Design Like You Give a Damn – Inspiring Housing Project in Monterrey, Mexico

by James Kostaras, Senior Associate

In early October, I gave the keynote speech at a Forum hosted by the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, commonly referred to as the “TEC”. The Forum was a fascinating discussion on how to turn around a city that’s plagued with violence and crime fomented by the drug cartels (read more here). For me, though, the most inspiring part of the trip was a tour of a new house the TEC and its students had helped build in a nearby barrio for the school’s cleaning woman whom the union had voted to be in the most need of a new home. The social, environmental, and economic potential of such projects have the ability to transform Monterrey’s urban development as much as any government or private initiative.

The TEC is committed to engaging marginalized communities and operates a national network of centers, called Social Incubators, that cater to communities near the TEC’s 33 campuses across Mexico and allow students to serve as local consultants under their professors’ guidance. The School of Architecture, Art and Design Technology (EAAD) students to conduct community service as part of earning their degree in architecture. By raising students’ awareness about Monterrey’s urban problems, EAAD challenges them to consider the power of education and design to offer alternative solutions to the ‘wicked’ social problems confronting Monterrey and other cities.

The School’s Impulso Urbano (Urban Impulse) project is an innovative example of the TEC’s social incubators. It involves graduate and under graduate students from different disciplines in promoting social development and improvements that benefit low-income residents in poor neighborhoods – typically informal communities.

The 10×10 Casa Rosenda project is an inspiring outcome of this project. EAAD architecture and industrial design students under the guidance of Prof. Pedro Pacheco helped the family of Rosenda Flores to design and build an innovative house in one of the poor informal high crime neighborhoods in the Guadalupe municipality. Rosenda and her family previously lived in a 250 square foot (sf.) shack built from thin metal scrap without running water – characteristic of informal houses in her neighborhood.

Creatively using discarded materials from landfills and abandoned construction sites, the students built a 640 sf., two-level, environmentally sustainable house with a full kitchen, one bathroom and a 10,000-liter rainwater collection tank.

At the October 2011 Design Like You Give a Damn: LIVE! Conference in New York, Architecture for Humanity recognized Impulso Urbano’s Casa Rosenda project for its innovation and creativity, and has included the project in the second edition of Design Like You Give a Damn, a compendium of innovative projects from around the world that “demonstrate the power of design to improve lives” (to be released in Spring, 2012.) Architecture for Humanity is a nonprofit design services organization devoted to “building a more sustainable future through the power of professional design,” and a leading voice of the humanitarian architecture movement. The next edition of Design Like You Give a Damn, edited by Architecture for Humanity, will showcase innovative projects, like Casa Rosenda, that provide basic shelter, health care, education, and access to clean water, energy, and sanitation and solutions to other urgent needs. As the book’s editors note, many of the featured projects were often built and designed “against great odds” in cities and rural areas challenged by pervasive poverty — similar to Rosenda’s neighborhood in the Guadalupe.

Mr. James Mayeux, AIA, Dean, School of Architecture, Art and Design Technology and Prof. Pedro Pacheco are continuing discussions with I2UD about a partnership in support of Urban Impulso as a ‘social incubator’.

Photos by James Kostaras