Quotidian Infrastructures on Collection and Distribution

Garbage Collection. Photo: A+A

Throughout the days, you will hear a number of rhythmic chimes and whistles, pre-recorded looping public announcements via megaphone, and yells doppler-ing in-and-out of earshot. Those calls are roaming services: waste collection, big-scale recycling, tamales, knife-sharpening, gas, water, and more -and they are essential, especially those for gas, water, and waste.

I’ve noticed most homes in the Narvarte district, Post-Rural’s base, get gas supplied on a single-tank basis via gas delivery vehicles. Upon our arrival, a friend tipped that if our gas runs out, the delivery service usually drive around early morning and yell “GAS!”, and if we should need gas, we yell “GAS!” right back. This tip also came with a caution: only buy the blue tanks. If not, you will get in trouble with these guys.

Gas delivery truck in Roma. Photo: Ted McGrath via Flickr

I was not sure if this was a playful joke or not, but apparently these services circulate through mafia-like practice. With more local feedback, it seems to be widely-known that the invisible guts of México City (and other parts of México) run on these precarious markets. When we visited Roma Verde, for instance, a member of the recycling team also mentioned a threatening experience she had while trying to obtain a second-hand plastic-grinding machine near Pachuca in Hidalgo. It is a means for many to make money – collecting, sorting, selling – by however means necessary, perhaps.

As temporary tenants, we inevitably became participants of this system. Garbage collection day came by the jingle of a bell, where a waste-collection member signaled a several-block radius about the truck’s arrival. With our garbage, self-separated, joined a processional of like-situated people to a collection truck parked a block away. Some with bags, some with garbage cans – everyone handed their waste to the men at the truck’s back-end, where each item was placed onto the overfilling pit.

Andrea carries garbage. Photo: A+A
Anonymous folks carry garbage. Photo: A+A

I have never seen -or thought- people assemble over garbage. Where the service is as invisible as possible in the States, here is akin to a public ritual. Waste collection as community engagement, through mafia-markets? If the city requires this standard of garbage-pickup, perhaps it can build upon itself for Post-Rural. Should we follow the life of garbage in México City?

My yesterdays were filled with headache pain, so I have only account for these quotidian banalities while staying home. I took out the garbage, watched the water-jug collection vehicle, saw an ice-cream truck with a mega-phone on top, encountered brownish water in a public park’s fountain, and came across construction on a ruptured pipe. Humanity’s basic infrastructures are so transparent here; it brings into perspective how crucial these factors are and brings to light the organizational efforts of semi-improvised plug-in veins for the city (research needed: is it self-sustained, or federally sponsored? What are its architectural necessities? Can I argue these vehicles as architecture?).

Today, we are trying to get to Xochimilco.

Water distribution truck. Photo: A+A
Brownish tint in public fountain’s water. Photo: A+A
Ruptured pipe in Narvarte. Photo: A+A
Our water-jug, for drinking. Photo: A+A

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).

Encuentro 2019: Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics

In the last two days, I joined Alberto in a few events hosted by the Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics, a conference with keynotes, workshops, and performances he and his collaborators are a part of. Notably, we attended a day-long workshop led by Jacques Servin (one of the Yes Men), a keynote with Judith Butler, and a performance by Pacha Queer. It was a detour from field research, but gave some ideas on how to approach the subject. I think, as we gather more, we can revisit the experience here.

Leandro, Joshi, and Alberto share during Yes Men’s workshop. Photo: A+A

Today, we will visit Isla Urbana and speak with Renata, and Rodrigo from APRDELESP.

Huerto Roma Verde

Two days ago, we visited Huerto Roma Verde (situated in central CDMX’s Roma district), an informal public garden that sprouted on abandoned land in 2012. The garden includes a diverse bed of flowers and vegetables fed by a totem rain catcher-filtration system, sheltered assembly areas, a recycling department, numerous pavilions, bathrooms with bio-digester, a chicken coop, its offices, a gallery, a grocery store, and more. They host community events and services – including dinners, workshops, medical consultancy, campaigns, volunteer and apprenticeships. Huerto Roma Verde’s mission is “to carry out socio-environmental activities and projects that benefit us all”.

