Soka University Learning Cluster 2013: Sustainable Housing and Urban Development in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Time-lapse video of the construction of the adobe studio

The process of building your home will be one of the greatest, and hopefully, most rewarding challenges in your life

Lisa Schroeder and Vince Ogletree authors of Adobe Homes For All Climates


Why have homes become unaffordable for most people in the world? Is it due to the cost of land, the price of construction, property taxes, and/or public services? Why must one hire an architect or an engineer when, with limited training, one can build a home by hiring just a few workers? This Learning Cluster will explore ways in which many people in the developing world have built houses with reclaimed, environmentally sound and aesthetically pleasing materials. We will also explore the connections between this type of sustainable, accessible development and links to the concept of leading a self-sufficient mortgage-free and debt free life.

While earthship style sustainable adobe homes are fast becoming trendy in many parts of the developed world, this type of construction has long been practiced in Argentina. Indigenous communities built their homes with adobe; many of them are still standing in the Northern part of the country. Pioneer adobe builder Jorge Belanko, mentored by Professor Gernot Minke, founder of Earth Architecture, has committed his life to building adobe houses in the south of Argentina and to teaching others the simple construction methods. Belanko produced a well-known didactic documentary film that demonstrates the different techniques in earth building. He argues in Las manos, el barro, la casa that since the 1930s, construction with earth has been deemed to be for “poor” people; that a whole business was built around the concept that “hard materials” like concrete, are longer lasting, more elegant, and more valuable. Belanko, is one of many Argentines, redeeming an indigenous building practice that is cost-effective, easy to accomplish, environmentally sound, aesthetically pleasing, and safe. Earth building as demonstrated by the interest in Belanko’s work, is particularly popular in countries like Argentina where building materials are expensive.

Increasingly people when building homes demand energy-and cost-effective buildings that emphasise a healthy, balanced indoor climate. They are coming to realise that mud, as a a natural building material, is superior to industrial building materials such as concrete, brick and lime-sandstone. Newly developed, advanced earth building techniques demonstrate the value of earth not only in do-it-yourself construction, but also for industrialised construction involving contractors. 
Gernot Minke

Purpose of the Learning Cluster

This Learning Cluster will examine the social, economic, and environmental problems of housing and urban development in Buenos Aires, one of Latin America’s most populous cities, and ways in which sustainable adobe construction is being positioned by many as a possible solution. Since the 1970s, metropolitan areas in Latin America have grown dramatically, as has the income inequality between the wealthy and the poor. Slums commonly referred to as villas miserias, have increasingly become perilous ways for the poor to gain access to housing. In the last decades, the wealthy, in part influenced by unrelenting media stories about crime and insecurity have moved to the suburbs to build luxurious homes in gated communities. Conversely, slums like the well-known Villa 31 in Buenos Aires continue to expand, presenting their own sets of complex environmental issues. By analyzing ways in which sustainable housing can safely and efficiently modify the living standards in the slums, this course will assuredly transform the skepticism about sustainable housing and provide for a more educated approach to urban development in Latin America. Urban transformation has had profound cultural, social, and political consequences for society at large.

During the first part of this travel course, we will study the rich architectural history of Buenos Aires, once considered to be the “Paris” of Latin America because of its neoclassical
buildings and wide boulevards. We will consider the decisive historical events that have shaped its urban identity. We will visit traditionally wealthy neighborhoods like Barrio Norte, working class neighborhoods like La Boca, and neighborhoods that are currently experiencing rapid transformation due to a real estate boom like Palermo Soho, Palermo Hollywood, and Puerto Madero. We will also visit the politically charged Villa 31, a slum that was built in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of the city. Mercedes Maria Weiss, professor of art-history and architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, will lead seminars on urban history and development for our LC. The objective of these seminars will be to understand the economic and political forces that have ordered and regulated the construction of neighborhoods and housing along economic lines.

During the second part of the course, we will travel to Ingeniero Maschwitz, in the Northern part of the city, and participate on an eco-construction team with plastic artist Pablo Salvadó, whose work was exhibited in the Soka University Art Gallery in 2008. We will participate in helping to build a sustainable adobe building. This building will eventually be completely self-sufficient and off the electricity, water and sewage grid.

Students will have hands-on experience in the design and construction of a low-impact natural building that requires little training in construction. Students will form teams according to their interests. These teams will be coordinated by Professor Crowder-Taraborrelli:

* a design team ( which will draw plans for the structure of the building)

* a budget team (which will calculate costs for purchasing equipment and materials)

*an environmental and services team (which will asses the resources available in the area, design and install electricity and water access)

* a building team (which will coordinate the field work)

The building workshop will run from 9A.M.-5 P.M. Plastic artist Pablo Salvadó will provide all materials and tools. Among the many skills students will learn during the workshop on earth building are: laying out a rock foundation and perimeter drain, building small and medium size walls with discarded car tires, mixing adobe and plastering walls with adobe (clay), and participating in the design of a sustainable garden. In order to capture this experience, the students will create a short documentary (10-15 minutes) to be presented at the Learning Cluster Fair. This short documentary will help to educate SUA students about the practical, structural, and societal effects of living a sustainable life, as well as the positive effects on the environment and humanity.

Residence in Phoenix, Arizona. Built with rammed earth walls. Architect: Eddie Jones

Course Objectives

1.Gain a deeper understanding of the significance of sustainable living where environmentally stable housing and financial security is under threat.

2. Research the process and practice of sustainable construction using both recycled and natural resources.

3.Perform a comparative study between southern California and the province of Buenos Aires in regards to property management and building permit regulations where sustainable construction is concerned.

4.Critically analyze the contrasting architectural styles as well as the use of materials among affluent and impoverished communities.

5. Create meaningful relationships between the group and organizations in Argentina dedicated to building sustainable homes.

6. Facilitate discussions that encourage social change through community activism.

Learning Outcomes

Team building; experience hands on learning; production and construction of a documentary.

As the universal movement for sustainable living collects momentum, the students of this Learning Cluster will have a much more expansive and tangible understanding of what it takes to bring the theory of sustainable living into practice. By visiting and exploring wealthy and poor neighborhoods alike, students will gain knowledge of both the materials and resources that have been utilized, in a highly contrasting way, to create the city of Buenos Aires. Students will aspire to achieve the following learning outcomes in a variety of ways:

Develop students’ habits of independent inquiry and study: Prior to leaving for Argentina, all students will form research teams and present their findings to the rest of the class. The documentary aspect of the project in Argentina will provide another avenue for independent growth, as students will be able to develop their own questions to be asked in interviews as well as organize visual material to complement the pedagogical objectives of the Learning Cluster.

Engender analytical and investigative skills and the ability to apply them to a specific problem or question: During their first week in Argentina students will develop questions and expectations based both on their own research as well as research presented by their classmates. During the second and third weeks, they will combine this research with firsthand experience in order to understand how to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Enhance the ability to work collaboratively: Students will be working together to organize the trip, develop the documentary interviews, divide the subject matter, and create a cohesive final project. They will also have to develop a steadfast work ethic to include all team members, both domestic and international, who will be collaborating and contributing to the success of the project. The experience in its entirety will require students to depend on each other’s skills, including Spanish speaking abilities, different cultural understandings, and creative writing talents.

Foster a contributive ethic by working on issues that have a larger social significance or meaning: The creation of sustainable housing not only benefits the immediate community and the environment directly, but also ripples out to provide an alternative way to build a house for people who cannot afford the standard industrialized, corporate approach to building. Our documentary will further contribute to spreading awareness about the feasibility of and access to resources for this type of construction.

Prepare students for their roles as engaged global citizens: Through personal encounters, new experiences, hands on creation, community collaboration, inquiry into government regulations, critical evaluation of materials and resources, and an overall objective of contributing to the sustainability of humanity, this experience in Argentina will help deepen the understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.

Impact on SUA Community

Upon return, students from this Learning Cluster will attempt to impact the SUA community in an innovative manner that will shed light upon the environmental inquiries that are still very much alive on-campus. Once we learn the techniques of building an earth structure, we will be able to impart this knowledge to those who are willing to learn and take action. Bringing awareness of our LC project to the SUA community will allow for a gradual shift in the way our generation perceives sustainable living in the United States, and especially, in Orange County. Understanding, for instance, the implications of renewable and solar energy will help Soka students realize that we each have the capacity to push the “eco-friendly–go green” movement even further. This will instill a sense of pride in our students to contribute to the global community on an exceedingly prudent and moral level. These earth ships prove that humanity is capable of “doing more”. SUA can be one of the first campuses to realize the potential and effectiveness of these living standards.

Soka takes great pride in the Language and Culture Program. Close to 90% of our LC class is studying the Spanish language. By traveling to Argentina to experience the culture and life in Latin America, we can share our discoveries and challenges in working in another language with fellow students back home. We envision that this LC’s travel component will empower others to better their language skills by immersing themselves in a Spanish speaking culture.

Finally, the meaning behind the word “Soka”—to create value—is also tied into our LC’s belief that through the creation of sustainable living spaces, we can create value on our own. A home is one of the most quintessential parts of being human. Humans need shelter, and creating a home can both accomplish that goal and represent part of the human identity within society. By collaborating together as a team to build this sustainable living space, this LC re-defines what value means within the home. A home is not just composed of nails, wood and paint–it can be composed of matter that we recycle, of matter that is part of the earth we live on. Giving, instead of taking is what matters most in this paradigm for sustainable dwellings. We feel that such a message will resonate with the SUA community. Can value be created within a home? Why is it important to give back? These are some of the working questions that define our Learning Cluster.

