2018. Atrio de San Francisco. Mexico City. Site-specific art installation
How can a city that was built on a lake and is subject to heavy rainfall be running out of water?
Over exploitation of natural water reserves, inefficient and poorly maintained water infrastructure, lack of aquipher recharge areas and water pollution by wastewater discharges are some of the issues surronding Mexico City’s water crisis.
The City, home to 21 million people, receives enough rainwater every year to supply almost its entire population, however this readily available resource hasn’t been availed by the government, prioritizing large scale developmental projects that constitute huge investments and accentuate the social inequalities.
Almost two thousand years ago Xitle volcano erupted right next to Ajusco, a rural area of Mexico City, leaving a landscape of basaltic rock that over the years was adapting its nature and became part o the city’s geographical identity.
Almost a thousand years later, Tenochtitlan, home of the great Aztec Empire, was founded in what is now the center of Mexico City.
The city was built on an island in Lake Texcoco and integrated an advanced water system made up by causeways and canals that connected the city and allowed sustainable mangement of the resource driven by the symbiotic relation this culture had with their environment.
The seemingly infinte cityscape that now defines Mexico City encompasses many different urban images that integrate the human-environment and have become part of the current collective imaginary.
One of these images is the City’s rusted red waterproofed rooftops decorated with its characteristic plastic water tanks, old and new TV antennas and clotheslines, which together consolidate one of the most common urban spaces.
These spaces, despite being common place, are not used to its full potential as they constitute an optimal opportunity for water harvesting with very simple and economical infrastructure.
A shift in the way we perceive, use and interact with our space is crutial to imagine new alternatives.
bajoTecH2O seeks to create a space for contemplation, connection and reflection upon the current water crisis in Mexico City.
The created landscape aims to bring the city’s rooftops to street level using some of its representative elements and take advantage of the rainy season and its harvesting.
The installation is inspired by karesansui or Japanese rock gardens, that aim to represent the intrinsec essence of nature providing a space and atmosphere for meditation.
By creating a space that combines native natural materials such as volcanic rock, local vegetation and a large central body of water that alludes to the city’s geological origins, along with modern urban elements from the city’s rooftops, the goal of the installation is to generate an ecosystem in which nature and city interact to promote collective efforts and simple strategies towards a sustainable future.
The project aims to promote a dialogue between the different voices and artistic manifestations to discuss the past, present and future of water in Mexico.
As part of the created landscape, two basic rainwater harvesting and purifying systems were installed allowing people to fill their water bottles with pure and clean rainwater through a manual pump.
The systems not only showed the simplicity and low cost installation of this alternative but also helped destigmatize rainwater as a polluted resource.
Located in Atrio de San Francisco, in the heart of the city’s historic center and commissioned by Fundación Centro Histórico, the project was the result of a collaborative work between the foundation, Estudio MAPA and Isla Urbana, among other creative and construction and landscape design professionals.
Estudio MAPA is an interdisciplinary studio focused on the conceptualization, design and production of
art projects and spatial interventions.
Isla Urbana is a company dedicated to contributing to water sustainability in Mexico through rainwater harvesting.
Fundación Centro Histórico is a non-profit organization that promotes cultural and artistic works that activate social interaction in the city’s historical center.
The exhibit lasted 4 months and coincided with the city´s rainy season.
During this period:
- The amount of rainwater harvested was around 20,000 litres
- The number of visitors exceeded 400,000
- The space hosted a talk where 4 experts from different fields related to the city’s sustainability discussed their perspectives around the obstacles, challenges and possibilities to revert the current water crisis. The discussion was opened to the public, who participated with their ideas and concerns broadening and enrinching the experience.