By Tracy L. Barnett
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.
Van Lengen, an architect specializing in natural building techniques or “bioarchitecture,” as it’s called in the South, grew up in Mexico City and returned to Mexico several years ago after working with his father at their Intuitive Technology and BioArchitecture Institute in Brazil. After the earthquake he began looking for a way to pitch in with relief efforts, and he learned about Hueyápan. What better place to contribute his skills as a natural building specialist, he thought, than rescuing the classic structures in this beautiful town, known as an architectural tourism destination for its many unusual adobe structures. And what better way to carry on the heritage of his father, whose classic book, The Barefoot Architect: A Handbook for Green Building, has become something of a bible for DIY homebuilders throughout the Americas.