In Yucatan, architects are reviving an ancient Mayan stucco technique for contemporary buildings, merging modern architecture with regional history and culture. The technique is called “chukum,” a term derived from the colloquial name for the Havardia albicans tree native to Mexico. Made with chukum tree bark, the material has several defining qualities that separate it from traditional stucco, including impermeable properties and a natural earthy color. Though chukum initially fell out of use following Spanish conquest of the Maya civilization, it was rediscovered and reemployed by Salvador Reyes Rios of the architecture firm Reyes Rios + Larrain Arquitectos in the late 1990’s, initiating a resurgence of use in the area. The chukum tree is a semi-hardwood thorny tree found throughout the Yucatan peninsula, used also for dying textiles and tanning leather. To create chukum stucco, bark from the tree is boiled twice and then mixed with cement, after which it can be used for finishing concrete walls or even swimming pools. The chukum bark gives the stucco its water-resistant quality, distinguishing it from other types of stucco which must be finished with artificial additives or topcoats to achieve the same level of impenetrability. For this reason, it can be used both indoors and outdoors. The chukum bark also naturally gives the stucco its earthy, pink-ish color, creating a warm, rustic atmosphere for Yucatan buildings and homes.
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