Juan Carlos Loyo is Co-founder and Director of Programa VACA, the architecture social enterprise based in Mexico – a network of professional architects and building specialists who believe that basic and decent shelter should be provided for all. They push the boundaries of practice in architecture by making sure the knowledge and expertise of trained architects is not only available to elites and the rich, by volunteering to build sustainable and impactful homes and buildings in poverty stricken areas.
Our 2016 kicked off with a truly exciting partnership between My Name is Kumar and Program VACA, with the intention to build 55 sustainable homes and a community centre for the village of Londor, where most of the My Name is Kumar children were born. For many of the community there this will be their first ever proper home for their family – a replacement for the concrete boxes and tarpaulin tents they were living in previously. Not only this, but our partnership with Programa VACA comes at a time just after the worst devastation the area has seen in years, the November Chennai flooding, which destroyed what little possessions the community of Londor had.
We interviewed Juan to find out a bit more about him and Programa VACA.
MNIK: Juan, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to set up Programa VACA?
Juan: Ever since I can remember I’ve been designing, painting and working to explore the boundaries of creativity. As you know most of the world faces serious social problems; poverty, inequality, corruption and abuse are all around us and the worst thing is that most time there are people who benefit from this dehumanizing scenario. As I grew up I gained consciousness of this and, well, it just didn’t make sense not to use creativity to try and solve these issues that so greatly affect so many people.
Over the years I tried many things and projects to help people, designing, painting, planning. Spending time in poverty stricken areas helped me understand the depth of the problem, the human story behind the numbers and the academic talk.
My university years were spent studying more about solutions, techniques, architecture that could actually help relieve the housing needs of many at a low cost. I spent a long time browsing through the library for documents that have been around for centuries that no one was reading (they were all too obsessed with “the new”), and I developed a particular interest in vernacular construction, and artisanal building techniques. The quality of the spaces, the beauty of this handmade architecture was, and still is, a deep source of inspiration to my work.
As I worked in design and community projects I earned the opportunity to work abroad. First world countries, with their disparity between rich and poor, were of no interest to me; so decided to go to India, under Prof. Balkrishna Doshi in Sangath, his studio in Ahmedabad. Little did I know I would meet Sara Marquez Martin there, my Co-founder at Programa VACA
Some years after that Sara and I found ourselves in Mexico, discussing how we could apply our combined knowledge and passion for the rescue of vernacular architecture and fight back on poverty issues in rural communities. Programa VACA was created in 2013 with the help of Dr. Antonio Garza in ITESM Puebla, he trusted our vision and our work and allowed us to teach at the university a “hands-on” summer. We built a 93m2 house in 20 days using waste from the bamboo industry and palm tree thatching donated by indigenous weavers... it was hard work, swimming against the current, but in the end we had shone a light on what could be achieved if we worked together, everyone, as people, not companies, not governments, people.
MNIK: What kind of communities and people do Programa VACA usually work with? Is there anything different about working with My Name is Kumar?
We work in rural and semi-urban communities, because we’ve seen that massive migration to the cities is creating misery and terrible life conditions for people, families and communities that are seeking a better life. These people often find themselves living in inhuman conditions. Their lives and dreams are being capitalized by special interests, they’re being used and exploited. Traditions are disappearing, cultures wiped out, sustainable knowledge is being lost. But there are communities and people who are willing to keep them alive, to work with younger generations and their neighbours to inject vitality to these valuable territories.
The work we’ll be doing with MNIK is an iteration of what we have been doing in Latin America – there are differences, particularly cultural, but there are many similarities. We aim to work with the local knowledge, being conscious and sensitive to the particularities of this community and bring in our expertise to try and find solutions together. I guess every project is different, special, and its answers are to be unveiled with care and patience, with an understanding of the particularities of each case.
MNIK: What are you most excited about working with My Name is Kumar in India?
Juan: I’m excited to come back to a country I love, to the source of many of our ideas. I’m excited about using design to help anyone that needs it, to use my best abilities and add them to others. I’m excited to be a part of this conjoined effort of many hearts, hands and minds.
MNIK: Who will be building all the houses and the community centre for the Londor community?
The community itself, alongside volunteers and professionals. Architects and families working together. Our system is one of sharing knowledge, to empower people to later expand, restore, change and create with combined effort.
MNIK: When the project is finished how do you hope life will change for the people in Londor community?
Well, I’ve learned throughout the years that you never really know what the consequences might be, but I do hope to have a sustainable process in which people can, through self management, create projects that solve their housing or spatial needs without the use of vast amounts of money. I hope that people feel happy, empowered, free.
Thank you Juan!
Programa VACA will be working alongside the Londor community throughout February to May. Families will receive a home and the community centre will be used as a key resource for the entire community. It will be where we offer homework clubs, skills sessions, training and meetings for everyone in Londor.
Programa VACA will also be working alongside Oroa Global to bring sustainable and environmentally friendly power to these new homes, through solar lighting. You can read our interview with Savitha, Founder and director of Oroa Global, here.