Text description provided by the architects. It was January 23, 2020. A hot morning, like so many during the summers in the capital of Paraguay, Asunción. The temperature hovered around 29 degrees Celsius at just 8:30 am. The characteristic sound of the mobile phone makes its appearance inside the office of the small studio, located in the Ricardo Brugado neighborhood, better known as the Chacarita neighborhood. At the third repetition Solanito picks up:
-Hello, what are you doing, Tapiti?
-Of course, Tapiti, I remember, right away.
-Alright, see you on Friday Tapiti, greetings to Luce.
Before any questions, an answer. Pablito wants to get together to discuss his house that we talked about yesterday after soccer. The story of some determined friends building a future home.
Pablo and Luce are a newly married couple, he's Uruguayan and she's Paraguayan with relatives in Uruguay, both graphic designers who work remotely for companies abroad which leads us to the location of the lot, in the city of Limpio, the Surubi'i neighborhood. By private transport, it is 45 minutes away from Asuncón, close enough for maintaining daily and social activities but also far away enough to maintain a suburban condition, with ample terrains, vegetation and tranquility. The neighborhood is experiencing a building boom governed by regulations, which condition the project to the approval of the neighborhood council.
The latest debates within Míninmo Común have been centred around the current housing conditions and ecological construction techniques that are gaining popularity in the spectrum of Paraguayan architecture. We, educated in building with brick and handling adobe alternatives, have been formed by these materialities and by the project that we were working on at the moment, located in the interior of the country, 350km from the capital. The conditions of this project were very different, now we would have more resources available. We wanted to experiment with rammed earth, due to the good results of colleagues and friends, a technique with excellent conditions for the climate of our country.
When doing the first tests, since we'd never worked in this way before and since we are our own builders, we began to realize that the timeframes were very long within this construction process. We needed more people, pneumatic rammers, special formwork, more resistant lintels and an endless amount of other things in order to carry out the project. This resulted in a process of disappointment at the impossibility of carrying out the work in an intended way, since the costs exceeded the construction standards and the budget was quite limited. In addition to the anguish we are left with the reflection: Would it be logical to think that sustainable architecture is only for people with sufficient purchasing power, people who are able to pay for their work and hence able to lead a better life? We were not willing to give up on the qualities of the land, we wanted to be able to build for Luce and Pablo as for everyone else, which lead us to new experimentations.
Our craftsmen building the formwork have an amazing professional ability. Mr. Eusebio, approximately in his forties, leads the team. His father, brothers, friends and anyone who can keep up with the pace work with him, with breaks of rounds of tereré, with the mission of completing the work. They arrive, props and boards are unloaded and the symphony of saws and hammers starts. It goes on until they have a beautiful ceiling ready to receive tons of concrete that they themselves take care of mixing and pouring.
The mission was similar: instead of the roof, we would cover the horizon, and hollow prismatic wooden walls would serve as formwork. With the ability of Eusebio and his collegues, it was only a matter of a couple of hours for the artisanal task to be completed. Modulating each wall with standard cuts of commercial wood would save us even more time. 2.40 x 2.40 meters was the measurement from floor to ceiling of each module. The thicknesswas determined to be 15 or 20 centimeters, which was ideal due to the consumption of material.
The project, with twists and turns since its conception, consisted of a simple volumetry, without many structural risks: an L-shaped body submerged among the vegetation. Every afternoon the western sun falls on the most closed part of the house, and in the mornings the spacious living room, kitchen and dining room are illuminated. But the most important thing is to guarantee rest with cool bedrooms, and with the future idea of enlarging the family, comfort had to be guaranteed. The earthen walls would protect the intimate sectors and an orchard cultivated by its own owners and supported by fine metal pillars would feed little Agus.
After many mistakes we started to learn about the new technique: We made small tests until we were able to stabilize the soil that we would use, tests with specimens gave us results with a resistance similar to that of brick. The loading times allowed us to load two modules per day with a small team working manually, with dosages similar to concrete when using 10% cement in the mix. Cautiously, we gradually decreased the percentage, until we had only 5% as a stabilizer. There were options of other stabilizers with less impact but they were not easily accessible in the local market and since this was our first approach we were not willing to take more risks either. After all, there was a family waiting for their home.
The long-standing Guarani pottery tradition that created the kambuchi, a clay pitcher molded by Paraguayan women to transport the ykua water and keep it fresh throughout the entire journey in order to, in an act of love, offer it to the men to fight the relentless heat. As a traditional song written by the great Mauricio Cardozo Ocampos puts it:
"On her head held high
She carries a native pitcher
water for the pilgrim
The beautiful mitacuña"
"I am your ardent dreamer
Give me some fresh water from your pitcher of love
Give me some fresh water from your pitcher of love”
As a similar act, we were ready to offer the inhabitants a house born from the traditional Guarani red soil, molded by our artisans at a reasonable cost with the technique that we call poured soil. We can find many examples around the world, but it was never used in Paraguay. We still didn't know how it would turn out, but the effort was non-negotiable.
Vivienda L&P was built from the dreams of a couple starting their journey together, their desire to live in a space suitable for the development of its functions and used by them throughout their lives, and from the trust put into creating a unique home with style, using clay and the scent of soil after the rain.