Alejandro D’Acosta and Claudia Turrent, Social Architects Written By: HIP Mexico Team
Alejandro D’Acosta and Claudia Turrent have a very special ability to look at blighted areas and see what could be. They also have the social consciousness and grasp of economic realities to understand not only how poverty gnaws at the human spirit but how to build hope with the careful planning and precise design that they depend on as true architects.
Although they were born and raised in Mexico City, D’Acosta and Turrent lived for eight years in Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states. They began a program there to fight malnutrition and promote food availability as a basic human right. Their visits to very remote villages inspired them to measure, design, construct and fund buildings and donate the infrastructure to the communities, not only in Oaxaca but in neighboring Chiapas as well.
With the help of scholars, students and other professionals, they erected a total of 16 buildings, including health facilities and cultural centers, for some of the poorest communities in Mexico. The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the Technische Universität Berlin, known as TU Berlin, also collaborated in those efforts
For D’Acosta and Turrent, architecture should serve communities. They are particularly proud of the way in which their work reconciles architecture inspired by local traditions and needs, and using local materials with contemporary sustainability.
The social architecture that accounts for the bulk of their work was spawned by their humanistic belief in working to make the world better. They also believe in immersing themselves in the communities that they have served.
“No one knows more about our own environment than we do; the value does not come from outside,” they wrote in response to a question from Hispanics in Philanthropy. “We must first understand what we already know — act locally to be global.”
D’Acosta recalled that, when he was little, his missionary parents worked with indigenous Otomi in a highly marginalized community of the Mezquital Valley in Hidalgo state. There he learned to see marginalization as an opportunity for human growth.
“No matter the scale of my work, I cannot imagine any professional activity that does not contribute to the community,” he said. “We have learned more than what we have been able to help.”
Turrent takes great pleasure in seeing buildings they designed be inhabited and enjoyed.
“It inspires me to build spaces that make people smile or even laugh and contribute to a pleasant everyday existence,” she said.
Over the past 25 years, the couple also has taught at UNAM and the Universidad Iberoamericana, among other institutions of higher learning. They live in Ensenada, in Baja California, where they have a successful family viticulture project.
The 31 HIPGivers recognized in 2015 are collectively altering the landscape for our country. They are pushing the envelope by asking for more – more consideration, more awareness, more compassion, more action, more giving.