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Letters from Chile – the Design Stage

Editor’s Note: This is Part V of a series. If you haven’t already, be sure to catch Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Meet Angel Carrillo (left) and Santiago Naudon (right). Angel and Santiago are both architects – architects with a major green bent. After the meeting last week these two likeable and enthusiastic fellows have been drawing up design plans to create the two new demonstration homes for the El Manzano community.

Miguel (again, see last week’s post) will be first to see his house get built. Rather than dictate design ideas to Miguel, Angel and Santiago worked with him over a few days, showing drafts and making recommendations, until a final design plan emerged.

Santiago, Angel and Miguel discuss plans at Miguel’s house site

The resulting plans (see diagrams at bottom), are an attempt to find a happy balance between minimising environmental impact (creating a home with low ongoing energy demand and using materials sourced as locally as possible), minimising cost (both because of minimal secured funds and also to ensure the structure is feasible for most Chileans) and creating a home that is both highly comfortable and strong enough to take the worst Chile’s earthquakes can throw at them.

After the plans were completed they were shown to the builders put in charge of the construction process.

Angel explains the design to the builders

Some of the design features include:

  • aspect to maximise winter sun and increase summer shade
  • fire in centre
  • wet back fire (heats water). The house may have a solar hot water heater, if funds allow
  • Made primarily of straw and light clay – flexible materials (high straw content) and excellent insulation
  • Timber frame, which makes the house flexible for earthquakes
  • low roof for faster heating
  • 25cm window sills made of stone, to absorb heat during the day and give it off again in the night. Eaves are designed so that only the winter sun will reach the stone sill
  • front door in north, back door in south – when both opened in summer it will create a cross-flow to draw cool air through the house
  • Capacity to take a green roof

The house site, with new house positioned for sun

Designed for single occupancy, but allowing for guests to access sanitation
facilities (left) without needing to go through Miguel’s bedroom (right). Visitors
can access through the rear of the house. Bedroom window gets morning sun,
living room throughout the day.

Roof designed to be able to host a green roof. Eaves the right length to
protect from hot summer sun, but to open home to winter rays.

Front view of house

Continue on to read Part VI: Increasing Water Security



    “People used to say that just as the 20th century had been the century of physics, the 21st century would be the century of biology. The origin of this thought was that while the process of physics that dominated our 20th-century technology were fascinating and unusual, they were often one-dimensional, linear, monochromatic, involving fairly small numbers of variables. The creation of life, on the other hand, is a highly complex process, involving thousands or millions of variables, working in subtle cooperation. It was felt that, as understanding of biology increased, so our mental world, and our ability to understand and control biological process by subtle means, would increase, so that we would gradually move into a world whose prevailing paradigm was one of complexity, and whose techniques sought the co-adapted harmony of hundreds, or thousands of variables. This would, inevitably, involve new technique, new vision, new models of thought, and new models of action.

    I believe that such a transformation is starting to occur. I also believe the repeated application of the fundamental process to the built world will inevitably have to be part of such a transformative society. In saying this, I must underline my belief that living processes belong to the future, not to the past. Although 20th-century social processes were so different from what I contemplate, and did not yet contain the wherewithal to create living structure (except for the small islands of exception I have cited) – there is now a natural swell in people’s minds, a sea-change, and a change of intention, so that the turn towards generation of living process is, perhaps, one of the signal marks of the turn of the millennium, of people’s changed awareness, or their hope.

    Our future, as we begin to see it now, contains a vision of an entirely new kind of human process: A process, like the process of biology, which is attuned to human nature, makes more sense of human feeling and human common sense. In this process – and it applies to every step that is taken in society, whatever people are doing – you move forward in small, tiny steps. Each step accomplishes something concrete and good – one center at a time. Each step is taken forward, judged, by the impact it has on the whole. We are continuously evaluating the whole for its deep feeling, for its usefulness, for the support it gives to human experience.

    This process, then, is potentially remarkable. As versions of such processes are worked out for different situations in society, they may, ultimately, replace bureaucracy and the machinelike organization of large corporations and government. It is a process in which individuals do what is necessary, and what they can do, moving everything forward one satisfying step at a time.

    You may wish to say that this is dreaming, even impossible. But then, I think, would only be the echo of the dying 20th century that talks, still, in our heads. It is possible. A few examples I have given in this book begin to make that clear. Other more extensive examples in book 3 make it far more clear, and show how this process can, indeed, generate an entire living world.

    Above all, we know that it must be possible on theoretical grounds. We know it because this is the process by which the biological world of plants and animals has already been created. Late 20th-century research on complex systems by Holland, Kaufmann, and others, showed how very complex systems with enormously rich and complex state-space have been built up, repeatedly, throughout biological history, by the process of unfolding, and by small structure-preserving processes, which go step by step, yet reach astounding results in the whole.