Significance of Fieldwork and Location

While abroad, this Learning Cluster will study the architectural history of Buenos Aires, as well as construct a true realization of sustainable architecture. As sustainable architecture is still in its infancy, contributing to a fully self-sustaining housing project is a rare opportunity that can influence the current perception and future of sustainable eco-housing. The structure that we will leave in Argentina will be a unique and significant step towards a more sustainable world. It will advertise itself to the local community, but we plan to spread additional awareness through an instructional documentary. While much of our studies are for the course members, this endeavor is about proving that “off the grid” living is not only possible, but cost effective and feasible. We hope to inspire and instigate future architectural experimentation and innovation.

Buenos Aires is the heart and spirit of Argentina, and the focus of this LC. Touring the city and buildings in Argentina is vital in this critical study to decipher the distinct differences between communities within the city. Understanding Urban Development in Buenos Aires, Argentina plays a large role in understanding how sustainable housing can be successful in nearby communities.

This LC also seeks to analyze the architectural and aesthetic styles of housing in the city, in collaboration with a local non-profit institution called Techo. Like this LC, Techo advocates the importance of strengthening urban development on social policies in impoverished areas. More pertinent to this course, Techo builds an environment where sustainable communities exist in order to improve the quality of life for those who are struggling to survive in Buenos Aires and its surrounding neighborhoods. By gaining a deeper understanding of the area as the students travel to contrasting locations, they will be able to engage with the community members and discuss how they can help impact the community on the social and cultural facet of this study. What is really at risk here is that the public in Argentina lacks awareness about sustainable housing. This course will help them see that this is a cost-effective manner of living that is easily accessible.

The opportunity given to the students to travel to Argentina will profoundly affect the way in which these students comprehend the rapidly growing slums at a time in which an unstable and unforgiving economy exists for all. They are found in rural areas and as well as in populous cities such as in Buenos Aires. According to July 2004 estimates, there are about 640 precarious neighborhoods in suburban Buenos Aires, comprising of 690,000 residents and 111,000 households. The population of the villas miserias in the city of Buenos Aires property doubled during the 1990s, reaching about 120,000 as of 2005, which is continuously growing today. These statistics show how important it is to study the reasons behind not only how both slums, such as “neighborhoods of misery” and cities are built and where they are located, but also of laying the foundation for the causes and reasons for why they exist.

Vineyard Residence, Victoria Australia. Rammed earth walls. John Wardle Architects.

Itinerary, course reading and activities

Dates: Monday, January 7th- Wednesday, January 30th 2013

Week 1

Monday Jan. 7

9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Review syllabus with the class and course/objective overview. Assign group and/or individual research based questions and topics for course. Assign readings for annotated bibliography.
Evaluation of costs for purchasing equipment and materials. Update budget.
Discuss reading: Wilson, pgs. 1-55, Phillips 148-165 (Angel).
Start building blog/LC website for fair
Take picture of LC group (Charlie Kerhin)
In class training session to prepare construction of adobe structure.
Screening: Garbage Warrior

Tuesday Jan 8


9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Overview of history of urban development in Buenos Aires, Argentina since the 1970’s
Overview of sustainable housing in/around Buenos Aires, Argentina (Techo website)

Discuss Reading: Wilson, Part 1 and 3.
Continue working on website
Team tasks: Begin working on construction plan
Discussion of Garbage Warrior
Screening: Las manos, el barro, la casa 1st part

Wednesday Jan 9:


9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Each group presents on their group’s objectives and planning.
Screening: Las manos, el barro.
Discuss documentary and its implications.
Discuss reading: Carns, Chapter 7 and Sanchez Chapter 1.
Continue working on website and construction plan

Thursday Jan 10


9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Go over the itinerary to make sure all activities are scheduled
Finalize construction plan and send it to Pablo
Continue building blog/website
Screening: Earthship-Britanny Groundhouse

Friday Jan 11


Saturday Jan 12


Meeting time TBA depending on flight arrival.
Reading: Phillips, Chapter 14 and 16. Teams discuss reading according to their team topic and assignment
Water, discuss reading: Ludwig, Chapter 7.
Meet with collaborating institution, Techo representatives and conduct short interview to better understand community development in the Buenos Aires region.

7PM: Daily Reflection

Sunday Jan 13:


9AM-12PM: Meet to prepare for week two and discuss travel and earth ship construction.

10AM-1PM: Architectural tour of the Center of Buenos Aires with Professor Weiss. Compare styles of construction and techniques with earth architecture and green building.

1PM-2PM: Lunch in San Telmo with Pablo Salvado

5PM: Meet at Tomas’ apartment. Teams present list of objectives and tasks during construction of earth building. Discuss reading: Minke, Chapter 2 and 3, Fryer Chapters 4 and 5.

7PM: Work on blogs on LC website. Upload photographs.

Week 2

Monday Jan 14:


9AM-12PM: City tour

12PM-2PM: Lunch

2PM-4PM: Design of earth building-teams offer suggestions for building techniques. Discuss readings: Schroder, Ogletree, Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5.

5PM: Meeting with plastic artist Salvado to discuss plans for earth structure. Demonstration of labor— how to utilize sustainable materials for successful building. Become familiar with materials as a group.

7PM: Daily Reflection

Tuesday Jan 15:

Un techo: meeting with members of NGO
12-2PM: Lunch
17:30 or 18:00 Meeting with Economist Alexis Dritsos.

Wednesday Jan 16:


8AM: Breakfast

9AM: Depart by bus for Ingeniero Maschwitz.

10AM: Arrive at location. Meet with plastic artist Pablo Salvado. Foundation work.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue work on draining ditch and foundation. Discuss reading: Hunter Chapter 4.

5PM: Return to city.

7PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection on Angel. Teams meet to discuss progress of earth building.

Thursday Jan 17:


8AM: Breakfast

9AM: Depart by bus for Ingeniero Maschwitz.

10AM: Arrive at location

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project. Wall, windows, draining.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection on Angel.

Friday January 18:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection on Angel.

Saturday January 19:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project. Construction of walls, preparation of adobe.

5PM: Return to city

8PM: Daily Reflection

Sunday January 20:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project. Walls, adobe, plastering.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Week 3

Monday January 21:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Tuesday January 22:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project.

5PM: Return to city. Update on progress of documentary film.

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Wednesday January 23:


10AM: Arrive at location. Discuss Reading: Hunter, Chapter 5. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Preparation of roof structure.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Thursday January 24:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue working on the roof

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Friday January 25:

ON-SITE Day 10

10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue working on the roof

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Saturday January 26:


Sunday January 27:

6:30 p.m. Transportation to the airport

10:30 p.m. Flight leaves to the U.S.

Week 4

Monday January 28:

Arrive to the U.S.

Tuesday January 29:


10AM-12PM: Finalize any film editing needed.

1PM-3PM: Film finalizing continued.

Wednesday January 30:


10-12AM: Meet to discuss and launch our short film on YouTube.

1-3PM: Discuss our Learning Cluster Fair Presentation. (TBA)

End of Winter Block

*We will be filming throughout our Learning Cluster. The objective is to create a short film documentary (15-20 min) about our group and individual studies on Urban Development, Architecture, and Sustainable Housing in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

*In preparation for this Learning Cluster each student will choose individual topics to explore by themselves and in a team to prepare for a presentation.

Collaborating Institution


As mentioned in the itinerary, this cluster will meet with representatives of this non-profit organization to discuss the implications of sustainable housing for impoverished communities. Students will conduct a short interview to gain clarity on urban development policies in inner-city neighborhoods where most Techo volunteers work to improve the quality of life for members of each area. This organization maintains an exceptional standard that coincides with the objectives of the course.

Below, is a statement from the non-profit Techo:

TECHO pursues three strategic objectives: (1) The promotion of community development in slums, through a process of community strengthening that promotes representative & validated leadership, drives the organization and participation of thousands of families living in slums to generate solutions of their own problems. (2) Fostering social awareness and action, with special emphasis on generating critical and determined volunteers working next to the families living in slums while involving different actors of society. (3) Political advocacy that promotes necessary structural changes to ensure that poverty does not continue reproducing, and that it begins to decrease rapidly.

Vision: A fair and poverty free society, where everyone has the opportunities needed to develop their capacities and fully exercise their rights

Mission: Work Tirelessly to overcome extreme poverty in slums, through training and joint action of families and youth volunteers. Furthermore, to promote community development, denouncing the situation in which the most excluded communities live. And lastly, to advocate for social policies with other actors in society.

Works Cited

Carns, Ted.Off on Our Own: Living Off-Grid in Comfortable Independence: One Couple’s“Learn as We Go” Journey to Self-Reliance. N.p.: St. Lynn’s, 2011. Print.

Fryer, Julie. The Complete Guide to Water Storage: How to Use Gray Water and Rainwater Systems, Rain Barrels, Tanks, and Other Water Storage Techniques for Household and Emergency Use (Back to Basics Conserving). N.p.: Atlantic, 2011. Print.

Hunter, Kaki, and Donald Kiffmeyer. Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques (Natural Building Series). N.p.: New Society, 2004. Print.

Low, Setha M. Theorizing the City: The New Urban Anthropology Reader. N.p.: Rutgers UP, 1999. Print.

Ludwig, Art. Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use–Includes How to Make Ferrocement Water Tanks. N.p.: Oasis Design, 2005. Print.

Minke, Gernot. Building with Earth: Design and Technology of a Sustainable Architecture. 2nd ed. N.p.: Birkhäuser Architecture, 2009. Print.

Phillips, E. Barabara. City Lights: Urban-Suburban Life in the Global Society. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Rock, David. Argentina, 1516-1987: From Spanish Colonization to Alfonsín. N.p.: University of California Press, 1987. Print.

Roy, Rob. Earth-Sheltered Houses: How to Build an Affordable Home. N.p.: New Society, 2006. Print.

