S ummer 2006 Reconnecting People and Place Mexico Study Abroad

The summer 2006 Reconnecting People and Place Mexico Study Abroad included an international field study / design-build community-based project addressing regenerative housing and community, taught by John Motloch (Ball State University) and Pedro Pacheco (TEC de Monterrey, Mexico). It began with 2 ½ weeks of technology-enhanced videoconferencing; and progressed to 1½ weeks of design-build in the low-income Alfonso Reyes Community of Monterrey, Mexico.   It was followed by a study tour of South Mexico including Mexico City, Oaxaca, Huatulco, Acapulco, and the 2005 RPP project,

Alfonso Reyes Community

The summer 2006 Reconnecting People and Place Mexico Study Abroad included master planning of the Alfonso Reyes Community, a low-income community of 76 low-income families, embedded in the urban mass of Monterrey, Mexico.  Alfonso Reyes, that is about two miles east of the TEC de Monterrey campus, occurs linearly along an urban drainage way.  In some cases, homes are excessively close to this drainageway.  The City has begun to bury the waterway in a concrete channel.

The international urban, landscape, and architectural design-build workshop in the Alfonso Reyes community began with TEC-BSU videoconference sessions and associated assignments in the time period of June 1 – June 16 that include master planning and design.  The June 19-30 period, in Mexico, included design refinement and construction. 

Project Goals

This design-build workshop in the Alfonso Reyes community project had several goals:

Urban and Community Goal:  To develop a master plan that will help the Alfonso Reyes community address its needs; Address design challenges including providing guidance in creating eatable and natural landscapes; integrate existing and planned community components into a cohesive, integrative master plan with urban spaces that promote a greater sense of community and sense of ownership. 

Architecture and Site Goal:  To develop proposals for each program component including open and public use spaces, enhanced community sense of place, gateways from the surrounding community, micro-environment improvement, a small chapel for 100 people, a community center (cultural, social, and educational activities), a small commercial, a computer building (20 s.m.), a multifunctional court and recreation area, vegetable gardens, linear green space along creek, water harvesting, storm water infiltration, erosion control, and community walkway that positively integrates creek and community

Construction  Goal: To build with community members a building (3.6m X 6.0m) and site development learning center to house computers the community acquired through donations.  The project should use materials that have high recycled content; Materials and construction systems should maximize self-help strategies (essential for low-income housing) and promote a stronger social community.  The project should include site reshaping, slope stabilization via natural or recycled materials, seating and social space, eatable and aesthetic plantings, and landscape development.

Spring 2006 Preparatory Work:

Prior to the course (spring 2006), Dr. Motloch investigated and integrated technologies to create an international, virtual design studio.  Videoconferencing technology, desktop-sharing software, Smartboard technology, voice-over-Internet, and Blackboard file-sharing were integrated to form a tool that interconnected, in real-time, sites in Mexico and the US into a virtual classroom, allowing desk-ctits from the TEC and BSU of work presented from student desktops at any linked location.

At the same time, Dr. Pacheco and a group of TEC students began developing, with Alfonso Reyes residents, a preliminary project program.  They also identified and tested waste-based construction materials and systems (including recycled palette wall framing, recycled wood roof framing, thin metal wall/roof surfacing, recycled lightweight concrete floor/wall surfacing, and stone site paving systems).  They also worked with a local non-profit to collect and stockpile materials on the site.

Summer 2006 Activities

Activities Prior to the Mexico Trip:  The 2½ weeks of technology-enhanced videoconferencing was extremely productive.  Most of the BSU and TEC students and the two professors participated from their home institutes in Mexico and the US.  Two BSU students participated from a conference room at the Indianapolis landscape architecture firm where they were working.  One BSU student participated from her parent's home in Chicago.  Through work as a single team and work in small international and interdisciplinary teams, students learned about how the world works and about sustainability through the eyes of two different cultures.  They met with c0mmunity residents,  they evolved the project program, and they did preliminary master planning and community design.

Activities in Mexico:  These preliminary designs (generated via videoconferencing and at-a-distance desk crits) were evolved when Ball State students traveled to Mexico.  In Monterrey, the BSU-TEC students, including students in architecture, landscape architecture, and other disciplines, and including students in the “Reconnecting People and Place Studio” as well as TEC students serving their community service degree requirement, worked with community residents, to build the education building (in the Alphonso Reyes neighborhood of Monterrey) that would house ten (10) computers.  This building allowed children in this low-income neighborhood access free distance learning provided by the TEC de Monterrey to economically-challenged students in Mexico. 

This educational building was built using waste materials including recycled wood palettes; pre-consumer waste insulating blocks; recycled tires, wood posts, railroad ties, corrugated tin; and recycled cellulose for wall insulation.  The building, 80% completed during this 1½ week design-build project; was completed by residents after student departure.

Project Outcomes

The Alfonso Reyes project and in many cases surpassed its goals.  In attained its Urban and Community Goal to develop a master plan that could help address community needs including guidance in creating eatable and natural landscapes, and integrating existing and planned community components into a cohesive master plan with urban spaces that promote sense of community and sense of ownership.  It surpassed this goal by bringing the community together in master planning and in constructing the community’s education building.  In the three years since the project, residents have continued work together.  This includes a current project to build a community cooperative store where five families will sell items produced in their homes.  One lady who helped build the computer and education center is now its director.  At the time of construction she could not use a computer or speak English.  She has taught herself both, and now leads children and other residents in web-based English language instruction.

The project achieved its Architecture and Site Goal to develop proposals for all program components.  BSU and TEC students worked closely with residents to master plan community enhancements including open and public use spaces; community sense of place; gateways; micro-environment improvement; a small chapel, community center, commercial building, and computer building; a multifunctional court and recreation area; vegetable gardens; water harvesting; storm water infiltration; erosion control; and linear green space and community walkway that integrates creek and community.

The project also achieved its Construction Goal to build, with community members, the computer and education center building and site improvements.  The project was built using materials with high recycled content and methods that facilitated self-help and promoted a stronger social community.  BSU and TEC students also generated design proposals for site reshaping, slope stabilization using natural and/or recycled materials, seating and social space, eatable and aesthetic plantings, and landscape development.