With measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Chicago has been put on lock-down. Our talk at AIA is postponed from April 1st to a later date.
Best health, A+A
With measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Chicago has been put on lock-down. Our talk at AIA is postponed from April 1st to a later date.
Best health, A+A
Since returning, survival got the best of my discipline for logging. This does not mean this project was lost underneath +finding employment in an architectural office +moving to a new home +meeting work deadlines +adjustments to life after school in general. Very much so we stayed active in Chicago, engaging with projects here, and traveled shortly to San Francisco, surveying a couple interests. Here are the entries that I am missing:
Right now, we are focussing on preparing a report and lecture to be presented on the first of April, so I do not know whether I will finish these entries until afterwards. Nonetheless, they will be covered in this report, which we will make available online.
This is just the beginning, more news to come.
We visited the Water Treatment Plant in Atotonilco de Tula. The plant treats the black waters that Mexico City produces and sends to the Tula River through the TEO (Túnel Emisor Oriente). Tula and the river that gives its name are located in the Valle del Mezquital, an Otomi region in the State of Hidalgo where the main economic activity is agriculture. The plant is now operating for three consecutive years but the waste from CDMX has been sent to the valley since the late 50’s. So yes, as you can now imagine the crops of the region have been watered with sewage water, chemicals and political disdain (dead bodies included).
Although it was already on our plans to visit Valle del Mezquital. We visited Tula following the advice of basically everyone we’ve met until now. Most of them claimed that there are 4 places in Central Mexico that condense and reveal what we are looking at (waste, water and food) in striking ways: Xochimilco, Central de Abasto, Milpa Alta and Valle del Mezquital.
The relation that Valle del Mezquital has with Mexico City goes a long way. But in the case of our study this is pretty straight forward. The city sends its shit through a 10m diameter pipe, the pipe meets the river in Tula, the farmers use the river to water the crops, and then the products are sold in Mexico City and around through Central de Abasto. We talked to some farmers that said that the problem is not human waste in water but chemicals. So some of them thought that the water treatment plant would take care of the lead poisoning the crops and have a more healthy production cycle.
The mood is intense, charged with distrust at the same time that they are eager to share and seek for accomplices that can help them to push their struggle further.
We were not sure how to locate the place where the TEO meets Tula River so we looked for advice in the Water and Sewage Management Office of Tula. They said that the information we were requesting was only available at the Town Hall. We felt it like non-sense but, being familiar with Mexican bureaucracy it kind of made sense, so… Once in the Town Hall, at least 5 people told us that they didn’t have that information and sent us back to Water and Sewage Management. Pretty common thing to happen in Mexican bureaucracy but due to the scale of THE ISSUE it seemed more like the information is not to be shared with foreigners or maybe the interns just don’t care.
While leaving the office a little bit frustrated I approached two men that looked like they were doing some kind paperwork in the offices. They knew and were part of an NGO called Movimiento Popular y Campesino Nacional. They told us their story, the critical degrees of pollution, the food crisis (corn is not growing and they are pushed to import, guess from whom? 🇺🇸), the floods of black water, the years and years of chemicals in the soil and the water leading to lots of people having some kind of cancer…
They community pushed the Federal Government for years to get a water treatment plant. After fifteen years of struggle, on 2016 the plant opened and started working but, not quite.
Locals argue that nothing has happened, that the plant is there without any actual benefit for the region. Where according to our interlocutors, they one that actually gets a benefit is the hydroelectric plant of the CFE (Federal Commission of Electricity). They didn’t explain exactly how but later on we will see how this is interesting in itself. We said goodbye after getting their contact information and some blocks down the road on our way to the car, someone approached us. A man in his 60’s -said that he saw us talking to the other guys close to Town Hall and heard our interest in the pollution of the river and its relation to food production. He asked who those people were, he said he was part of the actual NGO pushing the government for solutions to the environmental crisis -he actually showed us a copy of letter signed by at least 15 people that was sent to Andres Manuel López Obrador demanding a response to the urgency of the situation in the Valley.
