Nov-Dec 2018

In Conversation with Loreta Castro Reguera & Manuel Perlo 
by Dr Ann Deslandes

Solving a 700-year-old problem: In Iztapalapa, an eastern borough of Mexico City, which bears the brunt of the city’s water problems ranging between inundation and scarcity, a multidisciplinary team of urban experts have established

La Quebradora hydraulic park, an innovative water infrastructure project that is tipped to bring great benefits to a peripheral community in one of the most populated cities in the world. La Quebradora is a soon-to-be-completed hydraulic park that is arising from a derelict, forgotten site in the Sierra Santa Catarina, a mountain range on the edge of town. Underpinned by the intriguing concept of ‘hydro-urban acupuncture’, the project recently won a Global LafargeHolcim Gold Award. In Mexico City, Dr Ann Deslandes (AD) spoke to Loreta Castro (LC) and Manuel Perlo (MP) for FuturArc.

AD: What’s the history of Mexico City’s water problem?
MP: The problem goes back 700 years, when the Aztecs decided to build a city in the middle of a swamp. It established the city’s relationship with water. This relationship is not the most harmonious, but it is a statement that we’re here to stay, and we know that water is going to be an issue. So that’s the starting point of our story. Seven hundred years later, we are a huge metropolis of 22 million people and at least 60 per cent of the city was built on a former lakebed.
LC: Exactly, it’s the 700-year-old problem, beginning with the establishment of Tenochtitlan, as the great Aztec city was known. We live on a lake—even though there’s no more lake, the foundation is still the soil of a lakebed. And from the beginning, the city’s inhabitants had struggled to get fresh water. The Aztecs, even though they had always struggled, were able to survive, using for example the chinampa canal system. Their infrastructure was very sophisticated. The Spanish conquest was a total conquest: political, religious, social— and also an urban design conquest. The entire way of designing the city was completely transformed into the European Renaissance style and the canals were overrun. We started having a lot of trouble with floods. This new system disregarded, in fact, desiccated, the lakes. We originally had 1,100 square kilometres of lakes. Now, we have a bit less than 50 square kilometres. The transformation of Mexico City’s landscape and waterscape had been one of the most drastic worldwide.
MP: Under the Aztecs, there were rivers, springs, swamps… the rivers had disappeared and now there are highways. We had beautiful springs in Iztapalapa; it looks like a desert nowadays.
LC: So we find today this enormous urban fabric of 22 million inhabitants and a lot of water-related issues. In a nutshell, the problems are flooding and scarcity.

AD: Over this long period, how have the city’s inhabitants responded to the water problem?
MP: Through the centuries, there have been so many efforts to solve the water problem in this city. We disagree completely with people who say the city has been a mistake and we should try something completely different and disregard all this paradigm of huge infrastructure and just focus on harvesting rainwater and recycling water. We believe in those strategies, of course, but we cannot disregard everything that has been done to make a metropolis of 22 million people flourish. We are firm believers that the city itself, its built environment and its landscape can do a lot of things, so we should put the city in the middle of the change.
LC: The city is not the problem. It needs to be the solution.

AD: And your focus has been on Iztapalapa, the place where solutions are most urgently needed.
LC: Yes. In 2013, we had the opportunity to work in Iztapalapa, the part of Mexico City that has the most drastic water problems—they have floods and scarcity every day. The mayor agreed to support the development of a water supply system that didn’t mean robbing the drainage system or digging more deep wells to extract water—instead, [it meant] working with the population on ideas for cleaning waste water and capturing rainwater.

We looked into how water is already being managed in Iztapalapa, and also how it is happening in different cities worldwide—in Australia, China, India, Bangladesh, Europe, Italy, Netherlands, Brazil and Mexico. From this research, we established 12 strategies—they were nothing new, but together, gave an idea of what could be done in Iztapalapa. And with these strategies, we started asking people in the borough to use them and enter a competition to bring ideas to the table that we could implement. And parallel to that, we started doing our own research on which sites could be good for applying the hydro-urban acupunctural strategy, which eventually became La Quebradora.


It is not only important to think about how water could be better managed and work out how rain could be caught but also about how this kind of landscape infrastructure works because it becomes a public space.


We’re inspired by Jaime Lerner and his concept of ‘urban acupuncture’ as smallscale, grassroots ‘pinpricks’—acupunctural interventions to ameliorate urban conditions.

