Alejandra Lagunas Garduño “We, Latinos, have a lot to contribute to the efficient architecture of the U.S.”
by carlos matías
An immigrant, woman, proud to have been born in Mexico, an architect, and a winner. Alejandra Lagunas Garduño and her team from Ball State University, Indiana, have just won the 21st annual Solar Decathlon International Competition by building The Alley House, a 1,350-square-foot duplex that, far from consuming, generates clean energy. Alejandra demonstrates that, with effort and drive, the “American dream” is still possible for Latinos.
The Alley House is the design and construction proposal by Cardinal Studio for the Solar Decathlon at Ball State University (Indiana). The house, designed by Alejandra Lagunas Garduño, is in complete harmony with the natural environment, built with 100% local materials that have “zero impact” on the environment.
Since 2002, more than forty thousand students from around the world have participated in this university competition, many of whom have gone on to become world-renowned architects, engineers, and researchers. Alejandra has just graduated as an architect. She and her team have won first prize, beating other competitors from India and Canada. The 32-year-old Mexican, proud of her Latin roots, arrived with her mother and two sisters when she was twelve years old. She arrived as an undocumented immigrant to a country that was foreign to her, even in language. But she managed to make her way “without papers,” without financial help from the government, only with private scholarships; working and studying at the same time; being a woman in a male chauvinistic environment, and finally succeeding in traditionally male dominated industries, such as architecture and construction.
The Alley House has involved a multidisciplinary team from Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana (Alejandra works in Indianapolis); Twin Cities, Minnesota, and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Manhattan, in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Alejandra Lagunas Garduño honors her birthplace: she is a “warrior” (“guerrera”), like her mother, who had the courage to make her way in the United States, not without great effort, and to raise her three young daughters: the architect is Alejandra. Of her two sisters, one is a chemical engineer and the other has a master’s degree in business.
“She is my compass,” Alejandra tells Sol de Medianoche, “I have a very inspiring trajectory. I always wanted to be an architect. First, I was a landscape architect because architecture and landscape should go hand in hand. And with my work I want to contribute to the community and to the fight against climate change.”
“In construction, it’s important to use materials that do not emit carbon gases, that are more resistant and durable,” Alejandra explains. “The main contribution of The Alley House is that it generates more energy than it needs and can therefore contribute that surplus energy to the system. Unfortunately, this is not yet possible in our energy system.” She adds: “The house does not allow any heat transfer, neither in winter nor in summer. It is hot when it is cold outside and viceversa.”
Alejandra Lagunas is not an expert in extreme climates, such as the Arctic. But she believes that “Latinos have a lot to contribute to efficient architecture in the US. In Alaska, a house like The Alley House would also be possible, with thermal insulation, and being sustainable. “I don’t have an exact answer, but I think you just have to look at our ancestors and see how they built, with what materials, how they harmonized their constructions with nature. Today, modern buildings are technically more advanced. But our ancestors guided us to know which materials are the best among those that are available in the environment, and how to take advantage of them, with water and air.”
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