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Many of the projects in the Mexico pavilion at the Venice Biennale seek to recover or promote the use of local materials. Among them are the works of Community Cooperation in Guerrero, Communal in Puebla, Basic Architecture Laboratory in Oaxaca and Chihuahua, and CapaLab in Baja California Sur.
Each of them responds to a specific site, and exemplifies ways in which architects can promote and enrich local knowledge.
Community Cooperation and adobe
The Community Cooperation project that is presented in the pavilion takes place in the Sierra de Guerrero. In recent years, many adobe houses in this region suffered damage from earthquakes and hurricanes. The team of architects and engineers of Community Cooperation carried out a diagnosis and discovered that the adobes were not strong enough.
Through a participatory process, a vernacular dwelling was built with bricks of adequate size and with certain modifications — such as buttresses and certain stone and concrete elements — that make it more resistant. The inhabitants of the region have implemented the lessons of this construction process in the repair of their homes and in the construction of new houses.
Some public institutions offer block houses as an alternative to vernacular adobe houses. Besides being expensive to bring industrial materials to the mountains, the houses that are built with them are of lower quality. In contrast, Community Cooperation strategies allow to give continuity to constructive processes and ways of living adapted to their natural and cultural environment.
Communal and bamboo housing
The Communal office has developed housing projects in the Sierra de Puebla. In a similar way to Community Cooperation, its work starts from the existing housing typology, and proposes certain modifications that improve its habitability and make the construction processes cheaper and more efficient.
In the surroundings of Cuetzalan bamboo abounds. Comunal chose a community in the area, Tepetzintan, and made, in a participatory way with its inhabitants, a typical house with a bamboo structure. This house — which is used today as a community center — also has prefabricated pieces of bamboo and soil from the site.
The techniques introduced by Comunal have begun to multiply in the region — those who participated in the construction of the typical house have used their construction techniques in other buildings. This has allowed the community to take advantage of bamboo and not have to resort to more expensive and less sustainable materials such as cement, block or sheet.
Laboratory of basic architecture and straw
For two decades, Juan Casillas has dedicated himself to building “regenerative houses”. In other words, they are not only ecological, but also seek to have a positive impact on the environment. One of the specialties of his workshop is straw construction. The bale walls take advantage of residual material (which if not used would be incinerated), and are also easy to build in a participatory way.
This is the case of one of Casillas's projects that is presented in the pavilion: with his guide, the Chopeke Collective of Ciudad Juárez built a small thatched house for a group of Rrámuri migrants. The collective and the Rrámuri have made other constructions with the same technique, strengthening their ties as a community through this process.
Casillas has experimented with other construction strategies that are also recycling processes. In another case that occurs in Venice, the architect built a house on the coast of Oaxaca with bajareque and PET. Traditionally, the houses in this area were built with shells that their builders collected on the beach; today shells are scarce and PET bottles abound. This situation motivated Casillas to integrate the bottles into the construction processes.
CapaLab and the mud
The work of the CapaLab office that is presented in the Mexico pavilion in Venice is Casa O. It is a prototype of a house built for victims of Hurricane Odile that devastated Los Cabos in 2014.
Los Cabos is a recent town; Before being a tourist development, it was a largely uninhabited area. Thus, there is no entrenched vernacular architecture. With Casa O, CapaLab proposes a local architecture that takes advantage of the available materials and responds to the specific conditions of the site. The rooms in Casa O are organized around a central patio, which allows all spaces to be ventilated naturally; some of them have lattices that filter the light into the interior. House O is built of rammed earth extracted from the site. Some of its walls are made of block, which are filled with earth so that they are more thermal in an arid and hot context.
As part of the experimentation with local materials, CapaLab has also produced earth blocks, which have very high resistance and represent an economical and ecological alternative to cement blocks.
Local materials and strategies
Three of the projects described here — those carried out by Community Cooperation, Basic Architecture Laboratory, and CapaLab — have manuals that allow non-experts to know and implement their designs and construction techniques. The four projects, beyond being isolated experiences, are strategies for the use of appropriate materials for local conditions, as well as alternatives to the industrialization and standardization of construction processes in the country.
The laws and regulations that govern housing in Mexico often do not recognize the richness of vernacular architecture or the benefits of using local materials. The four experiences that we present show that it is possible to promote the continuity of vernacular production systems and the development of others linked to regional processes and conditions. In the short term, it is convenient to adapt financing schemes for new homes and for adjustments, so that they respond to the characteristics of different geographical contexts in the country.
Technical Committee of the Mexico Pavilion