Pieces of Home: Exploring Materials of Mexico

19.05.227 min read

How can we design in symbiosis with our local environments to shape the homes of tomorrow? We collaborated with five designers in Mexico to explore materials that better represent people, land, and craft.


Home is more than the sum of its parts.
It is the connector of place, culture, and time.
It extends beyond the human to our non-human neighbours.

‘How do we choose the materialities of our future? By listening to and observing what we already have around us. We need to understand our surroundings. The idea of a single solution for all isn’t taking into consideration cultural nuances.’

Seetal Solanki

Material Translator, Ma-tt-er

Amid the global flow of information, technologies, materials and resources, we might forget the significance of our local context when defining the home through design. The pandemic highlighted flaws in the global supply chain, prompting us to look towards localised solutions. So we wondered if we could find ways to shape our future homes by looking to regional heritage, culture, craft — and to the land itself.

To examine this new paradigm further, we invited material designers from around Mexico to explore their bioregions with us through the lens of local materials. As part of our Mexico City Pop-Up and in collaboration with experts Ma-tt-er and Biology Studio, we asked: how can we make use of discarded natural materials and design processes to participate in our local ecosystems in supportive ways? And how can tomorrow’s materials create positive impact for local communities?

Mexico’s vast biodiversity became a teacher and collaborator, guiding us on this journey. The five designers prompt us to look at the abundant soil beneath our feet, precious native beeswax, and the waste from fruit and vegetable harvests to imagine better ways of making.

SPACE10 — Residency — Tomorrow’s Materials — Location — Gabriel Calvillo (Beeswax) — Web — Photo by Almendra Isabel — 27 — DSC09105

Homes for Honey

—Tixpéhual, Yucatán

Xunaán kaab is the Mayan name for Melipona beecheii — a stingless bee native to Mexico, which produces honey, pollen and wax. Gabriel Calvillo uses beeswax to mould potes and piqueras, structures essential to native hives. Homes for Honey is an interspecies collaboration, where humans prefabricate the foundations and bees finish the construction.

Melipona is a tribe of stingless bee species with local ecological and cultural value. ‘In the Mayan tradition, the origin of bees is spoken of as something that precedes the birth of time itself,’ Calvillo says. ‘According to their mythology, bees are sacred and their destiny is entangled with ours.’

The Maya peoples used hollow logs to raise Xunaán kaab for two thousand years, creating an intimate relationship of interdependence between pollinators and people. Yet stingless beekeepers are dwindling — and so is biodiversity. Native bees are important for creating resilience in a time of climatic uncertainty.

‘They’re essential for conserving biodiversity, since their relationship with native flowering plants is the result of thousands or even millions of years of coevolution,’ Calvillo says.

SPACE10 — Residency — Tomorrow’s Materials — Location — Paloma Morán Palomar (Tamarind) — Web — Photo by Almendra Isabel — 1 — DSC09214

Weaving Heirlooms

—Tequesquitlán, Jalisco

Paloma Morán Palomar’s family farms tamarind in Tequesquitlán, a small village in Jalisco. While the pulp is edible and the seeds can be used as health remedies, the pod and fibre are discarded as waste. Weaving Heirlooms transforms tamarind fibre into thread to explore possibilities in textile applications.

‘Agriculture is something that we will always need as food is always going to be important for us. If we can recover waste from agriculture, we can have a more sustainable approach to the way we design.’

Paloma Morán Palomar

Industrial Designer

Tamarind fibre extends from inside the pod to connect the fruit to the tree. An extension of the branch, it feels like thin threads of wood. The project reconsiders waste in a way that respects the memory of the material. The resulting rug intertwines traditional weaving techniques with current material discoveries.

‘When we are investigating new materials, we often have to look back to ancestral techniques and the way artisans work. There is not a specific tool to process the tamarind fibre, so as designers, we have to find ways to adapt existing tools and machines.’

By experimenting with what is at hand, Palomar turns waste into something useful, valuable, and beautiful — which extends family, cultural and ecological heritage towards new futures.

SPACE10 — Residency — Tomorrow’s Materials — Location — Taina Campos (Corn) — Web — Photo by Almendra Isabel — 7 — DSC09721 — landscape

Articles of Protection

—Milpa Alta, Mexico City

Articles of Protection is a series of vessels that can be used to serve, protect and transport food — made with discarded corn husk. To design the vessels, Taina Campos worked with Mujeres de la Tierra, a community organisation supporting women who have experienced domestic violence. To become financially independent, the women make and sell tortillas, tamales, and atole, which are made from local corn. The women desired non-plastic vessels to carry their delicious foods, so Campos turned to waste from the corn harvest to make a material.

After harvest, the corn husk can be reused to wrap tamales, but is usually discarded. When combined with corn starch and water, it finds new life as packaging.

‘For the agricultural populations of Mesoamerica, corn not only represented the basis of nutrition, it is also seen as the essence of the human being,’ Campos says.

‘Today, there are around 60 species of corn in Mexico, but many of them are in danger of extinction. The cultivation of native corn is gradually being displaced by foreign hybrids and transgenic seeds.’

Protecting native corn is culturally and ecologically vital — for the health of the land and the people. With these vessels, Campos extends this thread of protection to encompass people, food and place, while reducing plastic waste and agricultural residues.

