This is the third in a series of posts about generating public conversations about the social responsibility of engineers and engineering using the case of border walls as a starting point. The first two you can find here and here.
On April 6, 2018, for First Friday, we were given our first opportunity to publicly present When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls. Arriving at our site on 2nd St. and Garfield in downtown Phoenix at 3 pm, we had a good three hours to situate and assemble the experience. The weather was perfect, and while there were a few nerves about the wind picking up as the sun set, between the installation being well-designed and the winds dying a little later, we were in good shape for setup, which you can see below:
Big art events with lots of artists and vendors generally means quality attention to your work from a few and passing attention from most. Add in alcohol as the night progresses, and all bets are off. While we thought the design of the experience was spot on in our heads, we didn’t know how and whether people would engage with the substance of it all, namely that we were using the US-Mexico border wall as an entree into broader conversations about the roles and responsibilities of engineers and engineering in society.
We designed the experience to have three stations that met the design criteria mentioned in the last post:
- Station 1: When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls: The name of the entire experience, with 1) a quote on one side of the 12′ tall and 16′ wide wall canvas, highlighting how many engineers and companies see their role as providers of engineering services, regardless of social or political backlash; and on the other side of the wall, 2) the inside of an engineer’s notebook with sketches, thoughts, ideas, and the mundane as they work on designing and building a wall. The wall itself, separating these two sides is meant to represent the wall that engineers build in their heads between the technical work they do, and the lack of consideration of the impacts of their work.
- Station 2: Museum of Walls: The Museum of Walls provides a quick but multi-perspective take on borders, border walls, and engineering, namely about 1) the history of the US-Mexico border; 2) border walls and barriers around the world; and 3) the technical specifications that engineers and companies bidding on the new border wall solicitations from US Customs and Border Patrol.
- Station 3: Wall of Thoughts: Public engagement was central to the design of the experience, and the Wall of Thoughts provided experiencers the opportunity to share their thoughts on engineering, social responsibility, and the border wall, provoked by two questions: 1) What is the role of engineers and engineering in society? and 2) What would you like to ask or say to an engineer or company working on the US-Mexico border wall?
What was so wonderful was that over the entire five hours the installation was up, people slowed down, stopped, read, and themselves engaged in the exact conversations we wanted them to, conversations we overheard, captured on the Wall of Thoughts, and recorded as interviews, as the pictures below show.
In the next couple posts, we’ll talk more about our experiences and takeaways from the experience.
[Thanks, as will be given in every post related to this project:
Cade, Migle, Aliya, and Jorge did a tremendous job with everything from design to execution. Special recognition goes to the ASU facilities team, which includes Chris Wilkes and Matt Lavery, for their grace and technical support, my sister Niyati for helping design the decals, and my friend Chris for helping paint the wall. The School for the Future of Innovation in Society events staff played a huge logistical role, and The Design School helped, too. Funding for the project was provided by the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and The Polytechnic School.
Most importantly, we would be remiss to not acknowledge the deep gratitude we all have for Cade’s father, Mr. Lortie, whose experience in construction and resources made the whole thing possible, from design, to logistics, to building, assembly, and disassembly.]