Sanchez, Laura, and Alex Sanchez. Adobe Houses for Today: Flexible Plans for Your Adobe Home. N.p.: Sunstone, 2008. Print.

Schroder, Lisa, and Vince Ogletree. Adobe Homes for All Climates: Simple, Affordable, and Earthquake-Resistant Natural Building Techniques. N.p.: Chelsea Green, 2010. Print.

Sernau, Scott R. Social Inequality in a Global Age. Third ed. N.p.: Sage, 2010. Print.

Wilson, Jason. Buenos Aires: A Cultural History. N.p.: Interlink, 1999. Print.

Documentary films and instructional videos:

Earthship-Britanny Groundhouse

Garbage Warrior

El barro, las manos, la casa

Other possible resources for student research

Earth architecture

1. “Tips on Building an Adobe House” . This website has sections dedicated to different aspects of building an adobe home. One of the most helpful sections is titled “Adobe Bricks.” It has step by step instructions on how to make adobe bricks which essentially make up the structure.

2. Adobe Houses for Today: Flexible Plans for Your Adobe Home book for purchase: $27 .This book was mentioned in an article titled “Top Six Adobe House Building Plans and Manuals.” It covers plans for building an adobe house including many photographs and diagrams.

3. Adobe: Build it Yourself book for purchase: $29 This book was also mentioned in the article “Top Six Adobe House Building Plans and Manuals.” This one covers the building codes and energy requirements in building an adobe home.

4. “Adobe Building Systems” This website is titled “Adobe Building Systems.” On this particular link you will find what amounts to a power point on the basics of building an adobe home.

5. Sustainable Development in Argentina
Sustainable development in Argentina analyzes why, despite having an impressive endowment of renewable and non-renewable resources, Argentina has failed to maintain its relative global position in economic, social and environmental development in recent decades. The authors summarize the main environmental problems in the country and conclude that the current trend is not unsustainable development but unsustainable underdevelopment, with increasing damage to natural resources and ecosystems and a growing incidence of poverty.

6. Sustainable building and community organization technologies
Whilst much has changed in Argentina over the last four decades, housing remains a critical issue. Public housing schemes favor the construction of expensive homes that are accessible to few. There is an ever-growing need, therefore, to tackle the housing problem through a comprehensive approach that addresses housing, employment and local development. The Experimental Centre for Economic Housing/Association for Economic Housing (AVE/CEVE) is a non-governmental organization established over 40 years ago in the context of rapid urbanization. AVE/CEVE has worked to develop, apply and transfer a range of technical solutions to address various housing issues affecting low-income communities. Its approach encourages the active participation of residents throughout the process — both in projects for housing construction and in technology transfer processes. AVE/CEVE has developed a number of technologies and systems that seek to ensure the efficient use of energy and water resources, including a compact toilet and sink unit which results in water savings of 20%.

7. Buenos Aires: Global Dreams, Local Crises by David J. Keeling
Buenos Aires is a city of fascinating contrasts. The most southerly of the world’s great metropolises, it dominates the Argentine urban system, but is relatively isolated from the rest of Latin America and the global economic and political system. The archetypal elegance and sophistication of the Paris of the South is set against the problem of poor housing, social deprivation, and suburban sprawl. As Argentina struggles to maintain a democracy, the future stability of the region depends on how this vital, varied, and vulnerable city comes to terms with the need to restructure in the face of economic, environmental, and demographic crises. The book begins with an overview of the city’s four-hundred-year history, which forms the basis for an examination of the contemporary urban landscape. This leads to an analysis of local politics in relation to planning and housing policies that is followed by a consideration of changes in the city’s economic structures and an examination of Buenos Aires’ national, regional and global transport links. The book then turns to a detailed look at the city’s green spaces, environmental problems, and health care systems.

8. The Influence of the World Bank on National Housing and Urban Policies: The Case of Mexico and Argentina During the 1990s (Ashgate Economic Geography Series) by Cecilia Zanetta
Firmly grounded on her professional work, Dr. Zanetta’s academic research is aimed at building a bridge between practice and the world of ideas to ultimately improve living conditions in developing countries. During the past ten years, she has worked extensively on development projects in many Latin and Central American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru. Her main areas of interest include urban and housing policies, decentralization, public sector modernization and sub-national governments. Dr. Zanetta is an adjunct faculty member at the Department of Geography, University of Tennessee.

Student Biographies

Here each individual team member of the 2013 Argentina Learning Cluster will give a short summary about themselves and what they wish to gain from this rare and challenging experience.
    Alexandra Cline, Class of 2015
Although I was born in Santa Monica, California, I spent much of my youth on the East coast and also spent time traveling around the country with my family. Having seen many different cities and suburbs in the states, I found myself fascinated with architecture and its relation to culture. I often question the origin of certain styles or trends in architecture around the world– from Gaudi to repetitive Orange County, Ca planned communities, all architecture has a history. With this learning cluster I hope to apply my passion for the art of cultural aesthetics to our task at hand (building a sustainable home), while simultaneously gaining knowledge about practicality/ sustainability vs. beauty and aesthetics.

Zoe Witt, Class of 2016:

    Being a freshman this year at Soka, I am very lucky to be able to be a part of this unique and exciting learning cluster. I was immediately attracted to this learning cluster because of the opportunity to be able to be outdoors doing hands-on work. Previously, I had never considered the possibility of people today being able to live on their own, relying on the land, and all the environmental and financial benefits that will surely come about over time. I am excited to play around in the mud, working and coordinating with others, and seeing what we produce in the end.

    Midori Komatsu, Class of 2015:

    Believe it or not, I was actually born and raised on Dominican Republic, but my parents are Japanese. I am currently a sophomore at Soka and so far so good. Learning Clusters have been one of my favorite unique characteristics of my university. Students get to decide on a topic and usually involves traveling outside the country. Last year I was able to go to Panama and share a beautiful experience with my other classmates, so when I found out that I was going to have the opportunity to go to Argentina I was simply grateful and joyful for this chance. This cluster meant another new exciting experience. Not only the country of Argentina interested me, but also the topic of sustainable housing and such. Finding ways to be environmentally friendly has been a persistent issue for several years, and if we can find creative ways to aid our planet it is worth a shot.

    Christian Mera, Class of 2015:

    Although I’ve spent the majority of my life in Miami, Florida, I was born in Medellin, Colombia to Colombian parents, from distinct Colombian cities. I’m currently a Sophomore at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California and feel extremely fortunate to attend such an incredible institution. My passions are futbol (Soccer), a future in the business field, and my family of course. This course interested me because of the different aspects involved such as the economics and environmental details to it. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many unique parts of the world and can honestly say that Argentina is of the best so far. Having moved from Colombia to the U.S at an early age, I’ve had a much deeper appreciation of the Latin American culture which I can fairly relate to. I hope this project turns out as we initially hoped and would very much like to retell my experiences here in Buenos Aires.

    Hector Castenada, Class of 2015:

    I was born in the states but raised in Mexico. I am a Sophmore at Soka and this is my second Learning Cluster so far. Both of my Clusters have dealt with environmental issues so it would seem I am an environmentalist. This is partially true. I have always been a bit skeptical as to the practicality of the more extreme techniques people use to reduce their impact on the environment and have always been convinced that it is just not worth the effort. I am here in order to be convinced otherwise. While up until this point I am not a full believer (I enjoy my long showers and don’t like the prius) I have definitely come to appreciate the benefits that an eco-friendly lifestyle grants, particularly the type of construction we are studying here. I can definitely see how these techniques could be utilized in a way that would be appealing to the mainstream community, which I believe would be the best course of action for the ecological building movement.

    Andrew De Melo, Class of 2015:

    My name is Andrew Daisaku de Melo, born in long island and raised in Florida. I was born into a family of artists, my mother is an abstract painter from Korea and my father is a Portuguese industrial designer who owned a successful prototyping firm in New York. As a child I spent hours taking apart and repairing anything I could find, and I became in love with creating my own inventions and designing more efficient products. I built upon my skills of design and prototyping by attending an arts high school for two years and finished high school focusing on physics and architecture at a boarding-prep school named Taft. Currently I attend Soka University of America to get a liberal arts degree with a concentration in Humanities.
    I am obsessed with architecture, sustainable design and entrepreneurship. Over the past 5 years I have been studying architectural design, focusing on Japanese woodwork, Zen aesthetics, modular design through Metabolist architecture and ways to achieve these through the usage of sustainable building techniques. Because architecture requires much more resources and certifications to experiment with, I love to use my skills in 3d design and plastic modeling to create sustainable designs that are easily marketable and manufacture. My most recent project is a micro-aquaponics system for 10 gallon fish tanks. I am incredibly excited to work on this Learning Cluster, as it is a perfect combination of all my greatest interests. I hope to work as hard as possible to leave a lasting structure here in Buenos Aires, and to explore the architectural freedom that results from such radical building techniques!

    Katy Fetters, Class of 2015:

      Hello! I am from Huntington Beach, California and grew up in a fairly suburban community. Having this opportunity to work on this projects really ignites my interest in the idea of “suburbia” in the US versus privately owned property in Argentina. I originally joined this learning cluster because I really wanted to travel to a new culture while accomplishing something that would change my life. Tomas helped my vision come to life as we progressed into this grant writing and learning cluster process. I am in the Spanish program at Soka so I knew that traveling to Buenos Aires would help improve my communication skills on the local level.
      My ultimate goal during our learning cluster is to truly understand the importance of sustainability and the effects on not only the environment, but on the quality and practicality of our lifestyle in an “earthship” type home. Because sustainability and urban development is something that is very controversial in the developed world, I would also like to further my understanding of government intervention in the building process on privately owned property and why the laws are so different from places like Argentina when it comes to building out of sustainable materials. I have no experience building any type of structure and I am excited to have this opportunity!

