Architect and professor Ronald Rael joined a movement championed by Alight that aims to bring radical hospitality to stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border. The move further extends Rael’s additive manufacturing profile into the humanitarian space. His architecture studio, Rael San Fratello, recently bridged the border using seesaws in a living art project called Teeter-Totter Wall.
Alight, in conjunction with the Burning Man community’s Burners Without Borders, Catholic Sisters, Rael and filmmakers Lina Plioplyte and Kai Schoenhals, make up the group looking to establish community, sustainability and hope. The program is called A Little Piece of Home.
Alight’s program, initially co-designed with IDEO.org, will build a place that evokes feelings of joy and inspiration while migrants await refuge. The team will transform three different shelters along the border, creating community and sustainable tools that support residents to come together through building, cooking, education and shared experiences.
The transformation of the shelters, beginning at Casa de la Misericordia in Nogales, Mexico where over 200 migrants have sought refuge, will create welcoming spaces while providing human-worthy services including healthcare, childcare spaces, practical education services, gardens, computer labs, recreation areas and more.
Ronald Rael’s AM profile springs from his work as founder of Emerging Objects. Though this company does not figure into Alight’s partnership, its focus on 3D printing objects for the built environment suits the partnership’s purpose. The company collaborated with FORUST to develop 3D printed wood products. The company also printed structures from a mud-based material.
Rael has designed traditional hornos, mud ovens, for the Alight project. We have no word on the means through which the ovens might be constructed, but his prior use of mud-based material is, hopefully, suggestive. These ovens, however they are constructed, provide a sustainable cooking tool. These ovens, along with the other work the team is doing, symbolizes community, resilience and belonging.
Rael commented on the project: “There is a saying in the borderlands, ‘while the border divides, the earth unites (la frontera divide pero la tierra une),’ and traditional adobe ovens made from the earth have always brought people together through food, fire, storytelling, warmth and the experience of a community coming together to build an horno. Together, we built more than an horno — we built friendships and a sense of accomplishment and connection with the migrant families living there.”