One of our goals at The Pueblo Project is to blend traditional building techniques with modern adaptations. A lot of people wonder just what that means though - triple-pane glass? Rare imported specialty tools? Purposely rusted metal roofs?
Not quite. Actually, not even close.
For us, it is about adapting modern techniques to the vast traditional building knowledge that Nicaraguans already possess...
It is about training communities, cultivating skills, and stimulating critical thinking so that local builders are able to not only solve problems that they see but to become proactive in building structures that will hold strong and maintain the image of integrity that natural building deserves. By respectfully introducing these adaptations, the heart and soul of local tradition is not only preserved but strengthened, ready for the world to see.
Here are some of the concepts that form the core of what we have to exchange as natural builders concerned with social justice, working in economically challenged communities.
Much of Central America lies in a seismic zone, making relatively small design tweaks for structural integrity very critical in creating safer homes. Properly sized lintels above doorways and windows, adequate foundations that bring earthen walls up off the ground, buttressing to help keep walls upright and the use of top plates to distribute roof loads are some examples of these concepts. We have been lucky to collaborate and promote these concepts alongside some of the leaders of this field in Latin America, including AMCC, the women's carpentry school in Condega.
The traditional wall systems that we encounter, with names like taquezal, enzunchado, embarrado, and adobe, make use of available materials other than earth to form window and door openings and to provide the overall building structure. The result is that earthen plasters and wall infills inevitably cover and terminate in contact with materials like wood, stone, or concrete.
At these points, we stress the need for bridging the two dissimilar materials. Spraguing or porcupining wood with nails, connecting and smearing coffee sacks soaked in clay slip across dissimilar surfaces, and creating clear plaster stops combined with refined application techniques are some of the more common tactics that we introduce in the cases that we feel this reinforcement is lacking.
With every plaster there are steps to be taken to ensure maximum adhesion and strength for the next layer to bond. Saturating the wall with a fine spray of water, brushing on clay slip, and scratching in a ‘mechanical key’ are some key ideas that we constantly stress for plaster success.
We love having communities share their wealth and variety in soil types with us. Through trial and error over generations, most communities are keenly aware of what soils in their areas are suitable for building. We facilitate fun hands-on discussions that ignite further observation into the components of the suitable building subsoils in order to enable experimentation and continued improvement.
We strive to train communities, cultivate skills, and stimulate critical thinking so that local builders are able to not only solve problems that they see but become proactive in building structures that will hold strong and maintain the image of integrity that natural building deserves. By sensitively introducing these adaptations, the heart and soul of local tradition is not only preserved but strengthened, ready for the world to see.
In the past couple of seasons, this exchange has been one of the most dynamic and fun experiences for The Pueblo Project team as the adaptations that Liz began introducing over 5 years ago are being further modified and improved, especially in Sabana Grande. How grand to see the people running with these ideas and molding them into their own!
- Gabe Woytek