of any US-Mexico border wall would be more than 1,250 miles of primarily privately-owned agricultural land. Unlike Arizona, California and New Mexico, the land needed to build this wall must be “seized” from Texas citizens and families, many of whom have owned their land for generations. The other major component of international boundary lands in our “back yard” are part of a public use and preservation system that includes federal parklands, especially Big Bend, Native American reservations, or ecological preserves like the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo County. It also includes 13 state parks along the Rio Grande River corridor that have been established based on their cultural, environmental, historic, and recreational value or significance.

As contemplated, an impenetrable 30-foot high structure would impair several migratory species, including some that are endangered. It would also disrupt human-use with negative economic repercussions to local and statewide economies. There is little doubt that the environmental impacts from the construction of the proposed wall would result in irreparable ecological damage to significant tracts of natural vegetation, habitat, and ecosystems, including lands belonging to Native American reservations.

As licensed architects, we are bound to serve the public interest; as members of the AIA, we are obligated to uphold ethical principles that include intelligent stewardship of our natural resources and physical environment. President Trump’s proposed border wall would damage both of those trusts.

Furthermore, an expenditure of $20-50 billion for infrastructure could do far more good for more Americans if invested in numerous other public brick-and-mortar projects: updated health care facilities, libraries, schools, parks and recreation facilities, mass transit, a 21st century power portfolio (including a new, “smart” power grid), a national fiber-optic internet, climate impact infrastructure, or an improved road system designed to accommodate autonomous vehicles as well as the growing number of conventional vehicles—notably the many commercial trucks now coming through Laredo, the nation’s fastest growing port of entry. Such investments would stimulate the national economy more broadly than construction of a Mexican-border wall, immediately providing more tangible benefits to citizens in all 50 states—not just the four sharing a border with Mexico.

Therefore, the Texas Society of Architects requests that Texas’ two US Senators and all 36 members of the Texas delegation in the US House of Representatives consider any and all alternatives for border protection and immigration control between the US and Mexico, and advocate instead for infrastructure projects that will better serve and enrich the public interest while safeguarding our natural environment.

8 Comments

Author’s gravatar

As an Architect in Texas and a Member of the TSA I object to TSA issuing a statement of position on the Border Wall. It is using a forum for business and promotion of the profession to make a purely political point that many members do not share. The members of TSA are diverse in all aspects including politics and opinions. That is one of the strengths of the profession. TSA should stick to advocating for the profession and let its members based on their own convictions be involved in politics.

Reply
Author’s gravatar

The letter is politically motivated and written out of shear ignorance or by an ideologue:

#1: The photo is not that of a 30′ high reinforced concrete wall, an architect would know the difference.
#2: “We” includes me, so this is totally false starting with the first word. Architects will not stand for someone else putting words in our mouths, especially partial truths intended to politically weaponize our profession.
#3: Architects are about caring for people, not searching for condemnation or excuses to be divisive.
#4: ‘Seized’ or ‘right of access agreement’?… oops, delete paragraph 3! FYI, it is the border landowners that are complaining about the lack of border control.
#5: Each ‘in lieu of the wall’ suggestion is being proposed as Federal expenditures when in fact, they should ONLY be free enterprise or state or local authorities as elected… National protection falls under Federal authority. Not every Texas Architect supports big government.
#6: This is not free money to be re-purposed as a Democrat sees fit, it is purposed specific to defending our border against illegal immigration. Why would Texas Architects support illegal immigration?
#7: Architects are held in high esteem for honesty and abide to the extreme to standards, codes, and law. If anything, this should be a letter supporting our nation’s stand against illegal immigration rather than creating arguments to keep the status quo!
#8: The photo conveys steel posts with 4″ (?) spacing… so what species are not able to migrate?… another generalization implying ‘all’. Architects are more specific than that.
#9: “…could do far more good” another generalization or a guess at best, not backed by facts. Architects are known for their due diligence.

Developing a boundary that is sensitive to everyone’s concerns… isn’t that the challenge? Wouldn’t it be better to suggest options as opposed to weaponizing and being divisive? And shouldn’t those options be sensitive to the local concerns?

This does not appear as though it was conceived or written by a licensed Texas Architect nor does it demonstrate any sensitivities towards securing our border or provide even one suggestion how to improve upon it. Every Architect requires the Contractor to provide options when corresponding for fixes.

