This project by Espacio Colectivo Arquitectos in Colombia offers a new residential and agrarian model for farmers living at high altitude in the mountains near Bogota. The combined residence and greenhouse proposes an affordable and modular housing solution that enhances farming conditions, reducing the economic pressure to migrate to urban centres.
Colombian architects Carlos Betancourt, Aldo Hurtado and Sebastian Contreras have responded to the housing and poverty crisis afflicting rural communities by designing a housing unit that combines living quarters and space to grow crops under a single greenhouse structure. The unit’s wooden frame and modular units can be dismantled easily and re-purposed, the materials used are responsibly sourced, and the dwelling also collects rainwater and condensed humidity in the high altitude Pàramos ecosystem. The result is a low-impact structure that is highly functional – with the possibility of adding on extra living space if needed – and that enables optimal farming in a controlled climate.
A response to a migration crisis
Colombia is South America’s second-most populous country after Brazil. It has the highest level of domestic migration in the world. Today, more than three quarters of the country’s 50 million inhabitants live in cities – 30 percent more than 60 years ago. The rural exodus that started at the beginning of the 20th century fuelled urban economic development of and industry, but migrating to the city now often ends in disappointment for farmers. A consequence of this demographic shift is that Colombia’s rural areas are economically underdeveloped and poverty-stricken, with few good housing options. This is especially the case in mountain regions, some at altitudes above 3,000 meters asl. In order to revitalise rural areas and develop their strong economic potential, it is paramount to create incentives for farmers to stay on the land.
A design inspired by tradition
The greenhouse designed by Espacio Colectivo is a wooden A-frame structure, fully glazed. It encloses both the house and an area in front of it that can be used to grow fruits and vegetables. The form of the building is inspired by Colombian vernacular designs and traditional construction methods were used for insulating the dwelling. For instance, a technique called bahareque was employed on the roof: this thermal and acoustic insulation system of soil, straw, and wood is widespread in rural Colombia. Rice husk is used as insulation in the cavities of the laminated guadua walls.
A sustainable prefabricated model
The A-frame structure was also chosen for practical reasons, being easy to build and optimally using sunlight. The water that runs off the roof is collected and used to irrigate the greenhouse and controlled ventilation ensures the circulation of fresh air.
The elements are designed to be prefabricated to ensure economical and efficient construction. The wall elements are made of laminated guadua, the most abundant and important bamboo species in Latin America as it grows quickly, is easy to work with, and possesses high axial strength. In selecting the building materials, the architects placed great emphasis on achieving an optimum combination of sustainability and functionality. For example, all wood is sourced from controlled, well-managed forests. Finally, the glass and the few steel components of the structure can be easily dismantled and replaced if needed, or recycled.
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Project description by jury
By reinterpreting Colombian vernacular pitched roof structures, this design proposal suggests a residence for farmers living at high altitudes above 3000m above sea level that combines housing and agriculture by optimizing space and material selections. The building consists of two parts: an inner wooden volume that constitutes the main habitable area, and an additional translucent shell that functions as a second skin for the house while creating a contiguous greenhouse. The polycarbonate envelope not only enhances the thermal performance of the house but also enables a variety of produce to be grown despite the low temperatures of the region. The prototype is conceived as a flexible object that can be realized in different sizes depending on the needs of its occupants. Thanks to the electricity supply coming from a solar farm, the building is energy self-sufficient. Organic waste is used as a nutrient-rich compost fertilizer, rainwater is collected, and greywater is reused.
The jury was fascinated by this smart energy-efficient rural house concept for Colombian farmers living at high altitude. Through its iconic and compelling geometry, the project proposes a sustainable and affordable way of living, mixing the domestic and vocational dimension, and creating a new sense of belonging for the community. The manner in which the design facilitates the connection between people and nature in this specific region, where weather conditions can be harsh, was considered a great asset of the project.
