Virginia San Fratello’s Teeter Totter Wall Earns Beazley Design of the Year Award

The Teeter Totter Wall, designed by SJSU Design Chair Virginia San Fratello and UC Berkeley Architecture Professor Ronald Rael, in 2019. Photo courtesy of Ronald Rael.

In summer 2019, a design project entitled the “Teeter Totter Wall” created by San José State Design Department Chair Virginia San Fratello and UC Berkeley Architecture Professor Ronald Rael became an international sensation when a video of their pink seesaw went viral. As featured in the spring/summer 2019 edition of Washington Square, the project was a collaborative effort involving communities along the United States-Mexico border. By working together, San Fratello, Rael and a collective of Mexican artists created a pink seesaw that used the border wall as the physical and metaphoric fulcrum. Children on both sides of the wall were invited to play for 40 minutes.

A year and a half later, the project has once again captured the imagination of the world. On January 19, 2021, the Design Museum in London announced that the project had won the prestigious Beazley Design of the Year, an honor that recognizes the most innovative designs across fashion, architecture, digital, transport, product and graphic design from the previous year, as nominated by public and design experts worldwide. The winning designers’ work will be included in a physical and virtual exhibition alongside the 73 other nominees at the Design Museum in London.

“The Beazley Design of the Year are the Oscars of the design world,” said Razia Iqbal, BBC journalist and chair of the judging committee for the 2020 Beazley Awards. In an award announcement video released on the Design Museum website, Iqbal said that judges were extremely moved by the Teeter Totter Wall. “The project wasn’t just something that felt symbolically important. It talked about the possibility of things. That’s what moved us and made us feel that all kinds of things are possible when people come together with great ideas and determination.”

San Fratello and Rael were surprised and delighted to hear the news of their winning design, a project that had been in progress for nearly a decade and existed as a physical installation for less than an hour, yet whose impact continues to reverberate internationally, more than a year later.

“Great design allows us to see something in a way we could not before,” said Shannon Miller, dean of San José State’s College of Humanities and the Arts. “These seesaws did exactly that—transforming borders from barriers to bridges, and making division instead an opportunity for connection, play and joy.”

While the Teeter Totter Wall is not currently installed on the border, San Fratello welcomes further collaboration with their partner in Mexico, Colectivo Chopeke, who helped fabricate metal for the seesaw in 2019. She hopes that the project will eventually result in actual social change.

“I think this project speaks to the horror of the border wall, it speaks to the fact that this land was once united and is now divided, and it shows the faces of the families, the mothers and children who live at the border,” said San Fratello from her Colorado home, where she has been sheltering in place and teaching remotely since fall 2020. “In terms of a larger picture, the project speaks to trade and balances between our two nations and the way we treat our neighbors, the care that we take for people that we play and work with. We need to bring joy to other people’s life at this time where we’re so disconnected and hungry for meaningful connections.”


Graphic Designer Crosses Stage, Honors Family 43 Years After Graduating

Alice Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, walks across the stage 43 years after completing her degree. Photo by Josie Lepe.

In the quiet moments before the SJSU College of the Humanities and the Arts commencement ceremony began, Alice Perez waited patiently in graduation cap and gown for her onstage moment. Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, could not participate in her own commencement ceremony 43 years ago due to illness, and for years regretted not being able to attend. Earlier this spring, she reached out to the College of Humanities and the Arts, who collaborated with SJSU’s Special Events team to include her in the 2019 ceremony. Her mother Jennie, sister Trish McRae and best friend Diana Gomez approached her with leis, all four of them smiling and giddy as they anticipated her crossing the stage.

“This is a dream come true,” Perez said as she watched the deans approach the podium. “I am forever indebted to the San Jose State University Special Events folks and the dean for helping me. I am turning 66 next week, and this is proof that anything is possible.”

Perez bedazzled her grad cap with an image of her father Rudy wearing one of his famous garlic hats that he made for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Originally from Gilroy, Perez sought out San Jose State’s graphic design program as an undergraduate. For years, she said she worked for a print design shop before transitioning to work in design and IT for the county of San Francisco. She moved to Glendale following her retirement, but said she still volunteers her expertise as a graphic designer for organizations such as the Kiwanis La Cañada, the Chamber of Commerce of La Cañada and the Community Scholarship Foundation of La Cañada Flintridge.

Sisters Trish McRae, Alice Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, with their mother Jennie Perez. Photo by Josie Lepe.

“I am doing graphics and PR—all of the things that I learned here,” she said. “San Jose State really gave me a wonderful education. It’s exciting to be back on campus.”

Though it had been decades since she completed her degree, Perez felt it important to include her mother Jennie in her ceremony.

“Alice was the first of all the grandkids in our family to graduate from college,” said her sister McRae. “Many of us went on to graduate, but she was the leader in our family. Our parents only had an eighth-grade education, so to have our 88-year-old mother here is exciting. We’re so proud of Alice.”

During the ceremony, College of Humanities and the Arts Dean Shannon Miller included a special shout-out to Perez.

“Hers is a great story—like so many of yours—about defying expectations and becoming the first in her family to get a college degree,” said Miller. “She wanted to honor her mother and family by going through today’s ceremony. We are delighted that she is here with us today.”