Friday, January 16, 2015



Most of the so-called sustainable or "green" buildings try to reduce their impact on the environment, both in its construction and maintenance. In simple words, it is about a building being "less bad", assuming that its existence would inevitably imply a negative environmental balance.
The concept of "Regenerative Design" takes a proactive approach and go beyond the traditional practice of sustainable design. The regenerative buildings not only reduce their energy consumption to zero but they collect, generate and distribute renewable resources to their surroundings, improving the environmental balance of the environment.

A remarkable example of this approach is the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability or CIRS, erected at the University of British Columbia UBC in Vancouver, Canada, a project by Perkins + Will.

The building statistics are impressive. For example, neither structural steel nor concrete were used during its construction, greatly reducing its environmental footprint. The total amount of water consumed by the building is collected from rainfall and all wastewater is recycled on site.

The main strategy to achieve a design with positive CO2 balance was the widespread use of wood, in particular a type of pine that, after being attacked by a beetle, suffers scars that make it unattractive to fine finishes or construction. Due to the climate change these beetles, which used to die in the cold weather, have managed to adapt and have experienced a population explosion, causing the death of vast quantities of pines, which wood  is usually rejected by the industry. This wood has been used both in the structure, finishes and furnishings of the CIRS, and provides an atmosphere of warmth throughout the building.

Wood is the most sustainable construction material, because it is a quickly renewable resource. From a structural point of view, the modern engineered materials such as glue-laminated timber have increased the hardness of wood so that they have a much greater structural capacity. 

Photo courtesy of CIRS

However, the abundant use of wood creates a fire hazard. In order to minimize it special insulators were created as well as  a sprinkler system, which is supplied from an underground cistern, which in turn collects rainwater.

Photo courtesy of CIRS

The façade accomodates a set of panels that support seasonal vegetation called the "living wall",  which provides shade in the summer and allows the passage of solar heat in the winter.

The garden is drip-irrigated using storm water and ultimately it ends in a groundwater aquifer.

The building is crossed diagonally by a path which includes the way of a pre-existing old road.

This allows to separate the glass corner like a glass triangle, which gives lightness to the composition of the building and houses an interesting solar water biofilter. This consists of a series of tanks with plants which naturally absorb and process the waterwaste generated in the bathrooms of the building. The processed water is used to irrigate both the living wall as well as the inner garden.

Another notable element on the facade are the photovoltaic panels on the east and south facades which cover part of the building's energy demand. The rest is collected from the excess energy of a nearby building and converted into energy in a small geothermal plant.

Inside, the building is organized around a large atrium, which provides generous natural lighting, while allowing natural ventilation without the need for air conditioning systems, using the chimney effect to  help circulate the air by convection. In turn, it exploits the building orientation to optimize its exposure to light.

On the ground floor there is an auditorium with capacity for 423 people, naturally lit by a lateral skylight located next to the indoor garden (in fact the garden is located over the roof of the auditorium).

The auditorium also used wood both in the structural beams and the finishes, as well as in some of the furniture.

If you look closely you can see the scars left by the beetles while they were burrowing the pine wood.

Due these features, the CIRS is recognized as one of the most innovative buildings in North America. In addition to its quality as an experimental regenerative building, is a facility that promotes the study and dissemination of new ideas for sustainable design.

With Professor Ronald Kellett, who kindly showed me around the building, explaining a lot of the information that I have included in this post

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Detail of  the Palace of the Assembly, Chandigarh.
All the photos belong to Carlos Zeballos Velarde, except as otherwise indicated 


Intro by Gonzalo Ríos

We live among objects, we move through constructed spaces, the world is manifested through them and we erect our reality by means of a sort of recomposition of fragments of the perceived and interpreted information. The architecture is thus not only a shelter for our body, it is often a filter through which the order that governs the universe is manifested. This order is perceived, subsequently related and finally transformed into individual and collective meanings. It was always like this and it was fine.

Accustomed today to remain in virtual spaces, satisfied with simple images, hurrying to distinguish our preferences with a "like it", we  increasingly do not recognize the revelatory function of architecture, or at least we select the most superficial and useful information to the extent that it will allow us to stay in comfortable spaces, promoting the genesis of an architecture for the media that hides behind its epidermal formal fanfare, the monotony of standardized production and the lack of attention to what the context demands.

Three architects who share these concerns met in a cafe in Arequipa and agreed to share a vivid architectural experience which transcended the ordinary and, in some way or another,  influenced their way of perceiving the world or finding themselves.  They hope that through these experiences they will encourage more people to tell their own ones and thus made a small contribution  to put architecture in the proper place.

I will share with you my own experience. The other ones are available in the blog in Spanish.

Symbolic Hyperbole:
Legislative Assembly of Chandigarh, India, May 2007, 
Carlos Zeballos

Monumental. The scale of the Capitol in Chandigarh overwelmed me. The place conveyed a sense of grand, almost megalomaniac power. It was made ​​to impress, but it seemed to have forgotten to accommodate people. In that hot morning in the Indian spring it would have been very comfortable to sit under a tree, but this sort of banality would had interfered with the colossal perspective of the space, something that the Swiss architect who conceived it was not willing to compromise. 

Still, I was grateful to be standing for the first time before a building by the great master Le Corbusier and to enjoy the landscape of the Himalayas mountains, emerging as a backdrop to the east. I had previously only seen reproductions in black and white of this complex, so it was a very special experience to be standing there, admiring the grandeur of the Capitol,  the strength of their volumes, the roughness and plasticity of the concrete and to be able to breathe the passion for design that the Swiss master embedded in this work, from the urban design to the details of the murals and carpets.