The polycarbonate shell creates a buffer space that serves a three-fold objective: to provide an external yet enclosed living area, to enhance thermal comfort inside the building and to ensure appropriate growing conditions for vegetables. From a construction perspective, the jury appreciated the author’s choice with regard to the materials and the construction technique, which, while remaining simple and affordable, result in an exciting architecture.
As a Main category prize winner in the regional Holcim Awards 2020, Vernacular Greenhouse in Colombia automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global Holcim Awards 2021.
This project is a prototype for a combined residence/greenhouse for mountain farmers in Colombia. The vernacular approach to the design allows for high productivity, indoor comfort, and economy. Synergies between residential and agricultural functions are exploited, and space planning and material selections are optimized. The building consists of two parts: an inner wooden volume constituting the house and a translucent shell that functions as a second skin and as a greenhouse. The polycarbonate envelope enhances thermal performance and simultaneously enables a variety of produce to be grown despite the low temperatures at high altitudes.
“It’s a small-scale project that aims to solve large-scale social issues in the country,” says architect Carlos Betancourt of Espacio Colectivo Arquitectos SAS, Calí, Colombia. “In a post-conflict context, farmers need to return to the field in unprotected places. In the water-producing moorland, the project must become one with the environment.” The jury was fascinated by this smart and energy-efficient rural farmhouse concept for Colombian mountain farmers. They also appreciated the iconic and compelling geometry and the choice of construction materials and methods. The design proposes a sustainable and affordable way of living, mixing domestic and commercial uses and creating a new sense of belonging for the community.Read more » Más información (Spanish) »
Sustainable productive habitat
Food: The construction of an orchard greenhouse that produces, regulating the temperature, the necessary food for a peasant family, using organic waste as compost for fertilizer. That’s how the cycle of productive food life is renewed and has no negative impact on the environment.
Energetic: The installation of a solar farm for the generation of energy supply. We believe it is necessary to promote energy self-production in communities that are far from the interconnected electricity network.
Productive: A flexible interior space, with progressive growth on the second level, which will allow the efficient construction of two rooms for tourists looking to live the experience of the rural habitat.
Sustainable Intimate Habitat
Material: A house that promotes a direct experience with the material, regulating the temperature, saving odors, marking the light, playing with sound, and is built according to the vernacular tradition.
Economic: A house that is built as a large envelope, which is conceived in M3, allows to reduce unions of architectural elements, systematize construction, saving costs in transport and assembly time, labor and materials.
Progressive: A rural social housing of progressive growth. The structure allows adding 2.5m space modules to the volume of the house, increasing M3. The installation of master beams as a floor structure on the second level, goes from having 60m2 on the first floor, to 84m2 if the half is used and 94m2 if the total area is used.
Sustainable Geographic Habitat
For a farmer, the size of the house depends on the conditions of the land. Geography marks the design of the house, which, it is a greenhouse therefore, is oriented according to the sun to receive the greatest amount of radiation and be able to warm its interior. The house is part of the topography, it is not against it. Reducing flying supports and large foundations. Its structure is prefabricated to give a solution to the accessibility to the land. It rises from the earth as an isolation strategy, which allows lower air intakes to make efficient renovations with the help of the upper vents. They generate the minimum environmental impact in conservation territories. Under this logic the design of the house is carried out as an architectural section.See more
The efficiency search in construction processes, with the aim of reducing the impact of construction on the natural environment, leads to minimizing construction actions on the ground. Vernacular Greenhouse (Greenhouse Prototype) is essentially prefabricated, its processes are assembly, not construction. Being a roof house, and being this element that is prefabricated, the amount of waste and the impact on the land tends to be less than almost 80%. The interior walls of elementary construction, dry, are adaptable to any material. The passive bioclimatic strategies, heat the house by the effect of terraced greenhouse, avoiding radiant barriers, insulating by thermal inertia, and conserving heat by compartmentalization and materiality.
A simple, affordable yet iconic architecture to enhance energy efficiency and the living and working conditions of …
Author comment by Carlos Hernan Betancourt Niño and Aldo Marcelo Hurtado Mora of Espacio Colectivo Arquitectos, Cali, …
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