Editor’s note: After the earthquakes of Sept. 7 and Sept. 19 in southern and central Mexico, scores of architects, builders, engineers, designers and other experts stepped forward to help. A nascent natural building movement – known as “bioconstruction” or “bioarchitecture” here in the Spanish-speaking South – is pushing back against the dominant cement-and-steel model, seizing the opportunity to rebuild with an architecture that promotes longterm resilience and human, environmental and social wellbeing. The Esperanza Project took a trip to the earthquake zone to learn about a few of those initiatives.
Among the casualties of the September earthquakes in Mexico are thousands of antique adobe homes and the millennial architectural heritage they represent. A week after the quake, Architect Peter Van Lengen, the son of “Barefoot Architect” Johan Van Lengen, arrived in the town of Hueyápan, a Nahuatl-speaking town in the foothills of Volcano Popcatepetl, known for its rich arquitectural heritage of multi-story adobe buildings that date back more than a hundred years.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on bioconstruction, or natural building initiatives, in post-earthquake Mexico.
When the earthquake struck the adobe-rich town of Hueyápan in the foothills of Volcano Popocatepetl, a circle of mourners surrounded their dearly departed in the colonial-era Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán. When the ground began to tremble beneath their feet, they made for the door – and just in time, as the nearly 500-year-old dome came crashing down around the dead man.
No one died in the earthquake here, the townspeople will tell you, but this moment will forever be seared into their memories. Never in half a millennia had the tremors that occasionally ripple through the region produced as much as a crack in the rock-solid Templo Santo Domingo. But this quake was different. More than 400 families in this little town alone were left homeless, and a millennial tradition of adobe homes was in danger of eradication.