      Claudia Ahumada, Class of 2015:

      Hello! My name is Claudia Ahumada and I am currently a Sophomore at Soka. I am Mexican American and my parents are both from Mexico, my father from Guadalajara y mi mama de Puebla. I grew up speaking Spanish and learning English while attending school and living in an English speaking country. Having the ability to live in Argentina and utilize my Spanish has been a wonderful experience, especially because we are in the process of theorizing, learning, and thus practicing the methods and idea of sustainable housing. I am absolutely in love with finding ways to better make use of our existence in aiding mother nature, as well as helping those who cannot afford to live in the modern world that we do, which also applies to those who live in underdeveloped countries, this Learning Cluster has allowed me to explore just that.

      Howee Wu, Class of 2016:

        Hello! I’m Howee! I am so grateful and excited having the opportunity to be in Argentina. I am a proud Taiwanese, born in the southern part of Taiwan. In 2000, my family and I moved to the United States. I cannot believe that 12 years passed already!!
        Anyways, I love to learn and explore. I enjoy singing, dancing, laughing, and most importantly, smiling. I am very positive and easy going. But what I want to get out of this L.C. is to explore different ways to build sustainability. Also, I am very interested in Latin American culture and learning about different ways of life. Buenos Aires is such an amazing place and I want to sincerely thank Tomas, my L.C. classmates / friends and Soka for funding my education to pursue learning across many national boundaries. Back to my spiel about nature. We need to start living one with nature. We need to give back to what mother nature gave us. I LOVE EARTH! So, Thanks for reading! :))

      Jessica Delgadillo, Class of 2015:

        The idea of exploring the concept of sustainable housing immediately caught my attention. Being from a typical suburban neighborhood in Orange County I have always noticed the blatant lack of regard for the environment in places such as this. Not only am I interested in exploring the possibility of creating a more eco-friendly environment in such a place as orange county, but also the possibility of sustainable housing for those who simply lack homes. This creates the possibility of killing two birds with one stone, in a sense, and working toward a solution in two areas that are severely in need of progress. As a liberal arts student at Soka CarUniversity, a concern for human rights as well as environmental rights are at the center of my education.I hope to gain a further and more well rounded knowledge of a topic, sustainable housing, that is rarely talked about and known in the United States and incorporate these concepts into my studies.

        Tamara Siemering, Class of 2016:

        My name is Tamara Siemering.  I am a freshman at Soka University.  I chose this learning cluster because I felt that it connected directly with the education I received from Waldorf schools.  The Waldorf curriculum introduced me to crafts such as handwork, woodwork and gardening.  I also learned how to build using cob, a material very similar to adobe while I was in high school.  My junior year, I helped build an oven and a bench made out of cob.  Another reason why I joined this learning cluster was for my love of nature.  I think it is important that everyone connects with and respects the nature that surrounds them.  Building one’s own home out of materials such as adobe is a more sustainable housing option, and makes for a rewarding experience.

        Caroline Sell, Class of 2015:

        My name is Caroline. I was named so due to my fathers passion for music. I was born in Boulder Colorado during a snow storm. I grew up in a very affluent community where the transition from a spiritually grounded community to spiritual materialistic individuals has changed the culture and unity of the Boulder Community. Spirituality in my life has brought both its pros and its cons. For the most part the cons have no influence except that it brings a hyper awareness to my understanding of the protestest and movements of the people; especially in regards to the environment and natural conservation. The concern for the planet, although completely respectable, in my opinion is the wrong way to look a the environmental movement. As I have come to understand it, saving the plantet is not the issue, the planet with survive; it is the salvation of humanity that is at stake.

        With this learning cluster, I saw an opportunity to learn how to perserve both planet earth and its inhabitants. I hope to learn how to create a lifestyle that is both sustainable in construction as well as sustainable for humanity. Because I have been influenced and involved in these social movements through a spiritual base, I view social change as an opportunity to revive spiritual connection and understanding between the offerings of the earth and the willingness of human kind. I am looking forward to playing with mud and building a shelter.

          Photo Essays

          These photographs are chosen to showcase a few student’s experiences during time spent abroad in numerous locations in, and outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

          Katy’s Photo Essay
          I chose these photos because they will remind me of all the feelings and thoughts I do not want to forget about this experience in the years to come. I want to share these photos with you, so you can see what I saw and so you can understand just how incredible the summer sky is below the equator, or how the graffiti becomes art… so you can see what is means for me to be alive in this crazy, artistic, and beautiful world. 

          Alex’s Photo Essay

          My goal when coming to Buenos Aires was to really obtain a feel and understanding of the architecture. I wanted to capture the diversity I’d heard about, and I wanted to highlight the contrast of new and old, traditional and modern. What was surprising, though, was how I couldn’t even pay attention to the architecture as I was fascinated by the people and culture, and infatuated with the street art. I found utter bliss within the use of color everywhere we went, from the buildings to the sidewalk, and the absolute emotion and energy that perpetuated from the people on the streets. I hoped to capture the vibrations of the color, and the emotion of the souls I shot on camera. What follows are what I produced from such inspiration.

          Adobe/Studio Photos:

          A compilation of photos from our work site, check out our progress!

          Cultural and Architectural Photos: 

          Personal Experiences

          This page is dedicated to our personal experiences, stories, and observations that we would like to share with the world. Beyond the classroom and academia, we discovered so much about the cultural, social, and political aspect of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is a type of learning that is only made possible through travel, interaction, and experience.

          Christian Mera, Class of 2015

          Argentine Economist Lecture (Alexis)

          Alexis, the Argentine Economist whom spoke to our Learning Cluster group about the importance of housing and Argentina’s Economy presented loads of information that clearly laid out the many crises throughout the country. The lecture was very well delivered; he touched on the failure to abide by Article 25.1 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the concept of inflation and its negative effects on the Argentine Economy and included his own system he believes could possibly turn the world around. In terms of a personal question that arose while I took notes on his lecture, I wondered what would be the best frame of things that could resolve universal poverty and how important would sustainability be for this resolution.

          Alexis made sure he introduced his lecture by referring to Article 25.1 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states:

          Everybody has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

          Up to now it is apparent that we aren’t applying the right policies to resolve the problem of housing deficiencies. Argentina is home to many areas referred to as “slumps” and “villas.” These areas are filled with poverty; the people whom live in these places usually don’t have access to water and struggle to obtain food to nourish themselves and the lives of their loved ones stuck in the same predicament. What is interesting to see is how governments overlook these issues and exploit these people instead of attacking the problem head on which could ultimately prove beneficial to the entire state. Politicians especially see this issue of poverty as ammunition for their own business, lying to the poor in order for their votes in any given campaign that politician is running. Not to say the world is corrupt, but it needs drastic change.

          Inflation is one of many concepts that is diminishing the possibilities for people, especially in Argentina, to purchase homes for their families let alone even purchasing some land in which to build their own shelters, whether environmentally friendly or not. For example, in Argentina, inflation causes a raise in prices annually by 25%, this causes people to lose their purchasing power because they would be receiving less for their money after every purchase made. Now imagine in attempt to purchase a home, where the cost can range through a wide scale of costs, mortgages are essential when purchasing a home but have proven to be extremely costly, who can qualify? Argentina consists mostly of a standard-middle class whose revenue is relatively low; APRs on mortgages turn out to be 23%, which is extremely unrealistic for the typical Argentine family to maintain steady payments. Right then and there, the flow of money throughout the economy is unstable further leading to more inflated prices on all goods.

          Alexis had an idea that seemed promising but would take many years to eventually accomplish, many different cities in which can sustain each other through living and even a proper education to better the entirety of the nation as a whole. In order to convince governments to help is to show persistence and urge people living in poverty to show that they are capable of attacking this issue and are willing to do whatever is necessary. Understanding Economics in this way helps to ensure a better understanding of how the concept of slavery continues to persist and where we need change in order to possibly resolve this issue entirely.

          Katy Fetters, Class of 2015

          Walking the Streets of Buenos Aires

          I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Buenos Aires, but I prepared myself to do a lot of walking. I had just bought new nike running shoes to do all my walking in as much comfort as possible. What I noticed immediately was that the sidewalks were so poorly paved, I had to watch my every step. There were large cracks in the pavement, uprooting trees, large piles of dirt, glass, and concrete just lying off to the side of the walkway due to the constant, ongoing construction. The reason I was so conscious of the sidewalks and streets in Buenos Aires is because I have Cerebral Palsy, a physical condition that affects my balance and coordination skills in my legs. I can get around pretty well, but when I know I have a full day of walking ahead of me in a foreign city, it can feel pretty daunting. As we began walking around the city and seeing all of the different and beautiful types of buildings, I tired easily but I didn’t want to miss out on anything! I just accepted the fact that I just had to do the best I could do with walking, and remain conscious of my physical health. I always had to be extra careful in certain areas where road construction and development was always at work. There were certainly nice areas of the city that I found very pleasant to walk around in, but that was not always the case.

