Mecalux Retrofit

A social housing research collaboration with Mecalux, a Spanish multinational a maquiladora in Tijuana to retrofit their prefabricated metal pallet rack systems into new structural frameworks for social housing in the settlements of Tijuana.  We exhibited a prototype in 2015 as part of​ a high-profile international exhibition in Berlin on the global housing crisis. With the Berlin-based nonprofit Kotti & Co we installed a second prototype in a social housing plaza.​ This prototype is now being adapted in Tijuana into new social housing and other public infrastructure facilitated by CGJ researchers, designers and students.

Informal Settlements as laboratories for social housing and public space
The settlements that flank the US-Mexico border at San Diego-Tijuana are open-air factories of self-built social housing, to compensate for the lack of municipal investment in housing and public infrastructure. People navigating conditions of scarcity informally build their own emergency shanties, by recycling the urban waste of San Diego, generating what we call a ‘second-hand’ urbanization, a new urban political economy of waste.  We see the slums on the periphery of Tijuana as living laboratories for rethinking and designing new models of social housing.  Inspired by post-war French architect Jean Prouvé, we believe that the incrementality of these informal building practices in the slums of Tijuana can be supported by prefabrication.  Informal methods of adapting disjointed architectural parts into new housing environments produces a unique context to re-imagine the relationship between industry, prefabrication and social housing.

We do not glorify poverty – we are hugely critical of the geo-political and economic forces that marginalize people into slums – but our experience tells us that the agency of communities building their own housing, with robust public and private support, is the most creative and most sustainable model to advance a more equitable urban development, where top down resources connect to bottom-up creative intelligence.

As a NAFTA economic zone, Tijuana is city of factories, a tax-haven for multinational corporations. This has exacerbated the social and environmental challenges of this border city, and the crisis of social housing. Today, industry exploits cheap labor, lax environmental laws and tax incentives to produce or assemble goods for export to US and global markets. Multinationals insert themselves at the edges of slums, without providing housing, or contributing to quality of life in these precarious environments.

In a request for ethical reciprocity, we began partnering with Mecalux, a Spanish maquiladora in Tijuana, researching how to retrofit their prefabricated metal shelving systems into new structural frameworks for self-built housing and public infrastructure in the slums of Tijuana.  We exhibited a prototype in 2015    as part of an international housing exhibition in Berlin – “Wohnungsfrage” (link to: , at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Partnering with the Berlin-based social housing nonprofit Kotti & Co (link to), led primarily by Turkish immigrants, we installed a second prototype on the street, in a public housing plaza in Kreutzberg. Soon afterward a third prototype was exhibited in the California-Pacific Triennial of Art in Orange County.  In Summer 2017, we developed our first prototype on the ground in Tijuana.  Our UCSD summer interns learned to work with the Mecalux materials, and we built a bus stop, a few meters from our Divina Community Station site, to shelter maquiladora workers from the brutal sun as they wait sometimes an hour or more for factory shuttles public busses to arrive.

The prefabricated logics of the Mecalux system are the armature of both the UCSD-Alacrán Housing Project and the UCSD-Divina Community Station.  Mecalux is an enthusiastic humanitarian partner.  They have donated a generous subsidy toward the materials, recognizing the possibility of scaling our prefabricated housing model across the informal settlements in Tijuana.

Public Exhibition of Mecalux Retrofit
Cal-Pacific Triennial at Orange County Museum of Art (2017).

Wohnungsfrage, a global housing exhibition, Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin in collaboration with the social housing non-profit Kotti & Co (2015)

“Architecture’s Border Crossings,” Wendy Gilmartin, KCET LA Artbound, October 3, 2017

“2017 California-Pacific Triennial”, Christopher Michno, Artillery, July 4, 2017

“Artists and architects unite to imagine creative solutions to the global housing crisis,” George Kafka, Huck Magazine, December 2, 2015

Wohnungsfrage: An exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin reflects on the architectural and housing issues that define our times,” Elena Ferrari, Domus, October 30, 2015

“Exhibition // Wohnungsfrage: The Housing Question Reloaded”, Benjamin Busch, Berlin ArtLink, October 30, 2015



Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz, in Mundaneum 1999-2019: Mondo Nostrum, Eds. Álvaro Rojas and Federico Soriano.  Madrid: Fisuras de la Cultura Contemporánea, 2018, pp. 92-97.


Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz, “Rethinking Permanence, Democratizing Space,” Catalogue Essay, in Building As Ever; 2017 California-Pacific Triennial of Art, Orange County Museum of Art, pp.131-138, 2017.


Fonna Forman, Teddy Cruz and Kotti & Co., “The Retrofit Gecekondu”, Wohnungsfrage (Haus der Kulturen Der Welt), Leipzig: Spector Books, 2015.

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