The situation left us with a weird feeling. It was between creepy and kind to be followed to talk about the plant and the environmental crisis. The vibe of the conversations was full of distrust, caution and enthusiasm for the subject. And with reasons, as in basically everywhere around the globe, environmental activists are in danger. They are afraid of something, but, of whom?
We got to the plant. Surrounded by open air mining, there’s a peculiar smell in the air. Not disgusting, not nice, just, odd. We were received by an armed guard that looked at us again with mistrust, and also a little bit of confusion. What do you want? – We want to visit the plant… Is it possible to schedule a tour? -Where do you come from, who do you work for? -Ahm, a US art institution… -let me ask.
After a while we could talk to the human resources representative. He explained to us how the plant works. Around 70 people work there, it is mostly automatic, so it only needs some skillful operators and managers.
We ask because there are certain tensions with the community because they are upset. The change that they expected is not happening. And they are right, according to what the manager said, the plant gets clogged constantly as the waste that arrives is so massive that the filters flood. And the plant is was not working at its full capacity, as the tunnel construction just finished and the plant would start receiving and treating 50 cubic meters per second. The plant started working on 2017, but the tunnel was working at its full capacity on July 2019.
Cars, fridges, laundry machines, human bodies, animals. The list of objects that end up in the filters is compelling, adding up to that, we are talking about the organic residues of approximately 10.5 million people and other toxic metals and chemicals from unregulated industry.
“If Mexico City would manage its waste properly, things would run smoothly”… Here, the displacement of responsibility on the matter is revealing on the scale of the problem. How will dialogue among the different positions of each element of the equation might happen?
We are fascinated by it, and I think, precisely that inability to grasp all the vertices of the crisis is at the core of why we are running towards the abyss, and something that we might keep looking at. I will probably continue adding stuff to this text but I needed to share, also, to start a dialogue with you dear reader.
In the past week, we moved back to Real del Monte in the State of Hidalgo, north of México City, to probe the region’s geographical diversity and its relationship to the city’s cleanup, and a general exploration of food/water/waste techniques and local treatments of architecture. This included a look at Pachuca, Real del Monte, El Chico National Park, Actopan, Tula, and Valle de Mezquital’s Planta de Tratamiento de Aguas Residuales at Atotonilco. Speaking lots with locals exposed cultural tendencies and tensions surrounding the built environment.
I will share photos/captions of Pachuca and Real del Monte now, and catch up on writing in a week when I leave México. Alberto is going to write a post about Tula+Valle de Mezquital, extending on our conversations and sightings there. We left Hidalgo yesterday and stopped in Puebla. Today, we’re on to Oaxaca City, and then close to México City’s airport for an easy escape.
Before we left México City, we were fortunate to meet with Matthew Vitz, author of “A City on a Lake” (mentioned in an earlier post). He shared his process behind the book, which involved around a decade of research in and out of México City and an uncovering of the under-spoken narratives of its history, and gave some pointers on how and where to find good city archives.
I wish I can write more now, but will catch up thoroughly later with the time to arrange good logs. Until then, ciao—
We are getting ready to leave México City, planning for a week and a half of car before I must fly out of México for a prior commitment with family. The car will be a big help – we have added many places to the itinerary that lay on the perimeter of México City and are far too difficult to reach with public transportation.
In the last few days, we visited Central de Abastos (the main food distribution market), El Centro neighborhood (on local markets there), and had some exciting book hauls in Narvarte. Alberto describes Central de Abastos and El Centro to be “the guts of the city,” in that you can find anything at gargantuan amounts – enough and more to feed the metropolis.
We visited Central de Abastos, the bulk-buy food market distribution center for the city and other states surrounding, around 2pm – which is already the end of the workday for its workers. Their day starts as early as 5am, where traffic in and out of the campus travels to feed smaller markets and restaurants. The logistical agenda for this market is outstanding – Alberto mentions it is probably that if you order fish at the cost of México, it has already been through Central de Abastos in some way or form.
