nature-friendly sustainable architecture
We’ve been working since a long time ago with social projects. For me, sustainability relates to social interactions. I believe architecture now is positioned to sustain better living conditions by reorganizing urban fabric, designing flexible systems, redistributing wealth and resources, increasing time-efficiency, reducing environmental impact, influencing institutions, lifestyles, technology.
One of the ideas for me to understand sustainability is to “sustain habilities”. Sustainability starts by changing a thought. Our thoughts become actions, actions become habits, our habits build reality. We build our thoughts. By using social actions, we achieve the goals of community reconstruction.
We understand our habits by means of habitability. I believe habitability is very important for sustainability to exist. Habitability is the capacity of space to welcome and engage people on a neighborhood scale in everyday routines, and to promote a healthy relationship with the landscape and natural environment.
I sustain a vision of “place”. Placemaking is also a way of sustainability because it adds value to architecture by activating a social construction. These lead to a different way of understanding how we relate to people. Community engagement is a key element in the activation and sustenance of public space. Public space, as we know, is an anchor for resilience and equity in society. Placemaking is about design and building community.
greatest challenges of sustainable design
Mexico City is the 4th largest megacity in the world. It has around 22 million people. By 2050, Mexico is expected to be the 7th largest economy and %86 percent of its population will live in cities.
Also, in Mexico there is around %60 percent of people living in some level of informality. I think we need to change or shift our perception about slums, seeing them not as a problem but as part of the solution. I think that resource awareness in the city could potentially be seeded first in informal settlements, and then passed on to formal architecture.
For example, we worked on a project for the neighborhood of Miravalle, on the limit of the city in the municipality of Iztapalapa, it is an informal, self-built, unplanned settlement, which, nonetheless, has a highly organized community. Despite the community’s proximity to the Guadalupe Volcano, they had completely turned their back to the natural world. So, we planned an urban action inviting the local people to take a walk up the volcano hill. The hike had an enormous social impact: for the first time, they said, the community looked at their homes from the volcano’s perspective. The irony of this fact could not be any greater considering Miravalle literally means in Spanish “look at the valley”.
Miravalle has a huge problem with water supply; but like the rest of the city, it lacks a culture of water harvesting. So, after the walk to the volcano and the community understand the importance of their natural resources, we re-designed an underused dome as a water collector and it became a pedagogical tool built and operated by the community, which could detonate a water recycling awareness from the periphery inwards. Using a water public service installation as an instruction-awareness center changes the perception of people about harvesting water. With this intervention, they filter rainwater through the dome and then pop it through a bicycle machine to obtain potable water in a place where there is a lack of water.
This visible, public intervention empowered and connected the people to their sense of responsibility and sustainable awareness.
main advances in sustainable design
I am very interested in the ideas of the book “The Three Ecologies” by Félix Guattari. What is interesting about the book is that he extends the definition of “ecology” to embrace social relations and human subjectivity along with environmental concerns.
So again, sustainability has to do with social interactions and sustaining a position of common ground in a place for building meaningful relationships. Urban acupuncture through low cost, medium scale, well designed, meaningful interventions on different layers can achieve a larger scale renewal and development. The ripple effect is long term and becomes an economic driver.
Sustainability is also about common sense. There are very simple things with almost no cost as cross ventilation and a correct orientation that can make a big change.
the future of nature-friendly architecture
First, we need to raise some important questions. In a world of limited time and resources, what is absolutely urgent and necessary to design? What type of architecture can we sustain worldwide? How can we solve important issues with the minimum possible infrastructure? Architectural design has become a form of strategic thinking capable of solving complex problems creatively with a minimum of resources. We have to use an eco-logic observer with logical thoughts.
Another idea I have worked with is Urban Ecotone. Biologically speaking, the ecotone is a transitional territory which modulates the tension arising between two distinct environments.
In urban and architectural design, I understand the ecotone as a place that harmoniously merges the public and private sphere, tempers the move from open space to enclosures, and allows respectful coexistence of built-up and natural areas, even between to distinctly different countries.
Ecotones are places of resilience, inclusive and rich in functional diversity. Recycling and re-signifying extant infrastructure transform an urban scar or hostile border of the landscape into an attractive horizon.
Urban ecotones are very important for sustainability. The landscape can be framed and approached differently by using the idea of the ecotone. For example, we built a project called rooftop court, the client just asked us to build a roof on that court and we ended up with a whole community center. Diversity and preservation of nature are fundamental in our designs as well as beauty as a basic right. Beautiful design is an investment in dignity. Regardless of budgetary constraints, beauty is affordable by a virtuous use of elegant solutions that are intrinsic to the program. Buildings are infrastructure for new ecologies.