Wallenberg Fellow’s architectural drawings to address climate change in Mexico

Once University of Michigan student Meghana Tummala returned from Mexico City after a study abroad trip in May 2022, she began to draw. She created an architectural diagram to document everything she had just witnessed.

Tummala, an undergraduate at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, spent last summer perfecting the drawing with lots of details, to portray her observations about the city’s climate predicament in the best way possible.

“I thought that by finishing the drawing, I’d be able to move on to whatever the next chapter of my life had to offer, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Mexico City,” she said. “I wanted to do more than observe the conditions but engage with communities to understand how they take to particular solutions. I wanted to have genuine conversations with the communities there who face the brunt of the impacts. I wanted to go back.”

Now, Tummala is set to return as the winner of the 2023 Raoul Wallenberg Fellowship, which provides $25,000 for an independent project of learning or exploration anywhere in the world during the year after graduation. The fellowship honors Wallenberg, a noted U-M alumnus who, as a diplomat during World War II, helped save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

After graduating in May and concluding her Peace Corps prep certification, Tummala will return to Mexico City this summer to expand her knowledge of community-based design and discover how architecture can play a role in addressing climate change.

“After my study abroad trip, I grew more interested in the effects of climate change, especially around themes of water—flooding, extreme rainfall, droughts and lack of access to clean water,” she said. “Although these effects impact many Latin American countries, Mexico City is unique in that it’s also sinking due to the draining of the aquifer underground.”

During the fellowship, Tummala plans to engage with architecture firms and community members working to address the water crisis in the city. She aims to understand how architecture can play a role in spatializing the research on sustainably equitable actions to benefit the communities most affected by flooding and to fight environmental injustices.

“I wish to use this fellowship to answer these questions in the context of Mexico, documenting through “day in the life”-style illustrations of various people and communities interacting with water,” Tummala said. “I hope my findings can be transferable to other countries and regions facing similar challenges.”

Programs assistant Laura Brown worked with every Taubman College student who applied and moved forward for the Wallenberg Fellowship.

“I knew from the moment I started speaking with Meghana that her proposal would be amazing,” Brown said. “She was connecting her experiences to her courses to how it would help her learn in future locations and situations, and speaking about it clearly and with detail right from the start. While this is an easy way to evaluate a proposal, the fact that she spoke with warmth for the people, excitement about the possibility and fascination with the destination made her stand out in my mind and heart.”

Clara Gamalski, program manager for Student Life Sustainability, has worked with Tummala for two years.

“I am certain that Meghana will bring her voracious appetite for learning, commitment to participatory planning and level-headed approach to project management to her Wallenberg project,” she said.

Through her studies, Tummala learned the power of hand drawing to see and understand new spaces and perspectives without being invasive.

“I plan on sharing this experience using daily hand drawings,” she said. “The illustrations will be a series of quick sketches, capturing the journey different people take in a day and their interactions with water along the way, similar to a storyboard.”

Ultimately, she wants to create a digital catalog on the relationship between water, architecture and communities through a website displaying her drawings and findings.

“By interacting and understanding how different people in Mexico City are taking to these architectural interventions, this proposal could become a prototype that I can apply to other regions and countries facing similar ecological issues,” Tummala said.

“Similar to how the travel experiences Raoul Wallenberg had influenced his later humanitarian efforts, I hope this project will allow me to grow and continue to work in design fields that address how objects or spaces can be made better to accommodate different needs and arising climate issues.”

– Fernanda Pires, originally posted in Michigan News