A Conversation with Ronald Rael
Ronald Rael is a professor of architecture with a joint appointment in the Department of Architecture in the College of Environmental Design, and the Department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. He co-founded the company Emerging Objects with architect Virginia San Fratello and is the author of Earth Architecture (2008), Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary (2017), and Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3-D Printing (2018). I spoke with Rael over the phone. Though he lives in California, at the time of the interview, he was in southern Colorado. It was October 2018, and he told me he was making a cup of hot chocolate.
Bryan Czibesz: Your appointment at UC Berkeley is in architecture but also includes environmental design and art practice; your work is obviously reflective of that, and vice versa. You work in material studies and craft disciplines, too. Can you talk a little bit about your research interests, your background, and how all these things come together in what you do?
Ronald Rael: Sure. Maybe I’ll contextualize it from my background, to start.
I grew up on a small sheep and cattle ranch in Colorado, and this particular part of Colorado was the border between the U.S. and Mexico until 1848. The houses are adobe houses that have been in my family for a long time, and my family has lived in this region for eleven generations. And so it’s this landscape in particular that probably prompts all of my interests. I didn’t get into academia with a kind of intellectual interest. I was just curious about the way people make things traditionally, and how, in a borderland, there are interesting juxtapositions that don’t always merge. It’s a confluence of culture, of food, of language. Sometimes they move together, and sometimes they don’t.