The architecture of indigenous peoples is deeply rooted in their surroundings, in the sense that materials are locally sourced and empirically tested, to discover the construction techniques and dwellings that best respond to the values of the community and their understanding of housing. The situation in the Amazon is no different. Many different groups of people have settled on the land and water, developing many unique building skills that attract a lot of architects working in these regions. As a result, there is an exchange of knowledge, combining native cultures and novel architecture.
"Let's try to shake things up a bit and change everything we have learned and have become used to, so we can try to toss away inadequate concepts of construction, solutions, and spaces, and using creativity, safety, and courage, replace them with other strategies that are more suitable to our [Amazonian] region, for the benefit of the people who live here, in the houses that are built here." These were Severiano Porto's closing remarks during the "Artes Visuais na Amazônia" (Visual Arts in the Amazon) Seminar, in 1984.
Severiano Porto is one of the greatest Brazilian architects, and by acknowledging the rich building traditions in the Amazon, he reveals the importance of using this knowledge to achieve environmental goals while employing local techniques and resources. The architect transformed his view of architecture by learning from people who acquired their skills through lived experience, not by going to school, and was able to create unique modern buildings that perfectly fit the Amazonian context.
Things are not so different nowadays. When faced with the challenges of building in remote areas - which are difficult to get to, therefore, making traditional construction methods unaffordable, - while still searching for eco-friendly solutions, using local materials and techniques is the best way to create a true connection with the environment, instead of introducing foreign architectural languages into the Amazonian landscape. We have selected three projects that have successfully applied these solutions.
"We used indigenous people's skills with wood and vines to build the roof and also the 1.50m wide peripheral structure that 'wraps' the core of the building, protecting it from the weather and providing space for all the vertical and horizontal circulation, such as verandas, balconies, and stairs. This way, life in the building relates to the surroundings at all times, visually, by allowing people to see and be seen, and also in terms of construction, with the use of wood and straw through local techniques."
"All this infrastructure is built on the principles of the office 'Con Lo Que Hay' (loosely translated as with what's available), that is, using traditional materials, local skills, and new techniques that are easy to learn and reproduce, enhancing ancestral knowledge, while also in a contemporary context. All structures are built on huge rocks discovered on the site, thus developing a simple and easy technique using stone as the foundation, resulting in the project's unique structure. Everything else is built with local materials and techniques; bamboo structures tied with rattan and straw roofs."
"The project was based on a sustainable approach that takes advantage of the climate, materials, and local building techniques. The riverside community has been building wooden boats for many years, passing this knowledge from father to son. Because of the lack of construction workers in the area, the hotel was designed as an inverted boat, using these techniques. (...) Taking advantage of vernacular architecture, the project is built on stilts, creating connected wooden decks, allowing for ventilation underneath the building, thus reducing indoor temperatures."
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Local Materials. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 28, 2021.