          The neighborhood we stayed in has uneven sidewalks and I felt like it would be a death trap for someone with CP or any other physical disability that inhibits walking abilities. This awareness led me to really question the attention toward people with disabilities in the city, and if they even have access to easy transportation around the city. Mobility is always an issue for someone with CP, so I began to wonder what type of system was in place for accessibility and mobility for people with physical handicaps. I started to look for handicap signs for parking, or buses, subways ect, and only saw a grand total of 3. Yes 3 handicap signs… I noticed one across the street from our hostel for a larger parking spot, one on a widened bus door, and one on a restaurant’s walkway ramp. With that said, I was not impressed. How frustrating! What type of government can allow such real issues go overlooked? It made me think: What if someone tragically was restrained to a wheelchair one day but had lived their whole lives taking the subte to work, school, and home? They simply could not live in Buenos Aires any longer due to their condition. Part of me was very quick to assume that the government just doesn’t care. They don’t want to invest the time, nor the money to give the disabled community the freedoms they deserve. The other part of me is willing to question if the government and the people of Buenos Aires simply just don’t know about disabilities.Our class interviewed with a young woman who, like me, is also 20 years old and is in college. I asked her how the majority perceived peoples with disabilities and she kind of dismissed my question out of ignorance for any solid answer. Once I realized this, I wanted to know more about any government or social action put into place concerning the rights of peoples with disabilities in Argentina. Here in the United States, we have the ADA, or the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 that gives peoples with all kinds of handicaps the civil right to accessibility, education, service, independence ect… However, the only really solid piece of information that I came across was a conference on international action for disabilities. It was held in 2005 at the US Congress in which Argentine government representatives participated and declared their awareness of issues pertaining to this topic. No action was put into place at that time, and after having gone to the nation’s largest city, I still can’t help but wonder if anything or anyone will ever change.

          Alexandra Cline, Class of 2015

          Contrasting Architecture in Buenos Aires

          From the instant we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the hustle and bustle of the streets put me into a perpetual state of dizziness. Cars zoomed and honked, tail gated and swerved to dangerously close stops. I felt my chest seize with anxiety and tried to mentally block the nerve racking traffic, telling myself that soon I’d be within the safety of our hostel.

          Upon arriving at the hostel, I couldn’t help but laugh at the stark contrast of architecture not only outside of the building, but within it as well. From the outer perspective of the building, the hostel looked as if it were the entrance to some magical land. Sardined between two rather modern yet run down multi-story edifices, our hostel managed to fit a massive and heavy wooden door on its small face. The door looked as if it belonged to a classically designed castle from some Disney movie.

          Across the street a small market sat nestled between other modern apartments that awkwardly and narrowly teetered towards the sky, and just up the street a bright yellow home (perhaps divided into smaller apartments within) was an eye sore in its outrageously beautiful Victorian styled design. As I looked up and down the street, making a double take here and there, I wondered if the rest of the city was that much of a “mix”. As I have come to recently realize, the entire city of Buenos Aires is one big collage of every type of architectural design imaginable–and this fact is as hilarious as it is fascinating. In a work entitled “Buenos Aires – a cultural history” by Jason Wilson, I recounted a section on “Modernity and Plagiarism” within the city, and Wilson himself describes the city as one that is “constantly mutating” (Wilson, 4). So not only is the city a jumble, but it is a continuously growing and changing jumble. Everywhere you look a modern building of metal and glass can hug the stucco and stone of a building constructed so long ago, that those who built it are long dead.

          Finally opening the door to what could have lead to Narnia for all we knew, I was a tad less surprised to see the same mix of old and new, rustic and mod decorating the hostel. Opening our bedroom door with a storybook kind of key, the lock clicked with a dull thud and the heavy wooden door that resembled the main entrance creaked open. Our bedroom consisted of two twin beds and a bunk bed set. My roommates and I found the beds that we would be resting in for the next two weeks and talked and smiled about the funny neon covers of the bed, and the attempted retro style within such a vintage looking room. And then, within a pause of our discussion, it hit us like a wave.

          The noise.

          The noise of the streets of Buenos Aires is not only incessant but boundless. It is relentless in its efforts and volumes and tireless even when you are desperate to find sleep. Traffic haunts me like a dark shadow, and even in the supposed safety found here in the hostel, I am still tail gated in my most tranquil dreams…

          Buenos Aires. A city of everything – including traffic.

          Midori Komatsu, Class of 2015

          Hanging Out with Commuters in Buenos Aires

          Buenos Aires is a vast lively city with people continuously moving around in different directions. Because of this matter, an efficient way of public transportation is necessary. I visited the city with my classmates and professor, and stayed for over two weeks near the center of the city. We constantly used public transportation to get to different places and learned many things about how it functioned.

          The first form of transportation we used was the bus. Buenos Aires has a constant stream of buses coming and going throughout the city for an affordable price depending on the destination. The quantity of public buses was almost in equal amount to cars. The price can range between 1 to 4 pesos per person. If compared to the US dollar, 1 dollar equals 5 to 7 pesos depending on the exchange rate, which means bus rides cost less than a dollar. There are also many subway stations called Subte that reach many parts of the city at an affordable price for 2.50 pesos per person.  Apart from buses and subways, there are also trains that can reach farther parts of the province of Buenos Aires. The prices for these trains are also cheaper compared to the United States. It can range from 8 pesos to 20 pesos depending on the station.

          However, there are a few inconveniences with the public transportation. For example, buses do not take bills, and this can be very bothersome if you have no coins or not enough coins with you. Most Argentinians have the bus card called sube which is fast and practical, but for a tourist that isn’t sure if he or she will be using the bus as often it can be impractical.  Also, exchanging bills for coins can be very difficult since most business want to keep their change or simply don’t have. Another issue that presented to us while in Buenos Aires, was the schedule of the subways. In various occasions the entrance to the subway was closed for different reasons. If you aren’t familiar with the schedule, like we were, you might prefer to take the bus instead of the subway. Moreover, buses and subways didn’t have air conditioner and both can get very crowded and uncomfortable, especially during summer. Though, a few amount of buses did have air conditioner. Another small issue is the condition of the subway trains, it wasn’t at its best since there was graffiti all over it, and the seats weren’t very clean either.

          Nevertheless, regardless of these issues with public transportation, the usefulness of it outweighs the inconveniences. Many Latin American countries can only dream to have a mode of transportation as efficient as the one in Buenos Aires. Even if at times it may be a bit of a struggle, it is cheap, and gets you to your destination, and that is the most important part.

            Zoe Witt

          A Home Away From Home

          In October, signing up for a traveling learning cluster seemed like a great idea.  It would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially for a freshman, and the topic in general was just so unique and cool.  However, as our departure date loomed closer, I began to regret my decision to join this cluster.  This would be my first time traveling without my family, as well as the longest I would be without them.  The thought of being separated from my family and friends for 17 nights began to drive me crazy.  Many nights prior to leaving were spent crying, desperately wishing I could somehow get out of taking this trip, and in Houston , I seriously considered not getting on the plane. 

          However, upon arriving in Buenos Aires, I was completely immersed in the culture and all my sorrows and worries were quickly forgotten.  Tomas kept us busy, taking us all over the city and summarizing the history of each part.  For example, La Boca was a part of Buenos Aires that was built by Italian immigrants and characterized by colorful buildings and raised sidewalks; the financial district was a very ritzy part of the city, with expensive shops and a beautiful mall; and lastly there was Recoleta, built my monks and home to Evita’s grave.  What I immediately noticed upon exploring the city was the kindness and hospitality of the locals to us foreigners.  Everyone was interested in hearing that we were from the states and people were patient with my attempts at Spanish. 

           I met so many cool people on this trip.  There was an ice-cream shop two blocks down from our hostel that I went to almost on a daily basis.  There I met Alan and Derlis, who would help me with my Spanish and soon figured out my flavor of choice- crema orea- and gave it to me for free.  I also met David, a Columbian living near Plazo de Mayo right now, who makes a living off of selling beautiful hand-made crafts at a street market in San Telmo.  David took Caroline and I to a spot where the locals congregate every Sunday evening to dance and drum.  That was such an exhilarating and exciting night, and I could not help but dance along with the parading locals pounding their drums.  Of course, there was Pablo, who so kindly welcomed us onto his land, making us feel comfortable and ensuring us that we were not just there to work, but to have fun as well.  Pablo was always so encouraging, thanking us for all our hard work and commitment to the project.  What I loved most about Pablo was his love for animals and I could not help but to shed a few tears when we had to say our good-byes to him and his playful pup, Flora.  And lastly, there were my fellow classmates.  Prior to this trip, I knew who everyone else was, but none of them were people I considered to be friends.  That has totally changed.  I became really close with everyone on this trip.  We bonded really well and overall, I think we were just a great and fun group of people to be around.  I am so thankful for this opportunity and all the cool people I became close to. 

          Being back in Southern California and at Soka feels weird.  I really miss Beunos Aires; it turns out I came to love the city.  Although I am glad to be home, I feel like a part of my heart is still in Argentina and it is nice to know that I can feel at home in a totally different part of the world.    

          Hector Castaneda, Class of 2015

          Personal Experience

          Going in to this project I had one question in my mind, which I intended to answer: How can you make people want to live in a house like this? While it is true that most advantages of ecological construction are self evident, most people are not very likely to make such drastic changes to their way of life just for the sake of reducing their carbon footprint or not having to pay a water bill. At the present ecological construction is, at least in my opinion, only appealing enough to a fringe minority of ecological enthusiasts and artists, but this needn’t be the case. While working in this learning cluster I noticed a few things that would be immediately appealing to most people who would not consider this type of construction a viable option.

          The most obvious and persuasive advantage to ecological construction is a monetary one. Never mind the savings that come from the reduced cost of living; this house cost around 600 dollars to build. If that is not a persuasive little bit of information, I don’t know what is. We worked in a city where renting is the norm, so the idea of a whole house for the price of a couple months worth of rent money would be attractive for all who crave that independence. That being said many would rightfully be afraid of getting what they pay for: a cheap little hut.
          One of my greatest personal qualms with ecological construction is that the houses that are produced using the techniques are usually very unappealing to those accustomed to traditional building techniques. This might not be a problem for the niche audience of the movement, but if you are trying to sell someone on the idea, the house has to look good, not only be practical. While building the house I was secretly afraid that we would end up with a hobbit-hole, but I was pleasantly surprised that we ended up drawing inspiration from several different construction techniques while keeping the house eco-friendly, with all the benefits that entails. In our case we utilized pallets and beams to build the structure and walls of the house and then we filled them with the adobe mixture. This created a wall that showed plenty of wood on the inside of the house and made the entire structure look much more geometric.