Reply
Author’s gravatar

Dear Mr. Casstevens,

Thank you for taking the time to express your opinion regarding the recommendation sent to U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, as well as the 36 members of the Texas delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The language in that posting was approved by the Texas Society of Architects Executive Committee acting for the Board at its meeting on July 28–29 — that’s where the “We” comes from. More than anything, it was prompted by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) announced plans to begin construction on a three-mile segment of border wall — a segment that would run through the heart of the Santa Ana Federal Wildlife Preserve just south of Alamo, TX. The CBP news followed two other news reports that appeared earlier the week of July 24, that 1) the House of Representatives had approved $1.6 billion in funding for another 30-mile leg of a southern border wall during the next biennium, and 2) word of an alternate proposal by Senator Cornyn to spend fewer total dollars on a barrier that would be “smarter” (i.e., utilizing more technology and surveillance tools) than a latter day Maginot Line — one better at stopping illegal entry than a fixed, concrete barrier like the one described in RFPs issued months ago.

I’d be delighted to visit with you further about this issue, but only if you want to do so based on a commitment of mutually respecting the sincerity of each other’s beliefs, if not accepting or adopting the other’s position. If you prefer that I send you a written, point-by-point response to the nine items you listed rather than talking it through, I’m happy to do that instead.

As acknowledged in the second paragraph of the web-site posting, the proposed wall is controversial — some TxA members wholeheartedly support a physical wall, some oppose it strongly. The last sentence of that paragraph states that our position isn’t based on politics (i.e., whether a wall is the best way to stem illegal immigration, whether a wall is needed, etc.), but rather the potential harm to our ecology and economy based on the proposal being one for a 30-ft-tall reinforced concrete structure running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific.

One thing I personally inferred from the Board’s discussion of this idea, is that architects are confident they could almost certainly come up with a “boundary (that is more) sensitive to everyone’s concerns” than the currently proposed “Tilt-Wall on Steroids.” You and I certainly agree that sensitivity to local concerns should be an important part of the consideration, so I hope (I trust, actually) that you won’t take this as “weaponizing and being divisive” against you or the political concerns you raised. We believe that the “one-size-fits-all” approach that’s currently in front of us is a threat to the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Big Bend national park and monument, and all the state parks and historic/cultural sites up and down the Rio Grande River.

Please let me know if you would prefer to discuss this issue further, or that I simply publish my point-by-point response to the issues you raised.

Sincerely,

Paul Dennehy, AIA, TxA 2017 President

Reply
Author’s gravatar

I applaud the Texas Society of Architects for taking a principled stand on this completely misguided project. The fact is that it will be ineffective, will wreak havoc on the environment, and it will be an aesthetic abomination. Not to mention the damage this misguided gesture will do to the myriad economic and cultural connections between Texas and our neighbor Mexico. The funds allotted to this project should instead be directed to the many infrastructure needs of our state and nation. Kudos to our leadership for opposing this ridiculous campaign promise masquerading as a solution to a national security problem.

Reply
Author’s gravatar

Greg, Don & Fernando,

Thank you for the positive response. It’s always comforting to know we aren’t completely off the mark when it comes to our ADVOCACY positions. It ISN’T an easy issue; we DO have a number of members for whom this can appear to be a wrong-headed move. (See Mike Boyle’s comment.)

Whether or not one federal dime is spent funding “other infrastructure project,” the Board wanted to convey its collective opinion that there MUST be a better way than putting up a 30-foot high, concrete wall—especially at the anticipated exorbitant cost President Trump’s latest described version would be. Architects (and their engineer colleagues) can do better…and should be allowed the chance to come up with that better way.

Thanks again for the positive reinforcement that this is an appropriate direction for us to take.

David Lancaster

Reply
Author’s gravatar

I want to briefly commend the TxA on its position on the border wall. It is a complex issue but I am pleased that The Society is using its professional standing and expertise to influence public policy. As professionals in the public trust it is our responsibility to take positions on important issues.

Reply
Author’s gravatar

I fully endorse the TxA statement of position regarding the proposed wall. This is a construction project which affects the environment, both areas of direct concern to our profession.

FB

Reply
Author’s gravatar

Thank you TxA for your position statement, Although I do not support construction of a wall, I appreciate that it acknowledges that some within our organization might take a different view. I agree with Robert Casstevens comment wishing the generalized statements could be more specific and fact-based. However, the Trump administration has been opaque and hostile toward facts and science, so there is a lack of information available to make more definitive statements.

Reply

Leave a Comment