Plan, courtesy of Huerto Roma Verde

While there, we took a tour and spoke with members from staff about how the garden began, who runs it, who does it feed, how the community interacts and is impacted, and what their future plans are. We noted common building materials used on site, where a construction team was working on a new structure: bamboo (where native to nearby Oaxaca and Puebla), steel frames, plaster, wood, simple joinery techniques, recycled plastics, found materials, and more.

Roma Verde’s Rain Catching and Filtration totem that replenishes a “mandala” of garden beds. Photo: A+A
Pavilion of water jugs at Roma Verde, built around a palm. Photo: A+A

A conversation with the recycling department, a team of two with volunteers, revealed that the federally-owned site used to have a couple of abandoned structures whose materials were used to build Huerto Roma Verde today. They also shared their trek to find an effective way to gather, shred, and form recyclable plastics into new building materials. They shared a tour of their plastic grinding machines and mold ovens (like one from open-source Precious Plastics), and their material tests and challenges. Right now, their oven is too small to produce the sheet building material that they dream of.

Alberto and I pondered the overall aesthetics of the garden, in which Alberto described as approaching “Burning Man/Coachella” vibes (through presence of ‘mandalas’, geo-domes, DIY) – in pairing with the Roma Verde’s programming (yoga, Dharma CDMX, ribbon acrobatics), we wonder if it serves to attract certain groups over others through assimilated forms and messages.

We plan to contact again with questions of aesthetics, details, and logistics – another main question is how the totem works to purify the rainfall, and whether or not the other rainfall (consequently carrying México City’s pollution on its way back to Earth) poses a threat to the crops they maintain.

Guide explains how the on-site collection of human excrement is mixed with organic compost and allowed to produce methane gas, which is then used to heat or cook at Huerto Roma Verde. Photo: A+A

We spent most of the day there, but also came across a Buckminster Geo-Dome Van parked outside Roma Verde. It turns out to be a self-run library project with a mural program for artists to paint the exterior of the van. Additionally, while working in a book shop, we found a helpful book project called “Mexibility” (a compilation of artist interventions, texts, data and maps surrounding mobility in México).

The “Bucky-Truck” as we named it. Photo: A+A
Book Find: “Mexibility” joint production of Editorial RM and the Goethe-Institut Mexiko. Photo: A+A

¡Hola, Mucho Gusto!

My name is Andrea, and I am in México City with Alberto Ortega (my lovely partner, interpreter [for the time-being], and collaborator).  We are investigating food production and waste management in and around CDMX, and its architectural implications for the future of the city – a topic that feeds both our independent practices, and our collective practice with Faysal Altunbozar.

This log is to record daily tasks and insights relevant to the exploration.  Alberto and I will both contribute entries to the log, expanding on our visits and conversations. So far, we have been in México for a week and a half visiting family and collecting ourselves after SAIC. Gradually, we are acquainting ourselves with the scene revolving our topic – building the itinerary with specificity, but also opening many doors.

Alberto and I attended an event called “Tlalocan” on Saturday, celebrating Isla Urbana’s ten thousand water harvesting systems installed. The event presented current initiatives tackling the water crisis in México. In the meantime, we came in touch with a group of animators working in the scene – granting insight into CDMX’s history of urbanization, the drying of Lake Texcoco, infrastructures and politics surrounding waste collection, and food transportation. Even during meals, where we are fueled by vegan taco joints and neighborhood markets, we begin to ponder the stakes of humanity’s consumption.

Tlalocan: A Celebration for the start of Rain Season below an overpass in Circuito Interior, Mexico City. By Isla Urbana. Photo by: A+A

It feels that we fell in the right place at the right time – when the project is shared, it is received with attention, excitement, and urgency. There are many avenues to investigate in order to deliver a good final compilation at the end of this travel.

Next on the meetings agenda: Renata Fenton from Isla Urbana and Rodrigo Escandón from APRDELESP.

Stencil done with masking tape for beer cans bag at Esteban Azuela’s studio. He did this for a party where we met people working on the subject we are researching.