We got lost there – isles of long warehouses home venders for any vegetable or flower imaginable. We visited structures dedicated to solely oranges, cactus, corn, and more, and only saw a small percentage of the market. Access to the campus via vehicle had a toll, and bathrooms, restaurants, and showers were speckled regularly – marking that not only is this a market, but a world of its own inside México City.
Organization of venders were capsulated to smaller stalls within each structure, where the quality of food management is dependent on the individual selling. Some venders built beautiful displays (sorting produce by size and color) and others lay produce on the given ground, for example, which had a bed of rot/whatnot coating the span of market. Processing of some foods, such as corn, produces unkempt piles of husks and ears. Other piles of foods, such as herbs and roots, discarded after they could not be sold, are scavenged by customers.
The system is not perfect, but huge portions of the population rely on it to make their livings. I recall my undergraduate capstone at UIC, a visionary city studio directed by Alexander Eisenschmidt. The prompt was based around the relocation of such a market in São Paulo, because its massive vehicle traffic halted mobility in the city. While strategizing, however, it is clear how many the relocation would impact. The Central de Abastos would perhaps impact similarly if it were to be updated/managed differently.
In El Centro, historic Spanish center of México City, storefronts are categorized per city block and street. A street for only lights, one for musical instruments, one for circuit boards, stationary, any object you need – it’s there. My thoughts were on physically seeing the parts of my projects that relied on ordering online, while Alberto thought of a time that his phone was stolen and his “find my iPhone” app took him to one of the venders at El Centro’s mobile street market.
We came by a second-hand bookstore where we found a transcript of a Monsanto Earnings Report, a history of the architecture of Teotihucán, and Gilbero Esparza’s artist’s book “Cultivos”. A good haul, but we’re running out of luggage space.
Yesterday, roads were blocked for México City’s pride parade celebration, and today the air is sweet.
I am almost up to speed with the logs – this post will sum up the last few days. We visited Los Pinos, the (former) presidents’ estate in Chapultepec Park, with Jan and Tania. It was emptied and opened to the public upon Amlo’s inauguration last year, because he is not living there, so it is a strange place. Tania and Alberto have more input about past presidential offices as native Mexicans, but it has been clear that environmental issues stem from political play.
The house is massive – built from the outside in, it has rhinoceros proportions and weird circulation. Tania jokes that it is metaphoric of past presidencies: fancy shell, empty content, as common knowledge.
Our talk with architect Carlos Bedoya, founder of firm Productora and gallery LIGA, granted insight to how a CDMX-based architectural firm functions in mind of CDMX’s environmental issues and how they use their gallery platform in combat. Carlos recognizes the problem of development in México City, where the title of architect is torn between to build or not to build, adapt or comply, change the discourse direction. We agreed that in this case, much of what’s new works against saving the world – that architecture in the hand of mass developers seeking investment may not be the answer. It’s a difficult problem if we are to gaze through an architectural lens for post-rural, but one we are attempting to piece together for a responsible outcome.
Carlos spoke to us about the renovation Productora and LIGA’s office and gallery space, which lies amidst an old factory shared by other businesses (factory campus not pictured for privacy, as was under construction during our visit). He mentioned the efforts to retrofit green aspects to the property, which lies under Productora’s design instruction, and the factory owner’s qualification for business tenants to include programming for public engagement within their missions. For Productora, that means LIGA – and Carlos was excited to tell us about their upcoming exhibition (an open call for imaginary machines) about water in México City. Through LIGA, and work for other cultural institutions, the firm experiments through space and program how to communicate messages to the public sphere – a critical and complex tool in architecture.
Joaquín, architectural writer and educator at CENTRO, spoke to one of his teaching tactics for non-architects: the case-study of Carso neighborhood in Polanco – an area developed by millionaire Carlos Slim – and its border conditions, which differ drastically because of social and economic inequalities. We took the next day to visit that area, which included a visit to the Anthropology Museum, Museo Jumex, and Museo Soumaya (a gift from Carlos Slim to a later wife). I recalled another conversation with Elena Tudela about a linear park she and her firm developed for this area, and the complications it prompted as it crossed from very rich areas to poor ones.