To read the complete interview, get a copy of the Nov-Dec 2018 edition at our online shop or at newsstands/major bookstores; subscribe to FuturArc or download the FuturArc App!


Previously Published 'In Conversation' (Abstracts)
Jul-Aug 2018
In Conversation with Lena Chan by Heather Banerd

Lena Chan has been called Singapore’s Mother Nature, a title that is certainly well earned.

Her passion for ecological conservation, and love of the plants and animal species she considers ‘citizens’ of Singapore, is contagious. She has been instrumental in developing the City Biodiversity Index, also known as the Singapore Index (SI) on Cities’ Biodiversity, which has established Singapore as a world leader in urban ecological conservation; the Nature Conservation Masterplan; and in developing ways for enthusiastic residents to get involved in biodiversity conservation.

Mar-Apr 2018
IIn Conversation with Avneesh Tiwari & Neha Rane of atArchitecture by Heather Banerd

Gold winner of the 2017 LafargeHolcim Awards, Asia Pacific region, atArchitecture is a Mumbai firm founded by Avneesh Tiwari and Neha Rane in 2013. Born and raised in Mumbai, the pair met while studying at the Sir JJ College of Architecture.

Jan-Feb 2018
In Conversation with Yatin Pandya by Nitika Agarwal

Yatin Pandya is the founder of the Indian organisation Footprints E.A.R.T.H (environment, architecture, research, technology and housing) that is dedicated to research, documentation and demonstration of a lifestyle evolved from multiple approaches towards sustainability. As the associate director at Vastu Shilpa Consultants for more than 20 years, he has established standards and norms that are contextually, socially, environmentally and economically appropriate to the Indian context. His projects present a diverse scale, ranging from townships, mass housing schemes, slum improvements, institutions and residences to installations.

Sep-Oct 2017
In Conversation with Nripal Adhikary by Bhawna Jaimini

Architect, designer and painter Nripal Adhikary truly believes in small is beautiful. He is the founder of ABARI, which he set up in 2006 with the aim of doing socially and environmentally committed research, design and construction. He seeks to examine, encourage and celebrate vernacular architectural traditions by starting a conversation around adapting traditional materials into the modern context, which was absent from the architectural narrative of Nepal.

Jan-Feb 2015
He is an architect and environmentalist that believes that the purpose of housing should be to create communities and responsible societies where each individual is not treated as just a number that needs a shelter. He has been working on the issues of water harvesting, organic agriculture and renewable energy for years in the region through setting up an NGO, Sahjeevan.

Nov-Dec 2014
Architect, town planner and author AK Jain has helmed the master plan for Delhi 2021 and conservation of Delhi's heritage and planning for the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Sep-Oct 2014
Architect, town planner and author AK Jain has helmed the master plan for Delhi 2021 and conservation of Delhi's heritage and planning for the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
May-Jun 2014
Phillip G. Bernstein is vice president at Autodesk, a leading provider of digital design, engineering and entertainment software, where he leads strategic industry relations.
4Q 2012
Luke Hughes is one of the UK's most accomplished furniture designers and has 30 years experience in the industry.
3Q 2011
Niclas Svenningsen is the head of the Sustainable United Nations (SUN) at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), based in Paris, France.

3Q 2010

A Rough Path to Sustainable Community by Sirimas Hengrasmee
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4Q 2009

In Conversation with FREDERIC SIMON by Candice Lim

What goes into the designing and planning of some of the most environmentally friendly and tastefully designed villas in the region? Passionate hotelier and Alila’s Managing Director Frederic Simon chats with FuturArc Managing Editor Candice Lim, and shares his thoughts on what it means to be Green for Alila properties, and then some...


2Q 2009


For the first time, FuturArc is celebrating a select group of individuals who have been quietly (or not so for some) changing the built environment for the better, specifically
in Asia-Pacific. These 18 people, some of them unsung heroes, have all contributed to making urban spaces more sustainable, whether through advocacy, consultancy...

1Q 2009

In Conversation with RAY ANDERSON by Candice Lim

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1Q 2009

In Conversation with PHILIP WHITE by Carlos Alberto Montana Hoyos

Philip White is an ecological design strategist who develops ecologically intelligent products and systems. He specialises in helping students and practitioners apply ecodesign strategies and advanced environmental impact assessment methods.



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