The Beach Bodega building saga continues.
High on the list of poor man’s building materials, concrete remains one of the more affordable components. For as little as a twenty dollar bill one can mix-up a cubic meter of ‘mud’ that will virtually last forever without maintenance.
Concrete is a fireproof material which can be molded into any desired form or to any desired surface texture. The possibilities of building with concrete are only limited by the imagination.
More than 30 years ago when I started to wake up and notice alternative building, Spanish architect Félix Candela came on my radar screen. From Mexico Candela helped introduce the world generally and me in particular to thin shell concrete structures.
Thin reinforced concrete, adobe, Earthships, light cement and papercrete were building processes that caught my eye.
When we began thinking about living in Mexico I imagined my concrete thinking would be solidified. It did not take long to realize, with barely an exception, conventional uses of concrete are grossly inefficient, wastefully expensive and highly laborious.
Armed with better ideas, techniques and the possibilities of better materials I thought I could find a home for all that swimming in my head in Mexico, what with all its concrete building. What I failed to take into account was the predominance of established procedures and Mexican traditions that would support ignoring the possibilities of better ways to accomplish concrete tasks or for my Mexican building associates to see the wider potentialities for concrete building.
Mexico’s house-building industry quite frankly includes many archaic, unscientific and unimaginative methods of construction. Unknown to virtually all Mexican masons is that the ultimate strength of concrete depends in some degree upon the mixing sequence as well as the water content. For example an 11 percent gain in strength can be had by mixing the sand, cement and water first then adding the gravel – not in the Mexican playbook.
What I learned that at my age and energy level fighting the battle to right these wrongs was simply too much – probably too much at any age.
If you plan on building in Mexico you should know that every Mexican muchacho has worked with concrete with his papa or tio. And every Mexican builder type you ask knows how to do every aspect of the construction process in much the same way as they all know the directions to anywhere you might be trying to find how to get to.
Knowledge of materials, design and structure considerations by way of alternative methods and materials completely fails to reach the typical Mexican builder.
If you want to lose the attention of Mexican builder’s fast you merely have to bring up tensile and compressive stresses as they relate to concrete mixtures and cement building processes. Never mind hyperbolic paraboloids that could even eliminate the need for steel reinforcement; something which is often eliminated for cost alone. Bringing me to a current frustration – roof systems Mexican style.
OK we are just building a bodega in the backyard. I think I might be likened to the precise, arrogant German aeronautical engineer that proposed a radical solution to rebuild a new aircraft from the wreckage of the old twin-boom aircraft in the 1965 Jimmy Stewart film, “Flight of the Phoenix.” The survivors signed on to the engineer’s proposal only to later find out he was merely a model airplane designer, not a designer of real, full-scale ones.
At some point frustration assuaged by, “But it is just a bodega.” simply boils over. At my advanced age I still have as much to learn about getting along, as building – much like the fussy engineer in that entertaining film.
A week ago we halted all building to complete the visa application process. The bodega sits in need of integration of wall systems by way of the Mexican standard of pouring beams that monolithically tie the walls together.
The little bodega also lacks a door and the hereto date undetermined roof type assembly. Each morning these days’ visions of sexy curvaceous light cement hyperbolic paraboloid roof elements dance in my mind. But in the end I fear there will be compromise and acquiescence to Mexican traditional building. And I will still love the accomplishment and gained storage space. Stay Tuned!