A Student Project Sheds Light on Local Materials

Working with materials indigenous to Mexico's many biomes, students at the Monterrey Institute of Technology devised a set of solar lamps.

Adobe is a remembrance of pre-Hispanic knowledge and environmental awareness. Courtesy the designers

For nearly 7 million Mexicans, access to electricity is not always guaranteed—especially for indigenous communities, which are often off the grid. Solar, a student project awarded an honorable mention in WantedDesign’s 2020 Conscious Design Awards, offers a resourceful and biobased approach to illumination.

Six students at the Monterrey Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture, Art and Design each devised a handheld lamp made from a small solar panel, LEDs, and simple electrical components, but that’s where the similarities end. Using materials that are often considered refuse—such as cactus slime, a by-product of cooking the plant; maguey cuticle, waste from the production of the indigenous alcoholic beverage pulque; coconut bark; wicker; and even beans—the finished products are as distinct as the many biomes and landscapes of Mexico.

While it doesn’t solve the core inequities of access to infrastructure, the collection of lamps presents a plucky alternative to the homogeneity of much do-good design. “It’s a project,” says student Luis Fernando Sánchez Barrios, “in which the sun’s rays illuminate the night through materials native to the Mexican soil.”

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Categories: Arts + Culture, Design Education