Dezeen Magazine

"Play can be an act of resistance" says Design of the Year 2020 winner Virginia San Fratello

Following the news that US architecture studio Rael San Fratello has won the Design Museum's Design of the Year award, here's another chance to see our exclusive interview with partner Virginia San Fratello in which she discusses the studio's border-wall-straddling see-saw.

Speaking to Dezeen in a live interview as part of Dezeen's Virtual Design Festival last year, San Fratello explained the thinking behind the Teeter-Totter Wall, which was named Design of the Year today.

Designed by San Fratello and Rael San Fratello co-founder Ronald Rael, the seesaws, or teeter-totters, were designed to create a physical connection between communities on either side of the wall. The installation was in place for 40 minutes before it was removed.

"For 40 minutes we were able to show the world that play can be an act of resistance," San Fratello told Dezeen. "And the wall became a literal fulcrum for US-Mexico relations."

"Children and adults were connected in meaningful ways, with the recognition that actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other," she continued.

Design of the Year 2020 winner: pink seesaws at the US-Mexico border
Teeter-Totter Wall was named Design of the Year today

In the interview, which covered many of Rael San Fratello's projects, the architect described the seesaws as a "guerrilla project", as it was installed without official permission.

"We have worked hard to smuggle in design at the border as you can see in our teeter-totter," she said. "Our designs are often a commentary on how people have reacted to this wall over the years."

"This was an opportunity to start to break down this barrier and to bring people together," she added.

The seesaws cross the border

A five-person jury, which included designer Camille Walala and Ma-tt-er founder Seetal Solanki, chose the pink seesaws as the overall winner of the Beazley Designs of the Year awards, which are organised by London's Design Museum every year.

The decision was announced a day before Joe Biden's inauguration as US president and Donald Trump's departure from office.

According to the architect San Fratello, the project was designed to bring people together and has taken on new meaning following the recent invasion of the US capitol building by Trump protesters.

"It's become increasingly clear that walls don't work," San Fratello told Dezeen after the award was announced. "Walls did not keep the violent protestors out of our government buildings and they have not kept Covid out of our country. We should be building bridges, not walls."

"We are living in a time when people are longing for meaningful connections and we would like to think the teeter-totter can be an example for how we come together, to create balance and equality," she told Dezeen.

Along with the overall prize, Teeter-Totter Wall was named the winner in the transport category. Other winners included a 3D rendering of the coronavirus particle, which won top prize in the graphics category.

modular school for squatters in India that was designed to be quickly dismantled and reassembled was named the architecture winner.