SPACE10 — Residency — Tomorrow’s Materials — Location — Karen Kerstin Poulain (Soil) — Web — Photo by Almendra Isabel — 20 — DSC09525

Building with Earth

—San Francisco Chimalpa, Naucalpan

For Building with Earth, Karen Kerstin Poulain taps into an alternative way of working with soil — pouring it! Tepetate is a soil rich in clay and sand. It can be mixed with rice husk and water to form a liquid that can be poured into a mould. The composite uses very little energy inputs.

Soil is underexplored in modern Mexican architecture, with barriers in the lack of local techniques and social connotations with poverty. While concrete was the darling of industrialisation, it’s an energy-intensive material and responsible for eight percent of global CO2 emissions. To build affordable housing, we need alternative methods and liquid soil has great potential.

‘Mexico has a boundless diversity of soils that can be used in building. Throughout the years that I have studied and applied soil as a construction material, I have realised that the problem lies in the lack of knowledge of techniques and the long periods of manufacture for mudbrick housing.’

Poulain’s recipe also reduces agricultural waste: ‘rice husk is an agricultural residue with little or no secondary use, and it’s abundant in the State of Mexico,’ Poulain says. The fibres increase the liquid soil’s resistance to compression and cracking.

SPACE10 — Residency — Tomorrow’s Materials — Location — Bertín López (Rambutan) — Web — Photo by Almendra Isabel — 13 — DSC09358

Migrating Objects

—Tapachula, Soconusco

Bertín López worked closely with farmers in Soconusco to understand the rambutan’s contribution to the local ecology — and to find ways to transform agricultural waste into functional objects for the home.

‘The complex interactions between the rambutan trees and surrounding species play a major role in regenerating degraded ecosystems, and this is a key component for this material development,’ López says.

While the interior of this ‘hairy’ fruit is a juicy, delicious snack, the peel is usually discarded. Once deconstructed, its many fibre bonds and compounds allow the material to be reconstructed without additives, making this process unique. The resulting bowls honour the Soconusco earth and growers by using the whole crop.

‘Materials are charged with elements that can be transferred among entities. The end of life of the vessels only means an opportunity to give back all the nutrients to the next host — adding resilience to the environment and hence to the community it belongs.’

Bertín López


The rambutan migrated from South-east Asia in the 1950s and took up residency among Soconusco’s soils. What was once foreign has become part of the local identity. This materials research could be relevant in other warm climates where the diasporic rambutan has too found a home.

SPACE10 – Residency – Tomorrow’s Materials – Web — Map 1920X1080 — Image by Catherine Potvin

Connecting the pieces

Following six weeks of intensive research, prototyping, and experimentation, we presented the five projects in the exhibition, Pieces of Home. The exhibition invites visitors to consider how we can design, make, and build our homes and everyday objects in symbiosis with land, culture and time — and in regenerative ways.

From the physical walls that form a place of shelter, to objects that preserve and enable nourishment, the designs are linked by their shared relationship with the home. We collaborated with photographer Almendra Isabel to capture each material’s place of origin. The images feature alongside the prototypes and the raw materials they are made from, connecting landscape, material and object.

Pieces of Home premiered at the SPACE10 Mexico City Pop-Up in April 2022, before touring to Casa UC and Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City, Pad and ITESO in Guadalajara. Living in Mexico? We’ll announce more locations soon.


Gabriel Calvillo is an industrial designer dedicated to designing with and for non-human species. His project Refugio gives people the opportunity to interact with and support bees more closely in their everyday lives. In 2014, Gabriel co-founded Maliarts, a multidisciplinary creative agency focused on various projects ranging from animation production to street furniture design.

Paloma Morán Palomar is an industrial designer interested in circular design and research into materials for sustainable production. Her work as a designer is based on a constant search for the local and the recovery of ancestral knowledge for its implementation in contemporary design.

Taina Campos is an industrial designer focused on regenerative design through material experimentation, social innovation, and design research. She teaches these design practices at different universities. Taina defines herself as an eco-feminist activist and believes that diversity, equality, fair trade, the conscious extraction of resources, good waste management, clean and healthy processes, respect for local communities, and other factors involved in sustainable design, shape the best way to design.

Karen Kerstin Poulain is an architect focusing on soil construction systems and a teacher at Ibero University. Having researched the local soil of Mexico, conducted multiple workshops within the field, and founded her own studio Raíz Arquitectura, her focus is on developing designs that respond to current needs and problems. Most recently, her practice has led her to develop a local soil solution, with similar characteristics to concrete.

Bertín López is an architect specialising in materials and design processes. He teaches students about the impact of design on ecosystems and how it can contribute to regeneration rather than degradation. He founded Studio Hole, a space dedicated to the development of experimental projects that combine digital fabrication, design, art, and biomaterials.

Seetal Solanki is a London-based materials designer, researcher, and writer. She is the director and founder of Ma-tt-er, a relational practice focused on building and bridging kinships between ourselves, materials, the immaterial and virtual. She is the author of ‘Why Materials Matter: Responsible Design For A Better World’.

Edith Medina is a biological artist and founder-director at Biology Studio — a Mexican material research and development studio with a focus on biological and bio-organic processes of material production, ancestral science, and biological thinking. She is a pioneer in the field of bioart in Mexico, specialising in biological materials and biomaterials with applications to design, art and science.