Submission: August 01, 2016
Registration: July 18, 2016
Language: English
Location: USA / Mexico Border
Prizes: 1st. Prize: $5,000, 2nd. Prize: $2,000, 3rd. Prize: $1,000
Type: Open


By any estimate, the current fencing along America’s southern border is ineffective at best, a dismal failure at worst. Along its span, it is made variously of sheets of corrugated metal, chain-link and other fencing, and concrete. For the most part, this patchwork is exceedingly ugly, covered in graffiti or otherwise vandalized.

What the magazine Slate has called “The Great Wall of Trump” may or may not be a better answer. But if, as polls indicate, it is an idea that is gaining some traction among a significant amount of Americans, we believe it should be considered as a serious architectural question. A border wall of any sort presents formidable challenges for the architect. First, Slate pointed out that the wall would traverse valley, mountain, river, Indian reservation, private land, state property, even the library of a state university. The permitting alone might be insurmountable, let alone the land acquisition, neither of which are provided for in Trump’s proposal.

Second, materials can be tricky. A CNN news story pointed out that the wall will have to extend at least five feet underground to prevent tunneling and at least 20 feet above ground to make scaling it difficult (Trump plans a height of 30 or 40 feet). After consulting with civil engineers, architects and academics, the CNN report weighed the pros and cons of using readily available cinderblocks and poured concrete. They determined that stacking and mortaring the former would be cost prohibitive and so labor-intensive as to be next to impossible. Poured concrete was more feasible, but it also ran into problems. If the concrete is poured in hot conditions (a desert, say), the concrete will likely not dry properly, leaving the wall susceptible to crumbling. If poured concrete were used, however, a wall of this size would require 339 million cubic feet of the material, plus five billion pounds of reinforced steel.

Which brings us to cost. Trump initially claimed his concrete wall could be built for approximately $8 billion. But as soon as media began consulting with engineers and coming up with numbers of their own, he revised the figure upward: to $10-$12 million. Many sources say this still grossly underestimates the actual cost. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office estimated that one mile of fencing was between $2.8 million and $3.9 million. That means that at 2009 prices, completing the existing barriers (that is, erecting another 1,370 miles of fence) would require between a little over $3.75 billion and about $5.23 billion in material costs. But adjusted for inflation and taking into account transporting materials to remote locations (the middle of the desert or the mountains), the approximately 40,000 workers needed for the job, land acquisition costs, technology to monitor the fence and other expenses, those numbers quickly escalate. CNBC, consulting with the deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, came up with a range of $15 billion to $25 billion. The Washington Post figure was about $42 billion for just 1,000 miles of 25-foot concrete wall.

Lastly, there is the issue of maintenance. The Corps of Engineers estimated that the cost of a fence’s 25-year life cycle would range between $16.4 million to $70 million per mile (presumably the spread is wide due to the unpredictable nature of the degree of vandalism perpetrated by illegal crossers, severe weather conditions at different points along the fence and other factors). And Politico estimated that maintenance of a concrete wall would run about $750 million annually.

That is our challenge: Design a barrier of architectural merit that is realistically priced to build and made of materials that will not only be effective in keeping out waves of illegal immigration, but that will also be relatively inexpensive to maintain.


1. This is an anonymous competition and the registration number is the only means of identification.

2. The official language of the competition is English.

3. The registration fee is non-refundable.

4. Contacting the Jury is prohibited.

5. The competition organizer, reserves the right to modify the competition schedule if deemed necessary.

6. Entrants will be disqualified if any of the competition rules are not considered.

7. Participation assumes acceptance of the regulations.


Early Registration Fee is USD $50 until May 16, 2016. From May 17 until July 18, 2016, a Late Registration Fee of USD $75 will apply. Last day to register will be July 18, 2016.

One registration = One project. Participants may submit various projects, but must register each entry.


This is a digital competition and no hard copies will be accepted.

The project submission must contain the following files:

1. Two boards with the project information including plans, sections, elevations and perspectives.
Participants are encouraged to submit all the information they consider necessary to explain their proposal. These boards should be 24-inches (h)  X 36-inches (w) in HORIZONTAL format. The resolution of the boards must be 150 dpi, RGB mode and saved as JPG files. The upper right corner of each board must contain the participation number. There should not be any marks or any other form of identification. The files must be named after the registration number followed by the board number. For example: 0101-1.jpg and 0101-2.jpg.

2. A DOC file containing the project statement (600 words max). This file must be named after the registration number followed by the word “statement”. For example: 0101-statement.doc.

3. A DOC file containing the entrants’ personal information, including name, profession, address, and email. This file must be named after the registration number followed by the word “info”. For example: 0101-info.doc.

All the files must be compressed into a ZIP folder named after your registration number. For example: 0101.zip.

Entrants must submit their proposal to info@buildingtheborderwall.com no later than August 1, 2016.

Go to the competition’s website