    I believe that structure-preserving processes of the general type I have defined will be extended far beyond the bounds of architecture. Other preliminary demonstrations in the sphere of complex systems lead to the same conclusion. What I’m pointing to makes sense as a way forward in the complex world of computer-programming and software development, where the intricacy and internal architecture of systems has been shown to develop best under these kinds of impetus. It works in the world of biology. It works in the work of technology. And it will work in the world of architecture itself.

    A world made this way is truly a new kind of world. I do not know, for sure, that traditional society reached its goals by these means. What I do know, and am certain of, is that the society of the future, the long future of men and women on our planet, will – must – inevitably be carried forward by this kind of process which allows the nourishment of the individual to happen at the same time that vast, and highly technical developments occur.

    The small, step-by-step process is not only the best way to build the architecture of a complex system, from the point of view of adaption. It is also the most satisfying, the most nourishing – because it creates, at each step, something that makes us – the makers – feel more wholesome, something that makes us feel alive while we are doing it. It is nourishing, it is fun, it is productive, it is efficient. And, of course – best of all – a similar healing effect also takes place in the whole. Since it is the whole we are always looking to at each step, the whole which is transformed and made to have a deeper feeling, a lovely feeling consistent with everyday longings – then the whole, the great architecture of the whole, will in the end serve us, give us a kind of world (born of just such a process) which is the world in which we want to live.

    It is the vision of a future living Earth, which draws me on. Inspired by a thoroughly new view of structure, fueled by a view which sees living process as the origin of all life, this allows us to contemplate, for the first time, the idea that one day such living process will cover and completely generate, in biological fashion, the natural and human-made and built environment that we ultimately learn to call our living Earth.”

    The Process of Creating Life, by Christopher Alexander, page 569-570.

    This is a very important quota from Alexander about our future, because I believe the biology of our future world must start growing in less heavily organized countries than in the western countries (see my 6th comment here: ). And, from what I learned in a seminar last autumn, Chile and South America are leading countries within green building techniques, which in addition to less heavily organized bureaucracy and the machinelike organization of large corporations and government, makes this continent the best fitted continent where to introduce the necessary changes towards A New Kind of World:

    Please spread this text from Alexander about the biology of our future world + his vision of a new kind of world, throughout Chile and South America! And please build this new world, THE LIVING EARTH, to give hope and inspiration for the rest of our world!!!!

  2. Hi Guys,
    have you looked at the Eco-Domes of Cal-Earth?? They have withstood many earthquakes over 20 years, always without even cracking. They have lots of official information from Californian officials about just how seismic-safe they are.
    Also, it takes 7 days for 7 men to build one: hardly a stick of wood is needed. One needs earth, poly-sacks, barbed wire. They are super efficient for heat & cooling. I reckon with a greenhouse attached for soalr gain, you would be laughing. and they are incredibly CHEAP to build (some have made an entire dome for less than 1000USD.
    Check them out at Cal-Earth, they are called Eco-Domes.

  3. Chile has a long record of people doing it for themselves on very small budgets and local materials to construct their own homes. During pinochets reign while billions were borrowed for development millions of chileans built their own largely ecological homes without debt.
    We can see here in Chile that rather than necessary changes needing to be introduced…that a new kind of world is alive and well here already. The west can learn from Chile and much of latin america, especially the kind of people who live in el manzano.

  4. I’m so happy to hear this! Here in Norway you have to get permission from an “authority” in the bureaucracy even if you want to change your window. And if you walk around in the dwelling areas during daytime there is NO life. The work is separate from the dwelling areas, the kids are in the kindergartens, the old people in institutions, it’s not allowed to have animals like chicken or pigs in your garden. Everything is segregated and fragmented, and everything is built by developers and hence lifeless. Only in the forests I find peace, in what is still left of the true GENERATED forests.

  5. Hi Chloe Wolsey!

    ”Now he seeks out ‘Pockets of Freedom’ – places where natural building is not halted by the insanities of red-tape, building codes and personal-spinelessness on the part of elected community leaders.”

    I picked this quota from your website, because I love the expression ‘Pockets of Freedom’. I simply think Chile and the rest of South-America is A BIG POCKET OF FREEDOM!!!!

  6. Cuando veo que en este mundo se hacen cosas como lapermacultura siento que respiro nuevamente tranquila.
    Admiro a las personas que se dedican a realizar actividades humanas.
    Solo estas personas ayudan a que todos sigamos vivos.

    La tierra está sufriendo y nosotros sufrimos con ella

  7. Hola, felicidades por lo que estan haciendo. este trabajo va a tener repercuciones importantes a nivel planetario.

    con cariño y mucha fuerza para todos

    Irene Naudon



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