          So in the end we had a cozy room where we could all see ourselves staying the night in and it cost next to nothing to make. It was aesthetically pleasing in both a traditional and artistic way. If were these ideas to be expanded to build an entire house or a group of independent structures connected by walkways it would probably look like something that most people would consider moving into. So during this learning cluster I learned two things: how to build a sustainable adobe structure and, perhaps more importantly, how to sell someone on the idea, something that will be extremely important for the expansion of this movement.

          Jessica Delgadillo, Class of 2015

          Personal Experience

          Growing up in the typical, structured suburbs of Orange County                I immediately was struck by not only the structural but cultural differences upon arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina. No longer was I in a pristine “city” where more cars than people were ever seen out strolling about and making their way through their daily lives and routines. No longer was I in a peculiarly quiet town where every home and building looked to be same, but rather in a place where the constant mummer of buses and people filled the air at all times and the colorful array of buildings immediately captured ones attention and interest. I was no longer in the “bubble” of Orange County.

                          Part of our learning cluster was to really assess whether sustainably made homes would be practical in every sense and not only as housing for the general population but those who, as defined by the UN, fall into the category of living in poverty or extreme poverty.  Because of our time constraint we were unable to visit the slums in Buenos Aires but we did have the opportunity to meet with an NGO known as Techo. Techo is one of many NGOs that focus on the issue of housing, per se. Yet despite the fact that housing is a central point in their mission, they recognize that it is but the surface of deeply rooted problem. With this, Techo’s approach is first to attack the problem right off the bat by providing emergency housing for the families that qualify and agree to terms set by the organization as reliance is always a dangerous possibility when it comes to NGO work. Techo sets a series of criteria for the family to meet in terms of self reliance such as asking them to pay part of the price for their emergency home, setting time limit as they must be able to be working in some form or another and be able to build a more stable home for themselves by a certain date.

                          Although Techo seemed to be on the right track in terms of not only providing housing but actually looking at the deeper layers of the problem which include lack of education and moral from the community by helping provide programs concerning basic education but teaching them skills to help them find work, there seemed to be an obvious flaw in their strategy: their method of emergency housing. The emergency houses they built for the families were simple, flimsy wooden structures that took a couple days at the most to construct. An alternative to this wasteful and perhaps even time consuming is possible. For example, the small adobe studio we built took but a short 9 days, used minimal materials—most of which was borrowed from the land itself such as mud and sticks—as well as low in cost. Although it was hard work, it would make more sense for the people of Techo to take more time and involve the families in the building of their more sturdy adobe home. This in itself would assist them in improving their living conditions in a more sustainable fashion.

                          After not only meeting with the NGO Techo, finishing the building of the adobe studio, and speaking with an expert Argentine economist, I realized the problem of housing was not only a social matter but one that involved politics and economics. It is an issue that must be addressed from every angle if there is any hope of alleviating the problem of lack of housing as well as dealing with its unsustainable nature.

          Howee Wu, Class of 2016

          Personal Experience

          Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, I was ecstatic. Everything went smoothly and off we go! The ten hour flight was not bad at all. We had personal entertainment systems, pillows, and blankets. I thought to myself how lucky I was. This was my first time in a Latin American country and also the first time I exited the U.S. In nearly 7 years.  After the flight, we arrived in Ezeiza airport. I was shocked by the amount of tourists and people, all conglomerated onto migrations. When we went on the shuttle to the hostel, my first impression was that the drivers are crazy! They would veer in between lines and motorcyclists would drive in between cars. I nearly got an anxiety attack. In less than an hour, we arrived at our hostel! The males in the group, including me, got an air-conditioned room. I felt so lucky and very fortunate since the summer days in Buenos Aires are so hot and humid.

                          How is the city like in Buenos Aires? My first impression was that the city is huge: people, buses, cars, and bustling about. It is super busy and chaotic. However, in the midst of the chaos, the natural, architectural surroundings distracted me. Teatro Colon is absolutely stunning. What an amazing theatre and structure to represent the wealth and capability of Argentina? Teatro Colon is a fantastic opera house considered to be the top 5 theatre in the world. The theatre is beside Avenida 9 de Julio. This famous avenue, the biggest avenue in the entire world, was the one that took our Learning Cluster group many attempts to cross the entire avenue. Okay, back to Teatro Colon. The building was built in the early 20th century, and has an eclectic style, typical of that time period. When the doors swung open to the lobby of the theater, I was speechless. Every single detail was thought out and planned. Floors to the ceiling were designed and made from Europe, countries like France and Italy. The main theatre itself is shaped like a horseshoe. Tomas and a couple of our classmate got to sit in the main theatre! So, the seating and level of importance one sits at the theatre matters a lot. The higher one sits, the more power and prominence one has. Also, the chandelier of theatre can hold opera singers and choruses. When they sing, it will sound like if they are singing directly in the audiences’ ears. How cool is that!  

          Talking about architecture of Buenos Aires, I noticed that some buildings were aesthetically built, however became run down, with some buildings stained with black goo by the smog of the pollution. It seems like some buildings were very poorly handled and maintained with the decline of its beautiful architecture. It is truly the Paris of South America with all its monuments, statues, and eclectically prominent buildings. The social situation in Argentina is declining. Although the GNP of Argentina has grown 8% every year, the social, economic gap of the nation has grown. I learned a lot about the history of Argentina, especially talking to the economist, Alexis. He explained to us the situation of hyperinflation in 2001. People lost all their savings and the middle class were squeezed and pushed to poverty. The argentine peso, before, was 1 peso to 1 dollar. However, after 2001, many could not withdraw one dollar for one peso. The wealthy were furious with the government. I went with the rest of the group, and Tomas, to witness the anger and result of the people. People were frustrated and attacked the central bank of Argentina so they marched down the main avenues like Avenida de Mayo to protest. The door of the central bank was dented and I witness it.

          Overall, this has been such a phenomenal trip and I cannot wait to go back in the future! Thanks Tomas for the opportunity of a lifetime!

          Tamara Siemering, Class of 2015

          Vegetarian in a Foreign Land

          One of our first missions once we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina was finding food. The city of Buenos Aires had a hectic, crazy vibe with a constant flow of speeding buses and taxis. We quickly discovered these cars stop for no one, leaving us pedestrians fending for our lives at every crosswalk. The sidewalks are wavy due to missing patches of pavement and turned over piles of cement. One moment you’re walking on cement, then on a patch of dirt and gravel and then on a board that’s been placed over a ditch.

          It’s easy to pass up the restaurants, shops and hostels that line the streets. Every store and restaurant lives up to the phrase “hole in the wall.” Eating out every meal, we became quite familiar with the restaurants of Buenos Aires. Among our group of students we ate at places that served burgers, pizzas, empanadas, pastas and barbeque. We were introduced to traditional Argentine foods including “choripan” and “empanadas.” As a group we observed that for the most part Argentines eat two things: bread and meat. It became apparent to me that finding vegetarian food in Argentina was going to be a challenge. The empanada was a reoccurring meal throughout our trip. An empanada is a doughy pouch, generally filled with meat and cheese, baked until delicious and warm. At first the empanada seemed like a revolutionary food product to me, however minus the meat it is simply cheese and dough, which will do strange things to one’s stomach. Needless to say, I had trouble adjusting to this new diet. Aside from empanadas, there was the choripan, a chorizo in a bun, sort of the Argentine version of the hot dog. Let me tell you that choripan without the chorizo is a sad state of affairs indeed. 

          From day one obtaining meals in restaurants was an obstacle. The fact that I don’t speak enough Spanish to even understand the menus made for a surprise every time my meal arrived. Each time I could only hope I had managed to avoid meat. The words “pollo”, “jamon” and “pescado” ended being my tools for restaurant survival. As a vegetarian in Buenos Aires, I mainly ate carb filled foods: breads, pastas, more bread, cereals. Eventually I discovered the wonderful markets that sold fruit and vegetables for just a few pesos. The nature of our trip was so fast paced, it led to eating out more than anything else. However, I am sure that if I had the confidence to make meals for myself I could have created something that didn’t involve the Argentine favorites: bread and meat.

