Understanding basic material properties is a knowledge that is fairly universal and is important when engaging a foreign field condition. Designing from a distance in Ann Arbor, Michigan demanded a flexibility in the design that would be suitable for a variety of materials. The local building materials at the site of the Pantanal are minimal and mainly; concrete, rebar, oito furo (infill block), macico (structural brick), and wood. Although the look and/or process of mixing these materials may be a bit different from typical American construction, the properties and deployment of each is similar. So understanding how a reinforced concrete column or bond beam works becomes a great asset and the challenges become understanding the tools that are available in putting the materials together and in some cases where the materials are located.
Wood was retrieved locally from trees from the surrounding forest. A one-eyed lumberjack and his apprentice cut all the wood to standard sizes on site, deep in the wetlands. They used an oiled piece of string to mark the wood and a diesel-powered chain saw to cut the wood into pieces that were straighter than anything we could find in Pocone. They required a little assistance in rolling over one of the largest trees; a task achieved with the assistance of a study abroad group who worked on site for three work weeks in June and July. It was also our responsibility to retrieve and move all of the cut pieces from the forest to the site.
clockwise: marking the wood; rolling over the large tree; wood being cut with a chain saw directly from a fallen tree; map with 0.8 kilometer diameter showing location of trees used for wood with respect to site
The concrete mix varied according to who we spoke to. The primary three elements are sand, gravel, and cement. We were initially told a 6:3:1 and were also told a 4:2:1 but we ended up going with a 3:2:1 mixture. The mortar mixture, including sand, lime, and cement, was consistently 4:1:1. The concrete mixer worked occasionally but mostly, concrete and mortar were mixed on the ground, by hand, with water pumped from the nearby well. For the ground mixture, sand, cement, and aggregate are mixed dry and then water is added while in the concrete mixer, aggregate comes first, then water, then cement, and finally sand, and more water. For the columns, we tried to use the concrete mixer for consistency. Only one of the ten columns was mixed on the ground.
close up images of all ten columns
Building materials are also an important part of the design process in that it is the module upon which the spatial and formal character of the architecture is defined. The “oito furo”, or eight-holed, infill block acted in much the same way for this project and the initial design was easily adapted to suit this particular module. When we gave our plans over to the engineer, they were edited based on this module. The other bricks and materials used for building all relate to this 9 by 18.5 by 19 centimeter module in some way.
top to bottom: stub out in newly constructed septic tank; interior outfitting; biosand water filter, diesel engine (current energy system); solar panels being prepared for installation
Material delivery was the only aspect of the project that resulted in no surprised and happened on time, as expected, every time. Materials were delivered from Pocone.
top to bottom: estimated material needs versus actual materials used; material delivery and unloading