After spending a day with Isla Urbana, we met with urbanist and educator Elena Tudela. Her current work at firm ORU and at the School of Architecture at UNAM revolves around masterplanning public space and environmental regeneration in México City, including regeneration of Xochimilco’s chinampa system. The ancient chinampas, or floating gardens, is a perfect system according to Elena – and is now coming back into trend. Xochimilco’s renewal gifts back the natural fertile ground for agriculture, and the hippest restaurants in México City are now using that produce, truly fresh and local, to feed their customers.
Lovely Elena shared her work and research with us, which is respectfully and thoroughly sensitive to México City’s water history, and discussed with us her feedback on our goal for the project: to focus our interests where water, waste, and food converge – one key example being Xochimilco today. After our time with her, we realized how little time we spent there the other day. We toured one canal on the edge of the chinampa system, and only saw chinampas being used as fútbol fields, empty lots. The next day, we decided to visit again for an extended tour with political scientist Tania Islas Weinstein (PhD UChicago) and Jan Dutkiewicz (Fellow at Jon Hopkins).
On our second trip, we took a different trajinera route and saw much more: trash boats, chinampas with crops, homes, bars and restaurants, trajinera repair shops, more. Still we were on a route catered towards tourists, but now with better understanding of how the chinampas are used and its importance. Jan, who sparked our initial interest in the project through his work on the policy of lab-grown meats, shared “A City on a Lake”, a recant of the ecological and political history of water in México City’s urban growth.
There is an outstanding amount to understand about the exploitation of water in this city, and that is where projects like Elena’s reveal the amazing efforts to return to the original geologies of the region for an efficient and nurturing solution. The adaption of agricultural systems in their respective environments, like the trout farm, feels right in our post-rural vision.
Early Tuesday, we joined Isla Urbana (including founder Renata) and volunteer students in the installation of a Tlaloque 200 system at a home in Tlalpan, south of México City. There were about five bio-engineering undergraduates from the University of Pennsylvania, and five students from a high school in Dallas Texas, who were a part of student-run organizations on water activism within their schools and fundraised to work with Isla Urbana on installations around México City.
The home was built on an incline, so our working space was narrowed to the path leading up to it. Renata and other Isla Urbana members first planned based on what was on hand: the allowable space, the parts they brought, and the existing conditions (which built off of a miniature harvesting system they had installed prior). The planning was quick, strategic, and resourceful – and as most of the team were students plus Alberto and I, we got a lesson on how each part operated within the system. We used nothing more than the Tlaloque 200 set, PVC piping, glue, measuring tape, shovels, levels, and saws.
The effort took six hours, but would have been less without the effort to conceal piping underground and without an extra run to the hardware store for an extra PVC joint. Afterwards, the team enjoyed dinner with the resident family.
The technology is extremely simple – water falls onto the roof, is drained into the “first flush” tank (which collects the first 15 minutes of rain, the unusable polluted part), overflows into the main vessel where a basket collects sediment, and boom. We saw how simple the installation truly was; and, as Renata mentioned in our talk with her, the rest is correct maintenance (education, care from the resident family, and follow up from Isla Urbana).
A day before, we met with Sofia Arredondo, an artist/designer who collaborated with Isla Urbana on a site-specific public installation called “bajoTecH2O” in 2018. The installation, temporarily placed in Atrio de San Francisco, acted as both as a water fountain and forum – with intention of informing the public of Isla Urbana’s technology, attempting to skew locals’ attitudes on water from outside the ‘reliable’ plastic bottle.
Sofia stressed her goal for an affective communication in México City. Now, her work is geared towards revealing environmental dismays, and the efforts those can take to combat against it. Her future work hopes to inpire another audience: those with either the power or money to implement serious changes in México. We ask the same question: how can we trick the government? How do we fund this? As we have learned from Isla Urbana: the technology is there, now we need everyone on board.
