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2017 Fellows

2017 Fellowships:

  • The Oasis and the Human, the Baja region
  • Bringing Down the Wall, Salina Cruz
  • Tracking Trash, Mexico City


The Oasis and the Human: A Race for Environmental Preservation

Oliver J. CurtisGabriel Muñoz Moreno

An arid and rugged mountainous ridge, the Baja region is home to more than one hundred inland and coastal oases. This project followed the course of the Baja 1000 Race, which originates in Ensenada and ends in La Paz. As they traced this path, Curtis and Muñoz Moreno explored development patterns, construction methods, and resiliency strategies in the region.

“Conceived as an ecological journey, the race is a figurative metaphor, an allusion to the speed of change and the necessity to document it quickly,” said Curtis. “Oftentimes, we draw, redraw, and annotate a place from our desktops with little regard for the nuances of the locale. Through our work, we aspired to record those nuances.”

Without preconceived notions, they traveled back and forth across the peninsula–living with, and listening to the local communities. During their journey, Curtis and Muñoz Moreno diagrammed and documented the interconnected relationships of the oases and the people that inhabit them to help understand and address the impacts of urban- and tourism-related growth. For Muñoz Moreno, this trip was an opportunity to expand on previous work using drones, photogrammetry, and field interviews. “We  combined ethnographic and advanced photographic techniques to more fully capture the oases and the surrounding communities, akin to a documentary-style film,” said Muñoz Moreno.

Bringing Down the Wall: Primary Schools as social condensers in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca

Karen MataRodrigo Guerra | Jorge Silva

In Salina Cruz, the interaction between schools and the street life is defined by walls. This relationship impedes the improvement in the quality of school education and social integration, essential pieces to break the structural poverty that prevents development in Mexican cities.

Salina Cruz is the third most populated city in the State of Oaxaca, with a population of more than 89,000 people. According to the Inclusive Educational Development Index, a study done by Mexicanos Primero, students from the State of Oaxaca have the worst performance in both primary and secondary education. Moreover, only 20 percent of the students who enter Oaxaca’s primary schools go on to higher education – less than half of Mexico’s national average of 43 percent – and just 12 percent complete a college or university degree. The recent economic success of Salina Cruz has not mitigated this problem. Currently, one in every five adults has not reached their educational potential. This condition represents an opportunity to challenge the role of schools and their architecture in the city.

By studying the physical and social conditions that define the relationship between schools in Salina Cruz and the city, this research aimed to understand how schools can help improve the urban form and from people’s daily life experience. School design and construction is controlled by the central government and can be ill-suited to the cultural and climatic conditions of less urbanized areas like Salina Cruz. In response, parents, teachers and children have worked together to foster new social structures, appropriate space, and empower teachers unions. Building on this local response, Mata, Guerra, and Silva propose an intertwined institutional framework among schools and their neighborhoods that positions schools as civic centers that serve the community.

Tracking Trash: Formal and Informal Waste Networks in Mexico City

Antonio CasalducCynthia Deng | Elif Erez | Ngoc Doan | Omar Valentín

Mexico City produces waste at a rate of 12,930 tons a day — where does all of it go, and how? This deceptively simple question has no direct answer. Behind the daily processing of all of that waste is a vast urban network comprised of thousands of individuals, institutions, organizations, and infrastructure systems. Investigating this network calls to question the definition of “waste,” and the nature of usefulness, worth and obsolescence in objects. Waste, as it turns out, is also highly symptomatic of a city’s social and political stratification, as well as cultural value systems. If “you are what you eat” is true for people, then cities are what cities waste.

This project investigated Mexico City’s formal and informal waste systems with the goals of (1) discovering gaps and areas of opportunity in the current waste flows and, (2) highlighting the critical importance of informal workers in the trash economy.

During the fellowship period, the team interviewed and shadowed many individuals across the spectrum of formality, ranging from government officials to independent scavengers, to document some of the livelihoods of people who power the city’s complex waste networks. Through conversations, visits, and drawings, they traced these actors’ daily trajectories through the city relative to material value changes, legal boundaries, and human rights issues. “We believe that this knowledge and recognition can point us towards more resilient strategies for the management of the trash flows in Mexico City in ways that are not only environmentally sustainable but also socially and economically equitable.” The Tracking Trash team completed their research in the summer of 2017. See their project website here.