House Moroviví, designed by Marvel Architects, is a culturally-sensitive, readily-adaptable home that provides residents with physical and psychological comfort before, during and after natural disasters occur. Designed to maximize structural stability yet minimize energy and water usage, it is built with local components that promote ease of assembly, leave space for creative expansion and foster ownership by way of customization. These materials and their integration support local manufacturers and tradesmen, and the simplicity of their assembly encourages homeowners and neighbors to work together on the construction of their neighborhood.
In 2017, Hurricane María uncovered a series of problems and opportunities in Puerto Rico:
- The overdependency on existing utilities, on fossil fuels for energy, and on a bankrupt government for the promotion of social housing
- The failure of low cost, non-compliant informal construction
- The underutilization of plentiful resources such as sunlight, wind, and water
- The value of collaboration & community interaction in a time of crisis
- The value of passive design strategies ubiquitous in traditional architecture
The aim of this proposal is to produce a minimal, ecologically-sensitive, and resistant alternative to post-disaster housing solutions. An open-source design for an expandable ‘starter’ house that could be self-built, that would meet current building codes, would minimize waste products, and demonstrate resiliency at different scales (house-site-community-economy).
The result is a simple and accessible structure that, like the Moriviví (Mimosa pudica), also known as sensitive plant, opens its leaves to the sun and closes them when exposed to external stimuli. A home that provides physical and psychological comfort before, during, and after a natural disaster occurs.
The 53 square meter house consists of two principal spaces conjoined by a functional core for the kitchen, bathroom, and infrastructure. A basic module dictates the plan and elevations, establishing the dimensions for concrete formwork, exterior envelope panels, and screening elements. Using repetitive modular units that are light and manageable helps reduce material & labor costs while minimizing the need for specialized equipment and tools.
Taking cues from tropical architecture, a narrow footprint and highly permeable facades guarantee constant exposure to light and air. Modular wood screens with operable shutters function as awnings to provide shade and generous amounts of cross-ventilation. Elevating the structure on posts minimizes disturbance of the natural terrain and places the house above flood level. The elevated slab also helps to mitigate wind pressure on exterior walls.
Active systems and low-consumption equipment complement passive strategies to conserve resources and minimize reliance on public utilities:
- Cisterns for potable water & rainwater collection - 800 liters
- PV System providing 12kWh daily
- Low-energy/water consumption appliances & fixtures
- Gas infrastructure for stove and, if desired, for clothes dryer
Site & Landscape
Strategies extend beyond the house to site-wide systems for temperature control, food production, and water management. A rain garden cools incoming breezes and prevents flooding. Fruit trees shade the sunnier side, while storm-resistant tubers are located on the opposite yard. Priority is given to native plants that require minimal watering, support each other, and repel insects, minimizing the need for intensive maintenance and pesticides.
Materials, means & methods
Concrete and wood are the predominant building materials for residential construction in Puerto Rico, valued for their availability & durability.
The house’s foundations and elevated floor slab are made of reinforced concrete. Both the excavation and concrete mixes can be done with hand tools or simple equipment. Structural concrete insulated panels for the walls and roof are easy to carry, install, and reinforce with wire mesh and pliers. Their final concrete cover can be hand-troweled or sprayed-on. Wood screens are assembled out of treated lumber and plywood using simple screw connections and galvanized steel connector plates. All conduit and piping are exposed to facilitate installation and future maintenance.
The house’s location in the Caribbean makes it susceptible to both earthquakes and hurricanes. The design relies on simple rectangular geometry, symmetrical organization around a central core, and shear walls to guarantee its resistance to both. From the roof to foundations, the house is tied down and rigidly interconnected. In case of severe weather, the wood screen façade can be closed, its operable panels acting as storm shutters to protect its occupants.
Formal & Functional variations
The house’s simple distribution & reliance on local building techniques facilitates further modifications or expansions. Although developed for Puerto Rico, the design will work in localities with different building traditions. Solid walls could be made of concrete block, clay bricks, or compacted earth. Screens and shutters could be made of bamboo, woven lattices, or corrugated metal. The floor could be stone over an elevated earth pad.
The design can be adapted to include non-residential uses, such as home businesses or community support facilities. Flexible spaces recognize the potential of informal economies to create jobs and foster the exchange of goods and services within the immediate community.
The design recognizes that privacy, sociability, and community collaboration are extremely important in a time of crisis. Porches extend the interior living areas to become a key component to promote community interaction. Infiltration basins and interconnected walkways provide a flood-resistant network for sharing comfort and resources, providing gathering areas to tie a collection of homes into a thriving community.
TeamJonathan Marvel, Jose R. Marchand-Sifre, Guillermo Marrero, Enrique Ramon, Sabdiel Diaz, Karen Cuadro, Jan Curet, Vernette Velez, Rafael Ferrer, Eckart Graeve, Carolyn McShea
ConsultantsJosé Espinal Vázquez Asociados, Structural Engineer
AwardsAIA Florida/Caribbean Honor Award for Sustainable Design
PhotographsCourtesy of Marvel Architects