As for their looks? This was the most surprising thing of all. When I first caught sight of them from the SUV, I worried about making even basic distinctions among them. They looked virtually identical. But as I spent more time in this odd open-air architecture gallery, it became clear that the aesthetic spectrum the prototypes covered was very wide.
The one furthest east, by #Fisher_Sand_&_Gravel, was the idea of a wall stripped to its essence, suggesting a kind of accidental minimalism, a section of a Peter Zumthor facade after a trip through the federal bureaucracy. Made of three panels that matched almost perfectly the color of the dirt at its feet, it was the simplest of the group and also — at $365,000 — among the least expensive to produce.
A very different sensibility was evident in the slab designed by #ELTA. Its bottom half was concrete, its upper half metal. The concrete section (though only on the side facing the U.S., per the official guidelines) was painted white and blue, as if it were covering a split-level ranch house outside Phoenix.
Also in this decorative vein was the concrete wall by #Texas_Sterling_Construction, which featured a white faux-brick pattern stamped into its American side. The argument these two walls made was pragmatism à la HGTV: that any piece of construction could be humanized, even made cheerful, with some measured, cost-effective ornament.
What the prototypes didn’t resemble, in any practical sense, was a wall. (A swatch of fabric is not a shirt; a lone panel from an umbrella won’t keep you dry when it rains.) It wasn’t just that they suggested Potemkin slices, architectural stand-ins to match the human ones Trump’s campaign invited to the news conference kicking off his White House bid.