Natural Building Colloquium


The Context:
Natural Building
The Building Codes
Societal Impact Matrix
Return of The Village
Habitat For Humanity
Earthmother Dwelling
Intuitive Design
Curves of Breath & Clay
Feng Shui

The Art:
Overview of Techniques
Nature, Earth & Magic
Hybrid House
Barefoot Architecture
History of Cob
Cob Q & A
Natural Composites
Compressed Earth Blocks
Adobe Oven
Earthen Floor
Honey House
German Clay Building
Straw-bale Dome
Earthen Plaster & Aliz
Natural Paints

Solar Distiller
Solar Water Heater
Composting Toilets
Watson Wick
Solar Ovens



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Curves of Breath and Clay

"To the anonymous masons whose destiny is not to inhabit the spaces that they build." — Arponce

"...the light shone over the red bricks, dappled with dew" — Juan Rulfo

To build is a fascinating work. It is to give life to something nonexistent. It is to materialize ideas and words. It is a vain babbled muttering at the mercy of nature's oratory prowess.

"To build is to collaborate with nature, to print a human signal on a landscape, so that it will be thus changed forever," wrote M. Yourcenar. We can affirm that he who builds is, in all senses of the word, a dreammaker.

Ever since the very beginnings of time, man has had to confront his natural environment in order to survive. If man is to inhabit this demanding and hostile world, his natural skin is not enough. In man's endeavours to re-create the natural world, and in order to survive, man has invented a necessary second skin beyond his biological one. A skin which affords him the comfort his body seeks, the security and stability which the natural world demands, and the beauty to feed his soul.

Architecture is the name given to this second skin. This skin is, in other words, the architectural works that man thinks, designs and builds.

Dreams and Materials

Man began building his second skin with his dreams and the raw materials with which nature provided him. In fact, as a rule, these raw materials identified both the place where man belongs and from which he originates. The realization of architecture by means of building with raw materials such as stone, wood, bamboo, sugar cane, clay and brick has taken place in different regions of our countries throughout history, with or without, thanks to, or in spite of, architects.

The individual building methods play a fundamental role in our cultures and our building traditions. These materials and the corresponding techniques used, in spite of their antiquity, have been and continue to be modern. Their modernity is not due to their age but relates to their current-day relevance, in that modernity is not a privilege of that which is new nor, even less, of that which is foreign. Their relevance is evidenced by the possible solutions they offer to the problems associated with creating living space from a social, economic and architectural point of view.

In the face of an increasingly intense and unsatisfied demand for living space, particularly homes, the thorough knowledge of these materials and the corresponding building techniques is of paramount importance. In addition, there is also the need to rationalize the building process in order to obtain a minimum cost of construction.

Leaned Brick

In our own experience there is another reason to learn about these techniques — the rescue and the conservation of a very intelligent constructive tradition. One method which is millenary in the world — in the Near East — and centenary or secular in my country is a roofing technique using small bricks; the "leaned brick technique" is the name we have given it, because this is its principal feature.

The reason for the interest in these materials and methods is to insure the survival of a longstanding mainstream building tradition. This building technique for brick covers a space without any support or additional reinforcement. The roofs are made purely by the skillful hands of the artisans and small pieces of clay. Curves of breath and clay.

As the leaned brick technique is a popular one arising from collective invention, it is looked down upon by academia and therein lies the danger of its disappearance. It is not taught systematically in many architectural colleges. The characteristics of this particular technique make it both ancient and modern. In other words, it affords a possible economic solution to one of the timeless architectural concerns; the covering of space, particularly for housing.

The Dreammakers

This social knowing and doing is architecture. It is an occupation based in human work — a rational doing that is the result of many other rational doings. Masons, vault makers, carpenters, blacksmiths, plumbers, electricians. Everything that is surrounding us. Streets, squares, palaces, cathedrals, houses — everything is man's work.

That's why we affirm that builders are ancient and modern dreammakers.

We make chimeras fly on paper wings.

We are collaborators and not oppositors of mother nature. We print marks to be identified. To identify our site, our place. Not better or worse than others. Simply ours. The only one we have.

Where our ancestors live their death. Where we wish that our sons: "don't fall in the path's descent or ascent, that they had only beautiful plain paths."

Where we die day after day our life.

This remembering, this coming back to pass by the heart, is necessary for better living in our present. And so, only so, can we dream our future.

Alfonso Ramirez Ponce is an architect, writer and Professor of Architecture at the University of Mexico in Mexico City. He is a specialist on low-cost construction using traditional materials such as adobe, soil-cement, and leaned-brick roofs over curved and rectilinear spaces.

E21 M12 Educacion Coyoacan
Mexico 04400 D.F.
Phone/fax: (525) 68 952 60


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