Personal Experiences

Katherine Iwagami

Learning Cluster: Sustainable Housing in Buenos Aires, ArgentinaJanuary 2014

I am wholeheartedly grateful to have been given the privilege to be able to travel to Argentina. To study a country’s history is one thing, but to be present in the environment takes education to the next level. Along with twelve other students and our professor we contributed to the creation of an adobe art studio for artist, Pablo Salvadó. We worked tirelessly in the Argentinian summer sun, covered in clay and sweat to build the studio in 6 days. During our free time I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone, which included speaking in broken Spanish and feeling frustrated with figuring out the conversion rates of dollars to pesos (even though it really is just a fairly simple conversion rate. Math is not my forte.) This was my first time out of the country by myself and although I felt more than a few times wishing I could go home, I am so glad I stayed. This learning cluster was not only just studying about sustainable housing. For me it was an experience of personal development; it was learning how to develop a sustainable core of independence and self-awareness so that I may successfully overcome my fears of traveling alone and feeling uncomfortable in foreign places in the future. From this experience I have taken on a new perspective and appreciation for traveling and understanding the necessity to abolish the self-constructed walls that are placed to feel comfortable yet stagnant.
Walking down the streets near our hostel in Palermo Viejo, I took notice of the various types of architecture: both the aesthetically pleasing, and the dull-in-color, paint chipped older buildings. I was delighted by the modern flats that reminded me of New York City studios, European-inspired flats, and distinctly older historical apartments. 
There are so many different styles of architectural design within each building on each street that it may seem that they are lacking in harmony, but rather I found that they contrasted beautifully and complemented one another.

Each day, I found myself looking at structures in Buenos Aires that reminded me of buildings from New York City. Palermo Soho was named so, because of its similarity in style and atmosphere to NYC’s Soho.

To see various styles of buildings….from glass, to concrete to brick etc., was refreshing. It seemed as if the apartment buildings and other structures were created by architects who cared only to create his structure unaware in harmonizing with the buildings adjacent to it. Each structure was individual; they each had character and their own history of creation.

January 12, 2014

Museo Proa in La Boca, Buenos Aires-Ron Mueck, hyper realist sculptor
One of the very first excursions Tomas took us on was to La Boca, a barrio in Buenos Aires. Almost immediately I was in awe of the colorful sights and surrounded by the warm, savory smell of parilladas decarne cooking on grills.

The streets are lined with tourists and Argentinians alike, passing by tango dancers, and flocking towards stalls selling artisanal tango related memorabilia and leather goods.

La Boca(below) :
I was really attracted to this old, dark structure that reminded me of an abandoned warehouse from a ghost town. Placed against a most beautiful blue summer sky it also contrasted with the smooth tan bridge in the background. It would seem that there is no harmony between the two differently constructed structures yet I found that one of the many beautiful things about the city lies in its architecture. To me, captured in the photo to the left, is an example of where the old and the new collide. The histories of the past and the present are represented in this scene. Normally, where in most communities the new structures seem to be taking over the older structures, here, it seemed as if there was a balance of both old and new.

Plaza de Mayo-Historical site in which madres de los desaparecidos protested and held rallies. Since the late 1970’s they’ve been bringing public awareness to the government’s affiliation with the disappearances of those against the government during the Dirty War.

A hotel on Calle Florida in downtown Buenos Aires. In the late 1800’s, this street was known to be where the top European fashion designers established their shops on. 

Text & Pictures by Katherine Iwagami

Learning Cluster Experience meeting with FOVISEE –  by: Corina Velasquez

During the last week of our learning cluster in Buenos Aires, our group was able to meet up with Nicolás Maggio of the Non-Governmental (NGO) and Non-Profit Organization (NPO) called “Foro De Vivienda Sustentabilidad y Energias” (The Housing, Sustainability and Energies Forum) or FOVISEE.
The aim of the organization is to improve quality of life in low-income communities, foster care for the environment and reduce greenhouse effects by generating energy savings into affordable housing and guaranteeing universal access to energy and adequate housing.

FOVISEE was founded four years ago. Maggio confidently shared that a major reason FOVISEE focuses on low-income families is because energy usage and sustainable living have a direct connection to a person’s/ family’s quality of life.

The FOVISEE initiative has three working areas:

1. “Laboratory in the Neighborhood”: The design, implementation, and evaluation of field projects in low income neighborhoods

2. Cultural Change: The generation of a cultural change that promotes awareness of energy efficiency in housing, and particularly in low-income housing.

3. Consulting/Advising: FOVISEE works with both public and private institutions on subjects such as housing, poverty, energy, and sustainability. Due to their experience they help lead projects such as Corporate Social Responsibility plans, training workshops, and sustainability in office buildings.

The government of Argentina builds about 40,000 houses for the poor every year. Making sure the homes are built and powered sustainably is one aspect that FOVISEE focuses on. Maggio shared with us that low-income households use 10% more energy than the middle class because of their living conditions.

FOVISEE believes in public policy when it comes to housing. For example, they will not support housing projects in locations that are not legally supported by the government such as Buenos Aires’ most famous slum, Villa 31. FOVISEE takes a holistic approach to work together with governmental policy to move their mission forward, rather than working on their own without following public policies. I found this to be encouraging since FOVISEE is an NGO and does not yet have support from the Argentine government.

*For additional Information visit:
Alongside many on-going or past endeavors, FOVISEE developed a project called Sustentabilizar Hogares – Argentina, that is: to sustain-ablize houses [in] Argentina. Similar to the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) carried out by the Dept. of Energy in the United States, their overall goal is to take a simple approach to making houses more “livable,” and stable in places where aid is needed the most. While this is just one project, it is easy to see the impact that FOVISEE readily makes in the sustainability/energy community alongside government action. This NGO is aware of the worldwide energy crisis and its forthcoming effects. Without proper housing, how will we tackle the larger environmental, health, and safety issues that may arise as a result? This is why FOVISEE works “to reverse the situation and promote a more sustainable development.”
The project produces the following results:

1. Improved quality of life: a sustainable energy home produces greater comfort to its occupants, estimates an increase of household members with respect to the space where much of their lives increase the residence time and encourages family housing, improves general maintenance, values property, etc.

2. Increase in household budget: energy savings translate directly into increased availability of funds for other basic needs. The project improves the budget and the household economy.

3. More health and safety in the home: the project develops components that have demonstrated strong positive impact on the health of the residents of the home, and avoids domestic accidents related to the use of energy in homes. Families in a susteinable home have fewer accidents with electricity and gas.
4. Creating a green and sustainable employment increased trade: the project will create thousands of new green jobs every year.

5. More energy for the country: the project was shown to achieve an average 35% saving of energy in households. Given that in Argentina buildings consume one-third of the available energy, replication of the project can generate significant extra energy available for the country.

6. Reduction of environmental impact: the aforementioned energy savings result in a direct reduction of the environmental impact of energy use in the home.

7. Economic development: the project has demonstrated potential in the development of industries and communities that may benefit different regions of the country where it is applied.

FOVISEE is currently developing a first draft to generate the next step to implement, test, and demonstrate the benefits that this project could lead to millions of poor people in the country.

Like FOVISEE, we see the same techniques being implemented by the WAP’s sustainable organization called “Weatherizes Without Borders” (WWB). Something as simple as re-installing a new window, as shown below can save a family the hardship of suffering through the cold winter months. WWB actually provides green training and certification opportunities for those interested in helping create safer, more sustainable living environments for its participants and low income families all over the world.