I arrived there escorted by a friend's relative and after he showed me the complex from afar, he prepared to return to the city center. When I insisted to approach in order to have a better look of the buildings, he nervously told me that it was complicated, that I would need to ask for a special permission the next day. I could understand his nervousness because Chandigarh is located near the border with Pakistan , in a very tense area where security measures are taken seriously. 

But I was not going to give up just like that. I went to get that permission and the initial reluctance of the officers gradually became an effective collaboration. They were flattered by the presence of such an exotic visitor, and soon I left that office carrying the permission as well as many souvenirs and information about the city.

Early next day I was back at the Capitol, with its three symbolic buildings: the Secretariat, the Palace of the Assembly and the High Court. Of all the elements of the complex it was the Palais de l'Assemblée the building that moved me the most, due to its mathematical grid of brise-soleil, so necessary in that hot climate, and its photogenic south facade reflected in a water mirror. 

The grid made that heavy rectangular concrete box look lighter, and its rational lines contrasted  with the sculptural volume of a truncated hyperbolic shell, a monumental form whose inspiration came from industrial chimneys.

I made that tour escorted by a soldier armed with an automatic gun, because security was particularly strict.

We entered the building, adorned with murals designed by Le Corbusier himself, who had not neglected any details at the time of conceiving his masterpiece. 

Inside, the indirect light passed through the brise-soleil and gave a depth effect to the hypostyle hall, reminiscent of the classical temples that the Swiss master had admired so much during his journey of discovery to Greece.

 Photo courtesy of Fondation Le Corbusier

In the midst of that forest of columns the curved volume of the assembly emerged as an impetuous volcano.

 Photo courtesy of  Fondation Le Corbusier

Then, we approached to the main chamber, which luckily could be accessed at that moment due to the recess of the legislators. Neither the books on Le Corbusier or the treaties on modern architecture that I had previously read could have prepared me for that impression. The monumental  space, molded in that 15 cm thick concrete shell, raised above the upholstered seats of the legislators. The truncated section of the hyperbole accentuated its directionality and its geometry favored the acoustics. The height of the space was also conceived due to climate concerns, allowing the circulation of airflow through conduction.

 Photo courtesy of The Tribune
But that place did not seem to me a civic space, but a sacred one. The light filtering indirectly produced a spiritual effect, that I would encounter again few years later in the chapel made ​​by Le Corbusier in Ronchamp. However, unlike the white walls of the church, the epidermis of this concrete room was covered with colorful aluminum sheets, which seemed to crept the walls as a sort of infection, producing colored spots.

Photos courtesy of The Tribune

It was a sublime moment that seemed not to be shared by the soldier who was accompanying me, who insisted that photographs were strictly prohibited. I tried to imbue every detail of that moment  in my memory, knowing that this experience will probably not be repeated. I tried to breathe the most of this beautiful, grand, dramatic space. But suddenly, with an unfriendly gesture, the soldier let me know that the visit was over.


Other Works by Le Corbusier

Tuesday, October 7, 2014



One of the most celebrated keynote speeches at the XXV World Congress of Architecture in Durban, was presented by the African architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, born in the small village of Gando in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world.
Kéré gave a lecture whose pillars were the importance of communal work and the use of local materials, especially earth, and traditional techniques but with spatial and technical innovation, in order to promote sustainable practices.

African traditional architecture makes frequent use of the mud.

With his characteristic spontaneity, Kéré recounted having to move from his small village, where there was no electricity nor school, to a distant city, as his father wanted him to learn to read and write. Later, he won a scholarship which allowed him to study architecture at the Technical University of Berlin, Germany. During his studies he established a foundation and with the help of his friends he managed to collect $ 50,000. Subsequently, he returned to his hometown and used that money to build a school, using local materials and local labor from the community.
Beyond this noble gesture, it is noteworthy his innovative capacity and ability in design, which shows that large budgets or luxury materials are not indispensable to create memorable and useful architecture. It is very inspiring to see how Kéré managed to provide plastic quality and practical functionality from simple and austere environments.
However, his proposal to use clay was not welcomed by the members of the community, who wanted to use more "Western" materials. However, he manage to convince them to use traditional materials with experimental techniques such as steel rods to reinforce the clay, vaulted elements or manually tamping clay to make the floor, which then was polished by hand with stones, Kéré  and the community successfully developed its first school in Gando.

Various stages of tamped earth on the floor

The volume of the primary school, inspired by the rationality of Mies van der Rohe, was provided with a prominent overhanging roof. The open ceiling allows natural ventilation in place  that otherwise could reach up to 45 ° C in summer.

After the development of the school, other facilities were added. For the library, he used an interesting strategy, reusing clay pots, slicing them and place them as skylights, obtaining a rich internal game of light and shadow.

His innovative use of earthen architecture  led him to develop several projects in Burkina Faso (as the Opera Village and Centre de Santé et Promotion Sociale) and Mali (as the National Park of Mali and the Centre de l'Architecture en Terre).

Opera Village, Laongo, Burkina Faso
Secondary School, Dano, Burkina Faso
Centre de Santé et Promotion Sociale

Surgical Clinic and Health Center, Léo, Burkina Faso

Centre de l'Architecture in Terre, Mopti, Mali

However, his production is not  limited to projects in Africa, since he was the of a competition  for the rehabilitation of Oxford-Kaserne in Münster, Germany, a project of urban renewal that integrates historic buildings to new facilities, as well as an integrated proposal of landscape architecture.

He has also participated in the exhibition "Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined" in the gallery of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. This is a temporary structure made of small panels forming vaults, in which the public was invited to insert their used plastic drinking straws, a way to become aware of the pollution that these objects produce when not being recycled properly.

With talent and simplicity, Kéré has not lose their roots and use his increasing popularity to develop projects for his community, which certainly must be very proud of him.

"If you think in terms of a year plant a seed,
in terms of 10 years, plant trees
in terms of 100 years, teach people "