Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hand Built Houses in Chacala

I love watching the progress on some of the building projects around Chacala. Especially where the work is being done by a small crew working together and using hand tools. Usually the worksite is quiet, and the workers can talk about what they're doing.

I guess it’s probably because I am not doing the hard physical labor, but I really appreciate construction methods that don’t involve heavy equipment. I know trucks are needed to bring sand, cement, blocks, gravel , steel, tile, and sometimes water. But a lot can be done, and very quietly, by a small, hardworking crew. Of course, some workers need a boom box booming, but most do not.This photo shows what a grader can do. Almost all the construction work in the actual town of Chacala is done by small crews of workers, with shovels, hoes, buckets and other hand tools. With the occasional use of a small cement mixer. That’s usually for the one-day roof pours. When a team of maybe 25 workers, on a Saturday, carry wet concrete in white buckets up onto the new roof. Usually walking up ladders to get there.

Yesterday I was visiting a worksite, where all the building materials have to be carried about 150 feet to the work site. By hand. Of course, I am glad I’m not doing the carrying. But I love it that there’s no road into the work site, and trees remain where they stand. The structure is being tucked in around the natural geography of the site.

It’s on a slope, overlooking the water, and the structure is being built into the natural slope. Leaving as much of the vegetation and natural drainage as possible. There is one exception though.One huge rock was removed, chunk by chunk, by a young man with a mean arm and various sledges and other hand tools. I think the rock was discovered under the surface of the site, after quite of bit of foundation building had already been built. And the rock pieces will be used in the construction. Not hauled away in some giant truck and dumped somewhere.

The two little rental units across the road from me are going up fast. This much work in about four days. The basic crew right now seems to be four or five guys. Some are moving materials to the guys actually building the walls, and others mixing the concrete, by hand. They don’t use mixing troughs here. They just mix the concrete by hand, on the ground, or a concrete pad,
The new house that being built on top of a motor house garage, here in Chacala, is being built amazing fast. The six man, more or less, crew has been working a month. No machinery that I have noticed. And they are getting ready to pour the roof. I really like the design of the house. Lots of attention to where the sun will hit the building during different times of the year, and to natural ventilation. And they are building two great shaded terraces with wonderful views.
I think the place I am temporarily calling the "Motor Home House" will tie for being my favorite gringo house in Chacala. Tied with Gordon’s house. Which is always cool and nice. That’s because the south and west exposures are all shaded, and there is cross ventilation from every side. The new house has the same thoughtful care being paid to how the sun and the wind and the rain will connect with the house.

This is Laura Sura's second rental unit, on the right. Her first unit was built a couple of years ago. It's usually rented to long-term tenants. The new one has a similar layout, with a nice small, shady, kitchen patio on the back and a sunny patio on the front. The building with the arch in the lower part of the photo is actually on the other side of the street from Laura's units. The photo is a little confusing. There are some new places in Chacala with the windows on the south and west walls with no shading and no protection from the sun and rain. I doubt if they will be comfortable the way they are right now. But who knows. Some people solve design problems with air-conditioning.

I was just re-reading this post, hoping to catch the typos and mis-spelling. And I realized that I like these small, hand built projects in Chacala, because that’s how I am used to building.

We built our first house out of logs. Dead logs, cut down by hand, and then dragged out of the woods by horses. We used cross-cut saws and axes for most of the work. Finally, when we were cutting notches for the logs as we built the walls, we bought a small chainsaw to help with the notches.

That was the only machine labor we used to build a small, two story, log house. I think it was 24’ by 28’ with an 8’ covered porch. When we designed that house we were mostly worried about natural light and protection against the cold and moisture. Being at the 48 parallel.

Kind of different than building in coastal Mexico. The concerns here are also about natural light and keeping dry, but the goal is cooler and and breezier.

My second serious building project was building in abode at a place called Lama Foundation, near Taos. At about 8,500 feet. I loved building with mud and adobe bricks. And working with a crew of maybe 8 people. I mostly ran the gas cement mixer that we mixed the mud mortar in. And that was a new tool. I came there about half–way through the project, and I think they used only hand labor, no cement mixer, until right before I came. Sometimes I was the helper for a more skilled builder. Doing arches and windows, and for a few days, helping a Taos Indian man built a inside fireplace.

The Lama buildings were cool and dry in the summer, warm and dry in the winter. I don’t remember worrying about breezes, except for the kitchen, where we had big glass windows, and some opened.I guess part of what I like about watching small crews building small buildings with hand tools, is that it brings back very nice memories.

Of building nice spaces with natural materials and in a team of co-workers. And leaving the area around the buildings as natural with as much vegetation as possible. And by solving water and drainage problems on-site, not by passing them onto the neighbors.

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