Volcanoes and trash-bottles each represent a mental shift that occurred while traveling and working in a truly foreign place. So foreign to my life in Denver, they served as constant reminders to how different a place I was in. While in Comalapa, seismic activity from one of the many active volcanoes in the area was a daily occurrence. What sounded like thunder rumbling in the distance was in fact a small eruption, which could be confirmed by observing the dark plumes above the cone-shaped peaks. Maybe it was the awareness of the Maya 2012 predictions while in the land of the Maya, but at times it was downright eerie. Trash bottles are a simple solution to cheap building materials and to the abundant plastic trash everywhere. I was skeptical when reading about them, but once in Comalapa, it quickly became the way we disposed of plastic trash. Maybe it was because there were no trash cans in sight, but stuffing soda bottles with wrappers, or saving wrappers when no bottles were around, became normal. And when seeing a wall constructed from these stuffed bottles, it made even more sense.
These differences aside, much of the work we set out to do is the same no matter what part of the world we are in. In this blog I will attempt to write down my thoughts on culture, design-build, the architect-engineer-contractor relationship, and sustainability as it relates specifically to our experience here in Guatemala.
December 23, 2011
In preparation for our upcoming departure to Guatemala, and as a way to quickly gain some insight into a country I knew very little about, I watched the documentary When the Mountains Tremble which was recommended by fellow classmate and traveler Kimberlee. It depicts the brutal Guatemalan civil war as told by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu.
I found it to be very helpful in preparing my mindset to transition into another country. The majority of the filming takes place in the Highlands of Guatemala, which is where we will be living and working for the first week and a half of our trip – helpful to see the people and the setting we will be traveling to. It is also interesting to note the role of American aid during the civil war (the Reagan administration was essentially supporting the Guatemalan military) to see if there is any anti-American sentiment lingering, or to at least be aware of what our role was.
update NPR link: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/01/14/145210344/guatemalas-legacy-of-violence-follows-new-leader-to-power
December 27, 2011
There is nothing quite like the initial ride from the airport to get all of your senses acclimated to a new place, especially in a developing country like Guatemala. One can’t help but feel overstimulated by the surreal changes that each one of your individual senses experiences. The smell of smoke and burning seems to be everywhere.
January 02, 2012
It is really something to see how far a simple greeting goes here in Guatemala. Buenos dias, Buenos tardes, Buenos noches…Good day, good afternoon, good night. Locals in Comalapa and Antigua go about their day, seemingly business like, and with little interest in a wandering gringo. Yet eye contact and a simple greeting ignite big smiles and a return greeting, without fail, young or old.
December 26, 2011
I am looking forward to gaining exposure on an international design-build project in the role of an architect. To date, my experience with design-build projects has been through the lens of a general contractor on large engineer-designed projects. I suspect that while the scale of this project may be different, the general challenges will be very similar. I have learned that not everyone, (owners, designers, and contractors included) is necessarily best suited for Design-Build. When done correctly, the up-front collaboration of the design-build method can save tremendous amounts of time and money for all parties. Without it however, and without the proper management in place, the advantages quickly fade and frustration can spread in its place. A successful design-build team is just that; a team in every sense that shares responsibilities and communicates effectively through every stage of a project.
December 29, 2011
One key design-build lesson experienced by our team in the past two days is: ADAPTABILITY
Upon arriving to the Technico Maya construction site on day one, it was clear that the construction progress had not followed the anticipated schedule. While we had spent our time in Denver preparing design options for window and door formwork for 20’ diameter earth-bag classrooms, the ground had not even been cleared for said classrooms. Not a problem; our new focus was to start construction of a smaller prototype classroom, as well as other miscellaneous tasks. Some groups may fret over not being able to do what expectations were, but our group was up for the task for contributing to the project however we could.
As in any construction project, some subcontractors are not reliable. We waited almost a full day for a back-hoe to mobilize to the site and excavate ground for the foundation of the structure we were to start building. With limited time, lots of manpower and lots of shovels, it was decided that we could wait no longer and would excavate our own foundation by hand. Again, adapting to the conditions proved to be a strong point of our group.
January 3, 2012
Field layout is a crucial job on any construction project, and in my opinion, under appreciated. For design-build projects it is especially critical due to design changes that occur during construction. Maintaining updated and accurate records among all parties involved can be a daunting task. Even on a small project such as our prototype earth-bag dome, many decisions were made on the fly, and recording these changes proved invaluable for future day’s work. Long Way Home construction supervisors have the unenviable task of coordinating with an ever changing workforce of volunteers. They not only have to train and educate each new set of volunteers, but must also keep track of the on-the-fly design changes as they go.
December 27, 2011
Before getting involved in any project directly affecting the daily lives of others, especially in developing countries, I think it is important to ask the tough questions in order to fully understand our (American students/professionals) role and place. What business to we have doing here in the first place? Who are we to decide what is best for anyone else in any other culture? Maybe things look bad to outsiders, but these people look perfectly happy and smiling. It was during my first international development project with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in Togo, Africa (www.ewbdenver.org) that helped me to answer these questions for myself. I think that every human deserves access to the most basic survival needs, including safe drinking water and basic sanitation practices. When a community collectively recognizes a need in one of these areas, then I believe we are well within our right to educate and help a community achieve their goals. Borrowing from a successful “Empowering the Community” model (Ned Breslin, Water for People), it is important to understand that the community stakeholders have much more to gain or lose from any project than anyone else. Our role as outsiders needs to be much like a consultant’s role to any client. We need to ask the right questions to find out what the needs are, then educate and provide options for the community so they are involved at every stage of a project. Ultimately the community needs to have ownership of the project for it to be successful.
Not having a lot of background information on the relationship between Long Way Home and the Technico Maya School, I had more questions than answers regarding the level of community involvement on this particular project. It was reassuring to hear first-hand from Liz, the Assistant Construction Manager of the Technico Maya project, background on how the community approached Long Way Home to start such a project. After successfully completing their first project, El Parque, the community voiced their desire for another project specifically addressing their need for a better space for a school, and also voiced concerns over the trash problem in the area, and their desire to address sustainability issues. It makes perfect sense now – the Earthship (www.earthship.com) design and construction methods address the trash and sustainability concerns while also keeping costs low.
January 09, 2012 – Coatepeque / Chiquirines
The scale of this project is quite different from that of the Long Way Home project. Agro-America and the CU Medical School are teaming up on a $4M project which includes a new medical research facility and other buildings. My experience with projects of this size has been traditional projects with a contract between the owner and design-builder. Given the scale of this project, and the potential impact on the surrounding community, it seems like it would be a good project to utilize the community based participatory research model, where the community is involved at all stages of research and design of the project. With our limited involvement in the project to date, it is hard to have a full understanding of the relationship of all stakeholders, and the scope of work each entity is responsible for. Moving forward, I think it is crucial for the CU Denver architecture group to have access to,
and be included in any existing contract documents, MOU’s, etc. That said, it was beneficial to get a glimpse into the lives of those who stand to benefit the most from this project. It is a very exciting project with many opportunities for collaboration, and I look forward to the future work.
Written by Scott Rank