[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…]