Background

Aalto LAB Mexico (ALM) is an interdisciplinary project that aims at sustainable livelihood and social change through design elements. The project was started in August, 2012 and it is the Mexican branch of the wider Aalto LAB framework, started in Shanghai, 2010. Aalto LAB Mexico comprises two cross-disciplinary teams, one consisting of students from Aalto University in Finland, and the other located in Mexico City, consisting of students from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and Instituto Tecnológico and de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey Campus Ciudad de México (Tec de Monterrey).

The two project teams collaborate with the Mayan community called “20 de Noviembre” in Calakmul, Mexican state of Campeche in the Yucatan peninsula. The team works towards creating long-term sustainable solutions that arise from the needs of the Mayan community. The project hence involves working both in Helsinki/Mexico City and within the community.

The first two-week field period was in November, 2012. This period included the investigation and presentation of the possibilities for further implementation of tools and workshops. The second field period took place in November 2013; in this case, the students introduced three feasible projects to the community for their validation and development. The most concrete within the three, the Eco-Hostel project, was subscribed to a Mexican crowdfunding platform (transformadora ciel); the goal was reached in the end of the year. During the first part of 2014, the Mexican students continued the design process and in April 2014, an extracurricular field trip was conducted in order to start the construction process. The construction process was taken over by Daniel Dzib, an experienced constructor from El 20.

In April 2015, through funding given by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the fourth trip to the community took place; this period was mainly dedicated to the water project, but also, Rodolfo Alvarado from Yectlahuilli Ingeniería installed the solar panel and electric system in the Eco-Hostel. The students established a lab for testing water in El 20 de Noviembre; based on the results, the Mexican unit submitted a project proposal to Premio Cemex Tec competition, where it is amongst the three finalists.

Sustainable Global Technologies Programme (SGT). Since 2015, ALM is a case study within SGT’s multidisciplinary studio course. SGT Studio is a learning studio for Master’s and PhD students at the Aalto University School of Engineering. The studio course includes expert lectures, interactive workshops and an extensive project work and optional field period. The lecturers and workshops introduce students to international project work including project design, management, scheduling, finance, reporting, and dynamics of group work, research ethics and participatory methods. In the actual group work the students will participate in real projects within research groups, organizations or companies. Work will be mentored by PhD candidates, researchers and practicing professionals. The first SGT Studio course with various interdisciplinary development projects was organized in 2006.

The fieldwork period and workshops in the communities are the core participatory element of the Aalto LAB Mexico and SGT Studio course. The aim is to allow and facilitate change towards better environment, products, services and processes, in order to empower the communities. The students from Aalto and Mexican universities work in cross disciplinary teams, and they outline the projects in collaboration with the local community members. The studio projects are finalized and evaluated after the field period. Resources permitting, a feed-back trip is organized for a group of students, to share the results of the design processes with the communities.

ENCORE research team in Aalto. Encore stands for Engaging Co-design Research, and it is one of the research teams in the Department of Design in Aalto University. In its origins, Encore was mainly concerned with generating tools that would allow the engagement of end users in the design process; nowadays, the team expands its boundaries by searching new contexts where to apply those design research methods. Increasingly, Encore collaborates with the public sector and with NGO’s.

ALM was born in 2012, to become the case study of one of the doctoral dissertations being written within Encore, “Design as Freedom” by Claudia Garduño. This work explores the ethical groundings of design and proposes that designers should work together with people in achieving to live the type of lives they have reason to value. Through ALM, it has been observed that the process becomes a mutually enabling experience. Although this doctoral dissertation will be soon finalized, it is within Encore’s interests to continue analyzing ALM’s development.

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