Ronald Rael at the U.S. - Mexico Boundary

Research Expertise and Interest

3D printed buildings, additive manufacturing, earth architecture, mud, artificial intelligence, U.S.-Mexico border wall, arid landscapes, ranching, acequias, alipne deserts, ceramics, rural architecture, ruralism, animation, digital modeling, furry buildings, unnatural materials, rasquachetecture

Research Description

The creative endeavors of Ronald Rael blur the borders between architecture, art, technology, land-based practices, and social justice. He writes books, forms startup companies, advocates for human rights at the U.S.–Mexico border, creates software, invents novel materials and new forms of construction, and designs buildings as an applied research enterprise. His studio is known globally for the project, Teeter Totter Wall, a forty-minute guerilla event that took place on both sides of the U.S. – Mexico Borderwall to bring families and communities together. He co-founded the startup company, FORUST, which rematerializes wood waste via 3D Printing to produce beautiful end-use products and has innovated the processes for the robotic construction of raw earthen buildings.  His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, The London Design Museum, LACMA, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Renwick Smithsonian American Art Museum. He is the Chair of the Department of Art Practice and Eval Li Memorial Chair in Architecture at the University of California Berkeley.

In the News

Teeter totters as activism: How the border wall became a playground

When UC Berkeley architect Ronald Rael took his bright pink teeter totters to the U.S.-Mexico border wall, he didn’t know what he and his team did next would go viral. He just wanted to create a moment where people on both sides of the wall felt connected to each other. “Women and children completely disempowered this wall for a moment, for 40 minutes,” says Rael. “There was a kind of sanctuary hovering over this event.”

A New Recipe for Construction

Bakar Fellow Ronald Rael is advancing a type of 3-D printing that could add more beauty, variety and sustainability to building designs.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
January 19, 2021
Lanre Bakare

A collection of fuchsia seesaws stationed across the US-Mexico border wall have won a prestigious design award in the UK for their innovation in building bridges across the communities. The toy's creators, Ronald Rael, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San José State University, said they hoped the design would encourage people to question the effectiveness of borders and help to heal divisions. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News.

August 1, 2019
Simon Romero
Children and families from Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, gathered last weekend to play and chat on pink seesaws that had been installed through the border fence in a symbolic and humanistic art installation. The project, co-conceived by architecture professor Ronald Rael and his wife and business partner Virginia San Fratello, an associate design professor at San Jose State University, responds to President Trump's efforts to build a wall along the border, in addition to barriers already place there during the President Barack Obama and George W. Bush's administrations. "Actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side," Professor Rael says of the symbolic rationale for seesaws. From Sunland Park, New Mexico, where the installation was placed opposite, Mayor Javier Perea said: "This displays creativity in making the most of the wall that's been built in our midst. ... And it showcases the fact that people live along the border and get along pretty well with each other despite the wall." Link to video. For more on this, see our story from 2011 at Berkeley News and this story at UC Press. Stories on this topic have appeared in more than 650 sources around the world.
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March 15, 2019
Patricia Leigh Brown
Architecture professor Ronald Rael and his wife and business partner Virginia San Fratello, also an architect, are on the forefront of using 3-D printing to create sustainable and artful buildings using waste materials like mud, nutshells, and coffee grounds. The "Cabin of Curiosities" prototype they created in their backyard includes a façade of succulents growing from rosette-patterned tiles that were 3-D printed from chardonnay grape skins, sawdust and cement. Their work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Cooper Hewitt. Last year, they published Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing. In an extensive profile, this reporter writes: "To spend time at Mr. Rael's graduate 'print FARM' -- the Facility for Architecture, Research and Materials at the U.C. Berkeley College of Environmental Design, is to feel a bit like Lewis Carroll's Alice as she took her first nibble on the mushroom. It is to encounter a gray 'Seat Slug' printed from cement. A light-as-a-feather, star-shaped 'Poof' from tires that were pulverized and freeze-dried. It is to wonder about strange-looking squiggles resembling black licorice shoelaces. ... Some of the most mesmerizing projects are the couple's collaborations with scientists. These include ceramic units for seeding coral larvae, spearheaded by Secore, a conservation organization that restores coral reefs. Scuba divers have already placed these microhabitats -- which have little legs and look as if they might skitter across the sea bottom -- in endangered reefs." For more on this, see our story from 2018 at Berkeley News.
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