One Washington Square: Meeting at the Border

By Julia Halprin Jackson

Photo Courtesy of Ronald Rael.

Photo Courtesy of Ronald Rael.

On July 28, 2019, SJSU Associate Professor of Interior Design Virginia San Fratello and UC Berkeley Architecture Professor Ronald Rael slid three pink seesaws through slats in the border fence separating the United States and Mexico and invited children to play. Every aspect of its construction required collaboration on both sides of the fence, from manufacturing to installing to participating in play. Within a day of publishing photos and videos to Instagram, the pink seesaw had gone viral. Though the seesaws were only in operation for 40 minutes, their impact was felt worldwide for weeks.

“As artists, we help people see the world in ways that they had never thought about before, and as designers we make things beautiful and functional,” says San Fratello.

San Fratello and Rael developed the seesaws, which they call a “teeter totter wall,” in response to the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which formalized the wall between the two countries. In 2019, San Fratello and Rael partnered with Taller Herrería in Juarez, Mexico, a workshop that helped manufacture the seesaws, which were designed for fast assembly in case the Border Patrol objected to their installation.

“The teeter totter is a fulcrum where things that happen on one side affect the other side,” says San Fratello. “Archimedes said, ‘give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it, and I shall move the world.’ I am a believer in a fulcrum that allows you to do something much bigger than yourself.”


Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson is a writer on San Jose State University's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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