Since 2015, the tribal community of Apetina in the south Suriname jungle have added a women’s center and seven chicken coops to their village, and there are plans underway to realize a high school, elevated treehouses for ecotourism, a visitor center, housing projects, chicken coops, and more.
Paul Spaltman is the one-man operation behind the designs of these structures, but “everything started with these nice renders made in Lumion," he explains. "It wasn’t enough to show 2D drawings or simply tell them what the project was going to be. When they saw the actual 3D renders, it helped them believe the project was possible. They already had the design. They could see the construction and that the entire project was, more or less, thought out. They could see that the project wasn’t just a dream, but one step further.”
Apetina is a small indigenous village located in dense rainforest with only a few ways to and from the area. Through the village’s rustic airstrip, you can arrive via a 1-hour-and-20-minute flight from Suriname’s capital, Paramaribo. The other method is a three-day trip by boat. There are no roads, and getting essential things such as gasoline and teachers is expensive and slow.
So how did Paul Spaltman, who opened his firm Architectenbureau Spaltman in the Netherlands in 2015, become such an instrumental player in the Wayana territory?
With regards to the treehouses, the community will participate on many levels. They will select and chop down the trees, cut them to the right dimensions, and build the structures.
“The key was encouraging the locals to make these projects their own,” Spaltman said. “For instance, I designed a chicken coop with a shingled roof but they used palm trees instead. Planks of locally sourced wood were tied together with ropes and natural materials, not nails. In most cases, the design and layout were relatively the same, but the people there had complete freedom to fill in the structures as they saw fit.”
Brownheart (Vouacapoua Americana) wood is the main wood species for the treehouses. The roof shingles will be made from Walaba or similar wood, while the balusters will be made from bamboo poles. The wall cladding will likely include species of wood found in the immediate surroundings of each lodge, limiting the necessity of gasoline for transport. There are many usable species of tropical wood in the dense forest, so these small-scale logging activities have no impact on the ecosystem.
“The indigenous Wayana people want progress. They want a secure source of food, education for their children, and normal houses to live in," explains Spaltman. "So, with the portable sawmill gifted by the Suriname president himself, a group of locals will head into the jungle for a couple days, possibly a week, gathering wood and other materials. When they return, volunteers get together to build their own structures. It’s not too expensive, and this way, the structures are connected to their heritage and way of life.”
The inspiration for many of Paul’s designs came from meeting many of the local people there, as well as the breathtaking landscape. “Nobody is paid. When building the women’s center, their salary was an evening plate of rice with some chicken.” (Another incentive: after finishing the center the workers can use the sawmill and they will get materials and equipment for their own houses, and on top of that: pride and respect.)
In addition to working directly with the local tribes and family clans, Paul maintains close collaboration with the Kuluwayak Foundation. Additionally, he works with the government, NGOs such as Conservation International, the World Wildlife Fund and Amazon Conservation Team, and even some oil and mining companies.
With the women’s center and the chicken coops completed, Paul is focusing on getting the high school and the treehouses finished, as well as a housing project and several other structures. The current problem with the high school isn’t so much the design, materials, or supplies, but instead, it’s getting teachers. For the treehouses, Paul hopes that they will serve eco-tourists and help drive revenue into town.
With the initial successes in Apetina, Spaltman has been asked to reproduce his methods designing a bridge and a school in the Tiriyó territories of southwestern Suriname.
According to Spaltman, “Having high-quality visualizations from Lumion has made all of the difference. Remember, this area is full of big ideas. Eco-tourist this, eco-resort that. With the renders, I was able to communicate with the local people and they were promptly off in the forest gathering materials. Sometimes the projects go slow, but in the last two years, they’ve shown a lot of progress and it seems as if everything is moving faster.”