Aalto LAB Mexico (ALM) is developed through the collaboration of Aalto University with Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Ciudad de México (Technological Institute of Monterrey, Mexico City Campus), and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico).
ALM focuses on the community called “El 20 de Noviembre”, located in Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico. A wide range of disciplines, from Engineering, Science, Art, Design, Business, and Humanities and Social Sciences collaborate with the aim of decreasing social injustice whilst raising awareness of cultural values and about the environmental sustainability of the community. This is achieved by making use of design methods.
ALM connects the community with the academia, civil society, and the public and private sectors of Mexico and Finland. The main values of Aalto LABs are sustainability, lifelong learning and the sharing of culture on multiple levels.
Additionally, Aalto LAB Mexico aims to learn lessons from the community; and it pursues to affect the local stakeholders both in Finland and Mexico by addressing the questions of cultural values, sustainability and development in media and cultural events.
The hope is that through a long term collaboration, the people of El 20 de Noviembre will be inspired to actively tackle their own problems, rather than keeping the expectations on a paternalistic state that gives them (unnecessary) things for free in exchange for their obedience.
ALM, together with Aalto University and local partners, has been working with the Mayan community “El 20 de Noviembre” since 2012. Since January 2014, ALM is part of Sustainable Global Technologies Programme in Aalto University.
To this point, ALM has generated three core projects that cut across various difficult problematics in the community, and which might help expanding the capabilities of the people of El 20, without threatening their Mayan cultural heritage:
- Artesanía para el Bienestar (eng. Artistry for Wellbeing). Strategy to raise money for a medical emergency fund through their craft production. This project sees their creative passion as an asset, maintains the instrumental value of money, and gives them access to health care services.
- Eco-hostel / La Casita (eng. “The Little house”, as called by the people of El 20). Archetype of a sustainable house for El 20, which takes in account the Mayan traditional construction techniques and implements clean technologies. The building is owned by the community as a whole and has the program to serve as the administration building of their tourism industry and at the same time, serve the needs of children who require computers, electricity and internet access to do their homework.
- Water system: Cuxta-Há (Mayan for living water). This proposal seeks to prepare the community to tackle future problems caused by climate change and to secure that the water they drink is of good quality. On one hand, this project aims to build new community tanks for storing and purifying rainwater; on the other, it seeks to implement technologies that minimize the amount of water needed (e.g. dry toilets).
It is presumed that ALM is a suitable means to navigate the paradox between development that imposes a way of living (e.g. houses made of bricks and pre-manufactured materials that become a status symbol and endanger the traditional construction techniques, because the Mayan house becomes “the house of the poor”), and cultural relativism, which might maintain practices that although traditional, might be unjust (e.g. women’s lack of interest in being part of the government body of the community) (Nussbaum and Sen 1993). In step with Encore research team from Aalto ARTS, ALM highly values the voice of end users in the design process; moreover, encouraging people of El 20 to raise their voices is rendered as a means to keep their culture alive, that is, in constant transformation, but not anymore exclusively due to external pressure.