Make a House Intelligent

Exhibition: Cities | October 11, 2011 by

Over half of the Mexico City metropolitan area’s twenty million inhabitants live in informal settlements, or colonias populares. One settlement, Chimalhuacán, exploded from 20,000 residents in 1970 to over 600,000 in 2010. In 2008, Arturo Ortiz Struck and the urban architecture research firm Taller Territorial de México organized workshops with seventeen families new to Chimalhuacan, with the goal of sharing basic design principles for the residents’ self-built houses, planning the layout and construction to “make a house intelligent.”

Since the new residents are required to occupy a lot within thirty days, the architects designed a new type of housing that could be built quickly and inexpensively in stages depending on available resources. It also allows for natural ventilation and illumination, is easily adaptable, and uses locally available materials which can be reused. They devised a flexible system whose principal structure consists of sand, concrete blocks, gabions (metal mesh retaining structures), and steel beams. The gabions are laid out in the desired location and filled with rock or sandbags, and a small concrete slab is anchored with rebar at the top. Secured steel beams provide structure for the inclined sheet-metal roof. Concrete blocks and a layer of sand over compacted soil provide the interior flooring. With all the material at hand, the construction process takes a team of five people between five and seven days to complete the full layout.

Architects: Arturo Ortiz Struck, with Pamela Basañes, Salomón Rojas, and Daniela Kleinman, Taller Territorial de México. Collaborators: Carolyn Aguilar, Architecture department, and Elisa Gutierrez, Social Service department, Universidad Iberoamericana AC. Collaborator: Saúl Torres Bautista. Clients: Chimalhuacan area settlers. Chimalhuacan, Mexico City, Mexico, 2008–present (prototype). Gabion, sandbag, hollow concrete block, wire fence, corrugated steel sheet, steel beam

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