Wide Earth Smallholding

Wide Earth Smallholding

And Allaah has made for you the earth a wide expanse.(Qur'aan- 71:19)

Interview With An Earthbag Architect -Part 1

[The following is an interview with Jose Andres Vallejo of ‘Arquitectura en Equilibrio’




1. Please give us some information about your general background and education. When did you develop an interest in architecture and specifically alternative types of architecture?

I recall being interested in architecture since very early when I was around 10 years old with a specific experience when staying overnight at a school friend’s home near Bogota that happened to be designed by probably the most relevant architect of the 20th century in Colombia, called Rogelio Salmona. What I remember of that experience is the warm and delightful emotion that this house, its materials and spaces created in me. This feeling kept reminding me of the power of architecture as a vehicle capable of shaping emotions in us, with all the responsibility that this implies.

Years after that it became clear to me that architecture combined many elements which were key motives for me such as: arts and creative processes, science and technology, and down to earth construction. All this to say that architecture is one of many paths to materialize ideas into experience and physicality that impacts on society and the natural and artificial structures of our earth, and this is what moves me. After studying architecture in the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota from 1995 to 2002 with additional minor studies in industrial design and anthropology, and working for some years in different areas, the question of how to continue this path independently and coherently, how to impact the least environmentally with my work and maximize a positive social output came to me. This motivated me to think alternatively, research and seek out different construction methods and materials.



2. You have been involved with various types of projects that utilized different standard and alternative building methods. Why have you focused on earthbags as the sustainable technology you prefer?


Earthbag building has captured my attention and work for some years now, and that is for the unique combination of attributes that this technique combines and the ease in which these attributes fit in my current social and natural environment here in Colombia. Earthbag building is a tool that can be shared and taught easily; it can produce robust, high quality dwellings for so many people, especially in rural areas were economic resources are short, but human and natural ones abound. Conceptually, earthbag building fits the criteria that I was seeking: it utilizes local untransformed materials to a great extent, it’s resistant to earthquakes, fires, winds, floods and even radiation. It can be built by anyone with a strong aspiration and simple training. In terms of design possibilities it offers plasticity, flexibility, malleability and structural strength which enable configurations that are more organic and natural in accordance more to ancient expressions of architecture, many of them loaded with sacredness and significance.



3. How have you found that the earthbag technology compares in terms of overall building costs to other alternative methods? As clearly affordable housing is a concern for many people in many parts of the world.


When the human and natural resources are available, earthbag building becomes a competitive construction method with costs similar to low cost industrialized housing alternatives- at least here in Colombia, where the labor cost is relatively low.


[To be continued…]


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  1. Wow, looking good! Those dogs are a bit worrisome though. I hope the owners aren’t terrorists like their pets. Jeez. Have you met any other neighbors and how do they feel about that? Fingers crossed that gets handled before you move in with your little ones. Snow might be melted enough for me to plant over the weekend! I too am grateful for the moisture – it could be manifesting in different form though, as far as I’m concerned. Not quite so white. LOL.

    1. I know it. They scare the kids too. We are going to try to connect the bits of fence that are on either side of the house to the house itself, so they can’t get in the backyard. They aren’t mean, but they are really, really friendly and rambunctious and wild. We haven’t met the neighbors yet. With all this mess over the bombings we will have to be very pro-active in that, making sure we make solid connections with them. They are used to Muslims though, and we are right next to the school and the masjid and many of the houses nearby are Muslims, so that is comforting. I saw you were getting snow! The rain here is cooooooold, but it could be worse (like white LOL)

  2. You mean grape VINE? (SMILE)

    Yes, the rain is such a blessing. Maashaa Allah, all those beautiful plants and potential nourishment and apothecary! I feel healthier just looking at it all, maashaa Allah.

    In the past four years, I have forgotten what it is like to have a garden. When I consider what constitutes “drought” there, I guess we must be super sub sub sub drought here. Somehow, three date palms and a few henna bushes don’t fill the green gap. Al hamdul’Illah, at least we have green dates on the tree.

    May Allah bless your efforts and grow your garden in abdundance – ameen!

    1. Oh VINE!! Well, you see, it doesn’t LOOK like a vine right now, it looks like a stick with some green things on it LOL!
      Northern Yemen was beautiful, mash’Allaah, green and lush and moist, but when we were in the South it was like you say. Dry dry dry and sunny almost all the time. Tough on my little Wisconsin girl self, mash’Allaah! I missed the green as well, and was so happy about whatever would sprout up!

  3. As salaamu alaykum wa rahmatulah,

    It looks great, masha’allah!

    I have started some seedlings including lettuce, tomatoes, onion and cucumber. This is our first venture into gardening, and we are very excited by the growth sprouting forth so far.

    Since we do not have much outdoor space, we will be repotting into bigger pots when the time is right.

    It really is all very exciting…

    1. Wa Aleikum Assalam wa Rahmatullah
      YES! mash’Allaah, I am always always so happy and grateful and amazed when the little seeds we plant turn into plants that give so much beauty to our lives, alhamdulillah.
      Someday take some pictures and share with me, insh’Allaah.

        1. Well, you could write a guest blog post, send them to me, and I can publish them, or put them up elsewhere and post a link to them, insh’Allaah. Technical things are so not my forte, mash’Allaah.

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