          Caroline Sell, Class of 2015

          Explosion of Beauty

          It was the midnight before a ten hour flight to Buenos Aires Argentina. I still hadn’t figured out what heels would go best with my drinking-is-legal in Argentina outfits. Random piles of categorized clothes lay next to my bed;
          An unopened package of Men’s white V-neck and Men’s white wife-beaters
          (both purchased for this trip to be worn, torn, and thrown away)
          Assorted black running shorts
          Pair of tennis shoes purchased for my 7th grade track-and-field season
          I only knew two things about the extracurricular activities of this sustainable housing oriented learning cluster; I am of legal drinking age and it is summer on the other side of the equator. What I knew about the service project, it was going to be dirty, and hard work.
          Which shoes to bring…
          Traveling is a chance to observe.
          Observe people, reactions, body language, cultural practices etc. all based on a way of life that is nearly intangible to me until I find the heart of what I am looking for, experience it.
          Experience is priceless.
          There have been educational theories insisting that first hand experiential learning is a necessity of education. I agree.
          Immersion is key.
           To surround oneself in the lifestyle of the culture, the various lifestyles of the culture, is to experience its heartbeat.
          It was a three hour flight from Los Angeles to Houston. Layover in Houston allowed for a cigarette break and a last phone call to my little sister in Austin. I asked her what she kind of gift she wanted.
          Something you can only get in Argentina.
          I had flown internationally only twice before, to India, a fifteen hour flight. This one was only ten hours, with personal televisions and an all inclusive movie, music, and media selection. There is a particular kind of sick that awaits me on long flights; a mixture of dehydration, lack of oxygen, and a relentless dry throat; seemingly incurable and absolutely intolerable.
          This too shall pass. We landed in Buenos Aires.
          We were here to do work, to observe, to experience, to immerse.
          The observation of different cultural mores is a favorite pastime of mine; especially witnessing the youth at play. I find myself surrounded by my peers more often than not, watching and listening. Irrespective of how similar they may seem to my own experience, cultural differences are powerful and influential. It’s the people; differences and similarities.
          Es lo misma para mi.
          For the first few days, maybe week, I was unsure about Buenos Aires; I felt ungrounded. I have a slow and casual walk; I like to meander, if you will. This city is fast moving. I couldn’t keep up and my feet never seemed to have time to touch the ground.
          It took me ten days to find the culture I had been searching for.
          It was Sunday and I was walking down San Telmo, a craft market that stretches at least 10 city blocks, looking for a gift for my little sister. I stopped at a booth, struck by the intricate metal work jewelry. The craftsman was tall and black with a kind face. We started talking about music and dancing; he told me to come back that night and he would take me to a drum circle. I bought my little sister a gift. (what gift?)
          I was going to a place where the youth gather; to observe, experience, and immerse myself. 
          It was on a hot summer night somewhere in Buenos Aires near the Playa de Mayo, the market was closing, the streets were emptier, and the city was calm. I walked with a man named David, from Columbia; tall and dark with dreadlocks that fell to the middle of his back.
          I followed him first to his hostel so he could drop off the work he had been selling that day. I followed him through the streets, unfamiliar but full of things to look at. We passed a corner café with tall red doors and gold letters, “La Poesía”. As he led me, I wandered after him, allowing myself to observe this new part of Buenos Aires.
          In the distance I could hear music, los tambores.
          We walked past a large outdoor stage full of couples salsa and meringue dancing. Their music contrasted nicely with the still distant sound of drums. Watching women spin and twirl around the dance floor I was struck by their general age group. Older women, 30’s to 50’s dancing with ease and grace, obedient to their partner’s guidance. When I walked around the corner, there was a very different seen that lay before me.
          A gathering of people filled a small street. There was drum music coming from the center of a mass of people dancing. I could see hips moving, people being twirled, people sitting, people drinking, people smoking, and a group of boys were juggling. Wandering through the crowed I looked at the people around me, una mezcla muy hermosa.
          At the end of the street were the drums. I started to make my way over, the rhythm and beat was already making me smile. The music was being played by a group of men. They stood in 4 lines shoulder to shoulder, following the wand of the conductor who stood at the front. It did not by any means look professional, but it sounded organized, rhythmic, melodic, and made my hips sway.
          I listened with my eyes closed, allowing the music to be my only point of focus. The people around me moved with the beat, the walking and talking became harmonies. I opened my eyes and saw an organism, pulsating with a steady beat. The people traveling from space to space gave the organism blood. The friendly smoking and passing of various herbs gave the organism breath. I was surrounded, completely immersed in the night life of the youth.
          I had found the youth; I had found the heart.
          Claudia Ahumada, Class of 2015

          Personal Experience

          I like to think of myself as a very adventurous person. Until I realized that it was only in theory. 
          Someone once asked me if I had ever gone camping, my answer was yes. Until I realized, I actually hadn’t. I had never slept in a tent in the middle of nowhere nor had I been to a camping site before. I guess I had only dreamt of it. It must have been a really crazy dream too because I thought it had happened in Mexico! Anyway, how does this relate to this LC you ask? Well, one day when we were getting ready to leave from the constructing site in a rural area in Argentina to return to the busy city of Buenos Aires, four of us decided last minute to stay behind to work on the floor of the adobe studio. I was skeptical in staying, but a night under the stars while getting to know some of my classmates more was all the more exciting, not to mention, I love working outside and doing hands-on work. So, nailing the wood floor down was a dream come true!
          Once the others had left, I felt nervous for it would be my first time camping outside in a tent, a legit tent, one that was a bit broken so we used tape to hold it up. Regardless, I felt safe and a bit relieved because I had two other friends I would be sleeping with in the tent, Katy and Tamara, and Andrew that would be nearby, who slept in Pablo’s humble home. I have two older sisters and thus felt reassured and in high spirits because I was reminded of them.

          Prior to this trip, I had experience building homes with wood, nails, cement, bricks, and working with mud and hay was a completely new experience. It would be my first time building an adobe studio from scratch too! Up until this point, I still was uncertain of how this was going to turn out. We had only put up the logs that would be used as the structure, but within a few short hours we had a floor to walk on, and a new floor to sleep on as well!
          The next morning when the white bus pulled in, I was happy to see everyone! But, I would miss the night before when we ventured out to the local stores and restaurant where Pablo, the artist and whose property we were working on had taken us after having finished the floor. It was an astonishing sight to see, it was a small community that was made entirely of recyclable materials. I had never seen something so well made from recyclables, and if I had, I hadn’t taken the time to realize it. That is one thing I can thank Argentina, this Learning Cluster, and Tomas. I take my time when speaking with friends and loved ones, and noticing the small things—taking the time to appreciate everything. 

          Well, now I can say I’ve done many things, as I went camping for my first time, went to travel to Uruguay for the first time, I met an Australian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, and Germans for the first time, I met new people both from Soka and abroad, I had my first SGI meeting in Argentina and then my second one in Uruguay, I helped built a sustainable adobe studio, I helped lead the group a few times which was a new experience for me—I’ve always relied on others as I am the youngest of my family. Excuses excuses, I know. But now, I have many new and beautiful stories to tell. 
          I am thankful for this adventure of a lifetime and I look forward to the many I have to come. 

          I thought I was adventurous, until I realized I have yet to sky dive! 

          Building Team

          This team is dedicated to group organization and work efficiency during our time on the land.

          By, Caroline, Jessica, and Chris, and Claudia

          Structure and Solidarity of our Team Work

          As part of the building team, we had to structure groupings of students to better organize what and how things would get done in the construction of the adobe studio. When we initially began the process of separating our class into teams we were fairly unsure of how things would realistically play out. We began with merely putting together a rough outline of what categories of things to accomplish would need groups. Such things included a group to work with mud, a group to gather materials as needed, a group to be deal with the actual building, and a group to cook lunch/ dinner for the day. At the time we did not have a clear idea of what each of these would actually entail.

          Photo by Tamara Siemering

          Upon arriving to the land we were still very unclear as to the whole plan of it all but began working with the assistance of a contractor/consultant. The first few days we assigned people to assist with meal preparation. In terms of the initial building process and preparation of the mud, we did not have assignments for groups those first days but things seemed to fall into place and go smoothly. As the days progressed and we began to gain a better sense of the plan and what needed to be accomplished in order to make progress, we split our class up into groups: a mud preparation team, a building team working with the sticks and wooden planks and such, and a team to begin placing the mud on the house.

          In the end, the solidarity of our group as a whole proved very strong. It shone throughout the entire process. With or without a set division of teams and structure our natural charisma as a team made it easy for our class to work together as a team.

          Food for the Workers

           The food in Buenos Aires is good. In the city, at the hostel, on the worksite, meat and bread was the foundation of our nutrients, empanadas were our salvation. The food situation prior to starting our building project; consisted of premade restaurant food, which was delicious but costly. Due to the location of our hostel, we were able to walk to get food without much of a hassle. Eating on site did not grant the same convince.

          As the “Building Team” one of our duties was to figure out how to keep the workers fed. This included figuring out what food was going to be served each day and who was in charge of preparation. Figuring out the meals was initially a seemingly simple task. We soon came to realize that we have very little idea as to what could be cooked and eaten out on the land, where it was going to be bought and how we were going to cook it. When we arrived the first day, we got a better idea of what we were working with. We had limited dishware and cutlery and a fire pit with a handmade grill.

          Photo by T. Siemering

          The delegated amount of money to spend on food during out time on the worksite was 350 pesos per day, the rough equivalent of $50 US. It might have sounded like a little money or a lot, regardless; we didn’t really understand how to properly account for the cost of purchasing meals. The work site was a few miles from the town where we would be buying the food. As a team we had decided that meat and carbohydrates were still the base of our meals, with a salad or vegetable of some kind.
          Pre assigning actual people to the meal shift for the next day seemed superfluous; instead asking for volunteers each day before Tomas and Pablo went into town for food pick-up. This system worked well and Tomas and Pablo usually ended up working with the grill, so the workload was pretty light.
          There were some days when we decided to order food, empanadas or sandwiches.  
          Mud Hut Sustenance Experience
          Meat – Chorizo.

          Make-Shift Grill.
          French Bread Rolls for Days.

          For some meals we had grilled meat and made a fresh salad. Links of Chirzo and slabs of Colita (“little booty”) de Cuadril sizzled side by side on the make-shift grill over the fire pit. One night we had 4 whole chickens grilling. Fresh French bread rolls were available for making sandwich or Choripan. Adobe fumes infiltrated our every bite. Hand washing before meals… was irrelevant to its actual intention. The dirt and adobe aroma were embedded under our fingernails. Sharing plates and forks was a necessity. Cups for beverages were scarce so we shared those as well, as well as making some of our own. Sharing was caring; fresh food was made daily for fuel, and we managed to stay within budget. 


