On September 19, exactly 32 years from the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook central Mexico, killing hundreds and leveling buildings in the capital and surrounding towns.
For Victor Alemán, creative director of the industrial design firm Estudio Victor Alemán in Mexico City, an average day at the factory turned into a week of rescue attempts as emergency crews and volunteers dug through the rubble of toppled buildings to find survivors. This, Alemán said, is characteristic of Mexico. “Mexicans are very helpful. People who saw buildings fall didn’t run. They were there to help. They started helping in the same moment, not waiting to see if it was risky or safe. A lot of people weren’t thinking about what they were doing. [The thought was] there are people inside there who need help. There was that momentum of helping with what we have.”
After the first week, that momentum continued, and Alemán turned to his friends in the industry to begin the rebuilding process. For him, the importance was in helping his communities—particularly the towns surrounding Mexico City—move on by eschewing the traditional mindset of creating temporary shelters that would have to be rebuilt in a year or two, prolonging the psychological stress of the inhabitants. In doing so, Alemán worked with his local network to create more long-term building shells, furniture, lighting, and appliances.
“Now we’re thinking about the secondary necessities,” Alemán noted. “They [also] need privacy; they need to keep their places clean. They need to feel like their lives are coming to a normal state again. We’re trying to make furniture and appliances feel like they’re forever: like they are not just something you do yourself and use for one or two years max. [We want the inhabitants to] feel like they are recovering.”
While it will still take some time for central Mexico to recover, Alemán sees this as a reminder to keep disaster preparedness in mind when designing products. While interiors are designed to accommodate the user and deliver aesthetic appeal, their use in an emergency is not often a consideration.
“Don’t forget that your design could help someone survive,” he said.
how to get involved
For more information, and to help design and rebuild in central Mexico, Victor Alemán can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or +52 1 55 2047 7135.
To donate, Alemán suggests contacting Lago Tanganica 67, a non-profit organization that was created to gather and distribute supplies to those in need. Visit www.lagotanganica67.mx or call through the smartphone app WhatsApp: 55 49 38 36 48.
In all communities, handlingemergencies and natural disasters starts with being prepared. Work with local fire departments or emergency preparedness groups to host informative workshops and discussions on how to make an emergency plan. To get more information on preparing for natural disasters, see the American Red Cross tutorial at redcross.org/flash/brr/English-html/default.asp
Photography by Victor Alemán