Ecocities in Action New Voices

From the Ground Up – EcoCity Building in Ecuador

Written by Max Freyberger

My name is Max Freyberger, and I’m a second-year architecture student interning at Ecocity Builders. This past winter break I was given the privilege of traveling with a team of Berkeley students for a humanitarian construction mission in the Ecuadorian city of Bahía De Caráquez. For two weeks our team lived and worked on the hilly outskirts of Bahía in a neighborhood called Bella Vista. In April 2016 this community, as well as countless others along the Ecuadorian coast, was ravaged by a tremendously powerful 7.8 earthquake. Many were killed, and countless more were left without stable sources of food, water, and shelter.

The destruction caused by this earthquake was all too clear during our stay in Bella Vista. All around us were sobering piles of rubble where peoples’ homes once stood, and mudslides coated the hilly landscape. We spoke with innumerable families that had experienced the effects of the catastrophe firsthand, many of whom lost everything they had in its devastation.

In the wake of this calamity, a company called Bahía Beach Construction was formed with the ambition of rebuilding the community. Its goal was to partner architects, carpenters, students, professors, and locals together in order to restore and reinvigorate neighborhoods like Bella Vista. Bahía Beach Construction not only provides the manpower required to help people in need, but is furthermore dedicated to utilizing sustainable design practices through the implementation of a cutting edge building material: guadua bamboo.

The team helps clean some freshly harvested bamboo as it is treated with boric acid in a remote offsite location.

Often referred to as “vegetal steel,” guadua is a remarkably resilient material capable of safely supporting massive loads when properly cured. It grows at an astonishingly fast rate, and can be farmed sustainably in Ecuador’s tropical climate – thus providing an eco-friendly alternative to the deforestation caused by the lumber industry. On top of all this, guadua bamboo is notable for being a seismically stable material, unlike the brick and mortar technique that was typically used in Bella Vista before the quake.

An inside shot off the house under construction as workers begin mounting the metal roof panels.

For the duration of the trip, our team worked alongside the local employees of Bahía Beach Construction, as well as some students from the University of Guayaquil, to rebuild a family’s home using sustainably grown guadua bamboo as the primary building material. Through workshops lead by a professor of Architecture at the University of Guayaquil, we learned how to grow, cure, and build with guadua, then got to see that knowledge come to life. We were onsite almost every day assisting with a wide range of construction jobs, which included cementing walls, painting roof panels, and even joining the guadua support beams using methods specifically developed for bamboo construction. On certain days, parts of the team did various other tasks in the community as well, which ranged from planting trees around the neighborhood to digging out a mudslide that was endangering a woman’s hillside home. All the while, we immersed ourselves in the community of Bella Vista and got to experience the incredible natural beauty of Ecuador.

Cement is added to the exterior walls to secure panels of flattened bamboo and make them more weather-resistant.

By the time we left, the house was almost entirely complete. It was a simple yet elegant structure, and a very fascinating example of sustainable design in the field. As an architecture student, this trip was an invaluable experience to not only see how a building is created from the ground up, but also to conceptualize how positively a project like this can impact people. While I’m immensely proud to have helped this family and contribute to the reconstruction of Bella Vista, it remains nonetheless obvious that there is still a great deal of work to be done. Countless families in Bella Vista are still in dire need of help, and remain uncertain of what the future holds for them. While Bahía Beach Construction and likeminded organizations are making incredible efforts to rebuild the community, they need all the help they can get. If you would like to learn more or contribute to the mission of Bahía Beach Construction, please check out the links below:

About the author

Max Freyberger

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