          Photo by T. Siemering

          Safety is defined as freedom from occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss; in other words it is the act of keeping safe. Our sustainable housing project turned out quite differently than we initially expected in terms of student-safety. The not so safety acts ranged from climbing on a semi-stable roof, which consisted of logs nailed over more logs to relatively cheap tools that began shattering and wearing down as we neared a complete product. Our group hired a contractor who proved to be quite the lunatic. His methods were extremely unorthodox but he explained that it was the only way to complete our structure in the small amount of time we had to construct the studio.
          There weren’t any practical methods that would’ve helped complete the structure within an 8-day span. Matias, a local and hired contractor, used similar methods to build his home and explained that he was the type of worker who planned as he worked. Everything about the site and the materials we were using seems quite odd and strange but turned out being very helpful. Initially, the group designed a layout of working through adobe, wood and nails yet turned out to be a bit more complex at that.

          My personal experience while building our structure was extremely risky yet turned out healthy with all limbs and bones intact. In order for the roof to attain shape and sturdiness, I volunteered to climb onto a log nailed at both ends to 2 other vertical logs; a few others, myself included sat between 8-10 feet from the floor nailing 5-inch nails into the logs with large mallets. Although building the roof was difficult and a bit scary because it was so high up once you looked down from the logs, putting the mixture of mud and hay on the higher parts of the way wall equally as difficult. Some had to stand on stools to reach up to place the mud and cover the open sections of the wall. We all remained very cautions of the whole situation as other classmates watched out for eachother and helped hold  stools and our only ladder made of branches and wood for one another. Everything about the scene appears dangerous, however, we were each extremely cautious and accepted the risks. Everyone came out alive with minor scratches.

          Photo by T. Siemering

          In the end our project turned out to be a complete success. No one was hurt during the process so nothing we did throughout the construction was too out of line with respect to remaining safe at all times.

          Skepticism and Tools

          Initially before heading out to Argentina, four teams were created. One of them being the building team, the goals and main objectives of this team was to make sure there was a steady flow of progress and efficiency within getting the adobe studio completed on time, and to have an equal amount of work distributed for everyone. Other objectives included understanding the different steps, techniques, and to ultimately put into practice trial and error to experiment this theory. Dividing the work between everyone was the tricky part, or so we thought, once we got there and actually got the ball rolling it all came together smoothly day by day. Thankfully, we had a constructor with prior experience in building his own adobe home as well as other larger adobe homes.    
          Walking on the land on day one on the site was both exciting and nerve wrecking. We were all so very thrilled to getting started bright and early every morning, but we were skeptical of the supplies because of how basic they were. We only had a few tools and a pond filled with dirty, muddy water. The tools and supplies we had were buckets, two shovels, gloves, nails, a machete, hay, water, plastering spatula, sticks, and three hammers (eventually it was two). We also had a saw that became dull towards the end, but on the positive side; we gained a lot of muscle from doing this meticulous labor!

          Design Team

          This team is dedicated to helping provide a layout for the studio that we eventually built, and communicating the results of each step toward the final result.

          Hector, Katy, Alex, Tamara, Andrew

          Living in Pallet Town
          By, Hector

          While researching on how to build the house, my fears of not being able to finish grew larger by the day, as we began working on the land these fears did not subside until we began working on the walls. We were able to procure several pallets which we used to build the house. Pallets proved to be the ideal building material for several reasons: due to their shape, when mounted they create a perfect space to place the adobe and create a solid wall which insulates well. Pallets also served to speed up the process of building considerably since one pallet fills a considerable part of a wall rather nicely, which helped us save a lot of time instead of having to place several support beams and then affixing planks. Pallets are also rather cheap and easy to come by so they help keep the overall cost of building down. Pallets also serve a cosmetic purpose. Once the walls were up we came to the realization that the planks created a pleasing pattern and it was decided the pallets should not be completely covered so that they would be painted over at a later time.
          As it so happens, before this experience I had a very limited knowledge of construction and architecture. The techniques that we used allowed for one as unskilled as me to learn the basics and to be able to build much more efficiently as time went by. The use of pallets allowed not only for fast progress but for the participation of all members of the team and was the perfect structure to affix the adobe to. 


          By, Katy

          I was originally very nervous about this process. I don’t really know why I signed up for this specific team because I don’t sketch, nor am I any architectural “visionary.” I was very skeptical of the designing process because I felt very unprepared for the task at hand. The “idea” of creating a studio sized structure sounds cool and fun, but once we began our work I started to worry that we may not actually be able to complete what we start in…9 days. I thought, “how can a few you tube videos and instructional readings prepare us for labor intensive, hands on construction?” My idea of our design was simplicity. We need to keep this structure simple so that we can finish before we leave. This made me anxious–

          However, when we arrived on the land, I saw the materials and the adobe-mixing “pond.” and it started coming life. I could actually breathe a bit easier, knowing that we actually have all that we need right in front of us. This is essentially child-friendly labor, all we need is the effort and dedication to this project. I became less and less skeptical knowing that Matias, our contractor/guide was there to help along the way. He had built his own entire home out of wood and adobe, so I trusted his expertise. Our design wasn’t put into place as much as I had hoped, but I was just happy being such an integral part in the building experience. Everyone had the chance to really sit down and understand each step as we went through them.

          All Hands On Deck
          By, Tamara

                Over the course of our learning cluster I learned first-hand that design and construction are two very different things.  Before we began working on the art studio in Argentina, the design team tossed around ideas and sketches of what we envisioned our adobe art studio would look like.  Then the actual construction and mud mixing began.  Over our nine days on the land I learned much about construction and working with the earth.  I had never built anything that required hammering before, aside from nailing boards in the backyard as a child, and the occasional “I’m helping Daddy” nail.
               After one of our days spent working on the land in the hot sun, we were given the option to stay overnight and continue working on the structure. One of the best decisions I’ve made was staying that night and learning about while simultaneously experiencing the construction of a house.   That afternoon I helped put together a floor made from wood planks and nails.  Using leg strength to push those planks together while someone else hammered them into submission was certainly a different experience than brainstorming about design from the comfort of a classroom.  Only from sweating buckets, bruising and scraping my body and using all of my limited strength was I able to understand what it truly takes to build a house. 

          Predictions and Conclusions
          By, Alex

          After the basic frame was constructed for the casita/studio, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I could once and for all envision the final product of our efforts. Back home I tried again and again to sketch what I imagined would be our structure, but never felt confident with my ideas. I thought about slanted roofs and sky lights, the color of the dried adobe and the amount of windows.
          Once I stood back and saw the structure complete, I realized that as practical I thought I had made me ideas, they were still too complicated. I finally understood that simplicity was the greatest practicality, and that form follows function.
          Then, finally, the process of rolling the hay filled adobe and placing it between the sticks and planks of the future walls of the casita began. The work was tiring and so much more difficult than originally thought, bloodied hands and sweaty bodies bent down to roll another pack of adobe…and another…and another. The process of smoothing and filling the walls seemed endless, for once the hard labor was completed, the tedious facet came immediately after. “Smoothing” the adobe once it was in the walls was more than difficult as random sticks and straws cut and poked our palms and bumps and dips were relentless in their existence. After one full day of filling and smoothing, the first and largest wall was completed. I felt incredibly satisfied, and we all left the land feeling rather accomplished.
          Once back on the land the following day, I found, to my great dismay, that all of the adobe that we had spent hours smoothing had cracked and chipped like a dry desert. My horror was quickly relieved as Pablo explained that this was normal, and that the aesthetics of the walls would be restored once the final layer of horse manure and clay was thinly applied.
          I look forward to seeing photos of the absolute final result, as when we left the entire structure was completed, but not as visually pleasing as I had hoped. 

          Environmental Team

          This team is dedicated to informing the rest of the group, and all of you what environmental factors are involved in the adobe-home building process. To ultimately find a way to maintain a sustainable home using renewal resources. 

          By, Zoe

                Being a part of the environmental team for this project, I was interested in studying about water: where Pablo would get his water from, and how to reuse and recycle it so as to aid in living a sustainable way of life.  Author Ted Carns details his experiences with adapting to a sustainable lifestyle in his book Off On Our Own.  According to Carns, there are three options for main sources of water: a pond, an underground spring, and cisterns.  Pablo already has an underground spring that he was able to filter and pump for us.  This water was cool and refreshing, providing us with a crisp, much-needed drink while working in the blistering sun, became handy for hosing off after being caked in mud, and was useful for washing dishes. 

               As a future project, Pablo plans on turning the mud pit into a pond.  Plants and certain kinds of fish, mainly tilapia, can be used along with an aquaponics system, to filter the water in order to make it usable.  Fish are valuable for their waste, which is used to fertilize the plants, which then suck up the water and filter it with their roots.  Cisterns, which can be above-ground or underground, are huge receptacles for catching and storing water, lined with filters for cleansing.  One last tip that Carns included was to create a piping system to connect the roof to the sources of water so that dirty rainwater that drips from the roof can be cleansed and used

          By, Howee and Midori
          We met the owner of the land on our first day on site, Pablo. He is an artist that sells his artwork on street markets. This definitely had an influence and drive on desiring to construct a sustainable house. Looking around Pablo’s land, I noticed many opportunities of harnessing power on his land. For example, in the reading “Off On Our Own” by Ted Carns, various ideas mentioned in it could be implemented on the land. This land was great for solar panels since it was an open area, also wind mills could be another option, even though it might not have been as useful because winds weren’t as constant. It is more probable for a clear sunny day to happen than a windy day.  
          The location of the site is in a province of Buenos Aires in a town called Ingeniero Maschwitz, or Maschwitz for short. The climate is hot and humid in the summer and cool in the winter. In the southern hemisphere, they are in their summer days.  Below you will find the average temperatures during the year. During the beginning days of working at Pablo’s land, the average temperature was around 28-30 degrees Celsius with relative humidity of 65-70%. Towards the end of our trip, temperatures reached 32-33 degrees Celsius and unbearably hot.
          In short, the resources are there to provide adequate water, heating, and lighting for Pablo. Power is essential to sustain life and accessibility.