Isla Urbana, APRDELESP, +

On Friday, we visited founder Renata Fenton at her office at Isla Urbana, a company that designs and installs rain water harvesting systems across México – particularly in communities without access to water. Generously and passionately, we spoke about how the company was born from a RISD thesis between Renata and her business partner, Enrique Lomnitz, the system’s design development and the socio-cultural challenges that occur with distribution.

“The technology is here, and we know it works – it just needs understanding and maintenance in return to operate properly” Renata explained. As mentioned in an earlier post, Alberto and I attended Isla Urbana’s “Tlalocan” event celebrating the installation of ten thousand water-harvesting units across México – and our conversation with Renata revealed their effort in introducing their technology to communities. Ensuring the correct usage and health of each family’s system involves lots of following-up, to eliminate the risk of the idea of failure. In addition, Isla Urbana is work-shopping with schools (starting them young!), installing the system and commencing a rain-keeper‘s program ran by students who themselves maintain the technology – simultaneously educating and normalizing the idea.

Tlaloque 200 “First Flush” component used in Renata’s outdoor courtyard office. Photo: A+A

Renata shared projects in collaboration with architects/designers working in the public realm, and speculations for prioritizing this method over undependable federal grids. We are excited that she invited us to install a system in the coming weeks – we can understand the process of delivering an Isla Urbana product to family accordingly.

Later that night, we met with Rodrigo from APRDELESP, an architectural firm and research-publishing house. Rodrigo gave a tour of the studio, which lives in an old building they are self-renovating for themselves and other artists. They rent spaces to an artist and a record label, while planning for apartments and cross-programmed shared spaces. One of the prospective projects includes a long table for group dinners, perhaps ‘lunch-and-learn’ types, coinciding with firm practices. With their office aspirations, Rodrigo ponders the possibility of writing about APRDELESP’s professional ideology and spatial programming for his upcoming MIT thesis year (where he is completing a Masters of Science in Architectural Studies). I was ecstatic to see a copy of the OfficeUS Manual on their desk – a great account of the history of the architectural office policy in the United States. Getting better acquainted with their cross-interdisciplinary work first hand has us pondering the role of architects in CDMX – with more studio visits/talks to follow, we will have a better idea of what’s in store.

APRDELESP’s “Lobby Bar” program typology, as part of their studio. Photo: A+A

Over the weekend, we chose to take it slow and browse Coyoacán, El Centro, and Chapultepec districts. It has been super sunny, but with that, super poor air quality. The pollution is so strong in CDMX, that you feel its effect with every breathe – a dryness at the back of your throat, accompanied with a tart-sour smell. You feel it on your eyes, a dry dustiness that has you squinting. “That’s pollution” says Alberto. I thought I knew it well from the heat waves that radiate over the Kennedy, distorting Chicago’s downtown from a distance. The CDMX air has been tolling – we are nerved by mere breathing, where we blame our exhaustion from breathing bad air heavily. We are irritated, and are hoping for rainfall soon.

Upon a visit to the Historical Center of CDMX, there is a prominent stench of excrement. Yes, at that time, the stank of excrement rang everywhere, unless it was covered by fragrance or incense. Alberto explains that the smell is due to a mixture of dog (and perhaps human) droppings and food waste, which is then spread after rain flooding due to inefficient drainage. A large part of the air pollution is not only from vehicle traffic, but also this fecal dust.

Skin care advertisement for treating skin after pollution, on a kiosk in Condesa.  Photo: A+A

It is evident that CDMX is an omen to mankind.  Our bodily response to the air has been dramatic – and other urban planning phenomenas pertaining to overall leaflessness and waterlessness show for it.  The depletion of water bodies, notably critical in the history of CDMX, shows catastrophically through the transformation of rivers into roads.  Alberto shares wherever we cross a road with the name Rio de something, it means it was once a river.

Viad. Pdte. Miguel Alemán Valdés looking East from Av. Cuauhtémoc, an expressway that used to be a river.  Photo: A+A

Drinking water in México does not come safely in the tap. Most residents depend on plastic jugs of drinking water, available at every corner store, communicating that grid water is indeed questionable and that this alternative has been widely sold to and accepted by the public. We want to find dependable archives on the water/waste infrastructure soon – any tips welcome.

This week, getting in touch with Nathan Friedman from Departamento del Distrito, Elena Tedula from ORU, Tirian Mink from Neta Cero, and Sofia Arredondo; visiting Xochimilco, Parque Eco-turistico San Miguel Regla in Hidalgo (Trout Farm), and Rastro Municipal Pachuca (Municipal Slaughter House).

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