Designed by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello with Colectivo Chopeke, the see-saws were installed for just under 20 minutes on 28 July 2019, slotting between gaps in the steel boundary wall to connect children from El Paso, Texas and the Anapra community in Mexico.
While the installation was only up for a short amount of time, it was filmed and the footage subsequently shared across the media and social media. Rael and San Fratello presented their work as highlighting the divisions caused by the border wall, and its failure to acknowledge that events on one side invariably affected those on the other.
Teeter-Totter Wall was included in the Design Museum's Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition, where it was selected as the winner in the show's ‘Transport’ category – it was then selected as the overall winner.
Razia Iqbal, chair of the 2020 judging panel, said: “The decision to pick the Beazley Designs of the Year winner and category choices was not an easy one. From a wide array of projects exploring urgent topics such as futuristic technology for health and sanitisation, inequality and racism, and water and food security, the Teeter-Totter Wall is the overall and transport category winner of this year’s awards.
“This was an idea that really moved the judges. Not just something that felt symbolically important, it talked about the possibility of things; that all kinds of things are possible when people come together with great ideas and determination.”
Tim Marlow, the museum's director and chief executive, added: “It is great to see a project that is seriously playful and playfully serious is the winner of our Beazley Designs of the Year Award for 2020. The Teeter-Totter Wall was originally installed for only 20 minutes in 2019 across the US/Mexico border, but it encouraged new ways of human connection and struck a chord that continues to resonate far beyond El Paso in the USA and Juarez in Mexico. It remains an inventive and poignant reminder of how human beings can transcend the forces that seek to divide us.”
Other winners in the show include the vegan Impossible Burger 2.0, selected from the ‘Product’ category; the protest performance A Rapist in Your Way (‘Un violador en tu camino’) by Colectivo Lastesis, chosen in the ‘Digital’ category; and the 3D visualisation of SARS-CoV-2 by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins in the ‘Graphics’ category.
While the selection of winners from Designs of the Year is principally a public relations exercise – given the spread of the show, any selection is somewhat arbitrary and comparison largely impossible – the programme has seen a number of notable former winners. Past victors include Forensic Architecture's Counter Investigations exhibition, the Ikea Foundation's Bettter Shelter, and the Gov.uk website.
Teeter-Totter Wall seems a worthy winner. While Eckert and Higgins's 3D visualisation of SARS-CoV-2 might have been a selection that spoke more directly to 2020, Rael and San Fratello's project evinces the kind of socially engaged design that traditionally does well in the exhibition's awards.
“All of this year’s category winnerscontain powerful messages of change and demonstrate design’s capacity to explore new ideas that confront some of the difficult issues the world currently faces,” said Marlowe.