Our new study centre is a pretty amazing place. It is built on a piece of land about 10 minutes from the original Mariposa, up on the ridge behind and with exceptional views over the pueblo of San Juan de la Concha. The smoky live crater of the Masaya volcano is visible to one side and the outline of Lake Managua, with the hills of Esteli in the background, on the other. The above photo shows a pile of volcanic rock in the foreground which we used in building the walls of both the dormitory and the classrooms, and in the background is the volcano which would have originally thrown out these rocks during an eruption. The rocks are now lying around in people’s backyards and fields, making life difficult for crops and grazing animals. So it helps out that we buy this rock, transport it here and then use it.
The first part of the study centre (there are 3 – the comedor or eating/meeting area, the dormitory and the classrooms) is located where there had previously been a house, which the sellers took with them but leaving the cement floor behind. So we used what was already in place and built the comedor over the existing floor. This photo shows the frame going up for the thatch roof. Sadly the skill for thatching has died out around San Juan so a team from near Leon came in. They are super fast and very professional.
This photo shows the recycled tyres which formed the foundation and retaining wall for the classroom building. The tyres are filled with earth which is then compacted down hard. Interestingly, this was the only sustainable building material which proved hard for the building team to get their heads around! The team consisted entirely of local guys from San Juan, as per the objective of the Mariposa of always providing as much employment for local people as possible. It occurred to me that all of the other materials we used – the rock, bamboo, straw, palms for thatching – all these have a history from indigenous times and are therefore part of local knowledge.
You can also see in this photo some of the volunteers who came to work with us on the project. We were particularly lucky to have two architecture students from the University of Maine who helped with the design of the comedor (the wavy lines were their design) and with the tricky bit of the classrooms being on a fairly steep slope.
Sadly, we had to render the straw walls of the comedor with a thin layer of cement in order to keep undesirables such as dampness and mice out! This is a great picture of Noel rendering one of the arched windows which he designed and built. Once he got into the notion of wavy lines there was no stopping him! Noel had built several straw bale houses before ours, including his own, but he commented that they were all just boring square jobs!! Our entire team worked exceptionally well and had the project finished within four months and on budget!!! A team of 14 guys, plus occasional volunteers, and everything done by hand including digging out 15 metre deep latrines.
The straw walls before rendering. Beautiful.
This is the dormitory, two rooms which will have four bunk beds in each. The beds themselves are made from strips of recycled tyre rubber and are very comfortable.
The almost finished classrooms. A great design incorporating the tyres, volcanic rock, cana and straw. The view from the classrooms is also pretty wonderful.