I am about a week behind on entries – we have packed the days to exhaustion. Today, we are resting, working, recalibrating. I will separate the week into multiple posts, for our log’s comprehension. Since the pyramids at Teotihuacán, in order: Bosque de las Truchas in San Miguel Regla, talk with artist Sofia Arredondo in Condesa, install of a water harvesting system with Isla Urbana in Tlalpan, talk with urbanist and educator Elena Tudela at the School of Architecture UNAM, an additional and extended trip through Xochimilco with political scientist Tania Islas Weinstein and Jan Dutkiewicz (update on last post forthcoming), los Pinos in Chapultepec, talk with architectural writer and educator Joaquín Díez-Canedo, talk with architect Carlos Bedoya from architectural firm Productora and platform LIGA, and Museo Nacional de Antropología/Museo Jumex/Museo Soumaya. Now, we feel a better grip on focus for our remaining time.
Alberto, Leandro (a friend joining for the Hemispheric Institute), and I rented a car over the weekend to see Las Pyramides at Teotihuacán, and to stay in Real del Monte to then see a trout farm in San Miguel Regla.
Pachuca-Real del Monte is famous in Hidalgo for silver mining and the surrounding area is mountainous and forested, so local economies partly prosper from eco-tourism. Nearby San Miguel Regla holds an economical-environmental asset that we were eager to see: El Bosque de las Truchas, a trout farm that doubles as an attraction park. In the same town, there is another eco-touristic park with waterfalls (we did not enter, but peeked from above) and an odd sight of a sunken hacienda amidst a large lake.
The trout farm and park is situated on a mountain’s side, where it adapts to an existing natural stream and lake. It is treated with many tourist attractions such as boating, ziplining, eating, and historical museums. The trout farm’s system consists of cascading pools for the trouts’ early lives and a larger lake, where visitors are free to fish and cook their catch.
We walked along the perimeter of the larger trout lake, where visitors indeed fished using poles and nets, and ate at provided picnic tables and grills. We noted large pumps or filters (?) situated at the highest point of the system, at the base of where the natural stream entered the farm. We viewed the pools, which also allowed visitors to feed the growing fish.
This park was an excellent rural example of farm-to-table eating – where we watched visitors engage directly with their food on site, but the spatial demands of the farm could not be condensed any further as not to lose quality of life for these fish. Additionally, the farm is a site-specific adaptation, where the architectural technology works in harmony with the existing natural conditions. In any case, as the town’s economy also revolves around the success of the farm, it is an important case study for us to consider the lasting effects of this typology culturally and economically.
While there, we also visited their “Cueva del Conde” or “Cave of Counts”, a mined tunnel for water. There were gnomes involved, which has a part in the history of trout farming here, but I did not dive into that subject. We took a tour of the tunnel, which was pitch black and descended gradually, but no longer takes part in the farming system.
We’re considering now how these wider typologies could come to play in an urban environment, or if it should at all. Wider cultural-political issues in México are having us rethink the agency the city overtakes in disregard to other parts of the country.
To measure the extremities of México City’s condition, an understanding of its original (pre-hispanic) state as the city of Teotihuacán is a must. I learned about it through initial researching and through our the work of our animation pals; but otherwise, the ancient city is almost untraceable as it was buried under the monster that is México City. We took a couple days to tour Xochimilco (original canal systems of Lake Texcoco) and Teotihuacán (the Avenue of the Dead, and the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon) to envision what the preserved Aztec city was like in its hay-day, and to find their connection with today’s México City.
Xochimilco made clear water’s importance in planning during Teotihuacán’s time – after-all, the city was built on a lake. Today, México City sits in a valley and floods when it rains (which has been everyday, during our stay). We took a trajinera tour at pre-hispanic speeds, how once a whole city operated, and how today is used touristically and festively. We pondered how this system now connects to the surrounding water bodies, which still needs answering.
Teotihuacán offered more glimpse of scale of planning, architecture, and their political placement. Also now functioning through a touristic framework, but gave a foundation for a history of México City.
As we speak with more activists, we see a reference to mythologies and pre-hispanic histories when voicing about water emergencies in México. There is something worth looking into there – through narrative, aesthetic, and program.
Entries may become short as I catch up with the last few days. Apologies.