The TH Interview: Argentinean Architect Carlos Levinton

The investigation group commanded by architect Carlos Levinton has been working in the research and development of sustainable models since 1986, and has created a lab that explores the employment generation by/and the development of materials. The transformation of trash into constructive materials, different prototypes of eco-houses, and even the development of a plan for the reconstruction of Asia after the Tsunami are some of the results of the group studies.Their main projects include four types of eco-houses (some of which were implemented in different regions of Argentina), building materials as PET bricks and compressed TetraBrik plaques. Plus, the group and Levinton's aim is to make the materials and techniques easy to transmit to the precarious populations, in order to produce them in what they call Social Factories.With one of their projects, called Uthopos, the group won the international contest Visions on the Architecture of Tomorrow, launched by the International Union of Architects in 2002: the Argentine prototype of an ecologic neighborhood based in the first eco-house was picked from the works submitted from all the American continent. Treehugger conversed with Carlos Levintos and subsequently presents its main projects.

-How and why did you approach sustainable development?-My interest in sustainability arose from the studies on American aborigine cultures such as the Incas, Mayan, Quiches, Aztec. Especially of the Popol Vuh, the quiche Bible. Plus, the idea of focusing and theorizing about sustainable development arises when I ask myself how the future will be, when I perceive the underdevelopment and bonds of our countries, or when I approach to vulnerable regions and observe all the wasted potential.

-When was the first interest in this subject born?-My interest emerged of studies carried out in poor neighborhoods at the beginning of the 70s. My main influences are Humberto Maturana in biology, Jacques Monod and Rene Thom in catastrophe, Edgar Morin in science, and Llya Prigogine in disorder and organization.

-How would you describe your projects and productions?-We work in the design of models: we explore utopias, verify if they function, and conceive the objects in a holographic way, so that they can be quickly taught to inhabitants of towns in need. We have many projects of dwelling auto-construction with social factories in San Juan, Buenos Aires province and Buenos Aires City. We are also working in a project called Ecovilla Thermal, in Entre Ríos province, that will be the first auto-energetic thermal town. We've developed echo-houses neighborhoods in Escobar, greenhouses with recycled bottles in Patagonia, and ovens that burn briquettes of organic trash to produce heat. We work with a social factory in Mataderos (Buenos Aires) and with economic auto-sustainable homes in Moreno (Buenos Aires).

-Which do you believe are the main issues of construction regarding the environment?-I believe that classical materials have a very strong impact in energetic waste and that architecture of large metropolis handles very badly the regulation of climate, destroying the ecosystems.

The projectsSome of the projects developed by Carlos Levinton's investigation group are: Eco-House Guernica (Guernica is a neighborhood in Buenos Aires province). Awarded by the Fund for the Americas in 1998. It's a house with gardens in various levels based -by its steps with hydroponics and orchards, that are also filters- on the Inca model of cultivable terraces. It has walls of a material composed by adobe, land, cement and straw, and a heating system based in an clay oven, which is fed with compressed gas that originates from the sanitary system. There, a digester transforms the used water of the sanitary in clay, water and gas by means of a chemical process. On the ceiling -where you can cultivate plants and vegetables- there are tanks that store rainwater, which then descends to the oven where it's made drinkable thanks to heat. (In the picture, the interior of the house. The bottles on the wall give sort of a Vitreaux look).

Orchard House. Is a variation of the first eco-house. It was called Orchard House because it counts on 180sq m of arable surface on the ceilings and walls (assuming that in the future the suburbs will have to generate solutions to the lack of space and high population density, while achieving 'cold' architectures that don't radiate heat towards the atmosphere). The arable surface equals to a 20m x 10m garden, and achieves the double function of food provider and natural protection of the house. The temperature can be regulated by means of the graduation of the humidity of the cultivations. It was built with PET blocks, T-Plak (shattered TetraBrik plates).

Module Dwelling. It's a prototype of survival dwelling for four people. It's a module of 10sq m that can be mounted in a day, and includes sanitary, kitchen, and a micro garden. It has 100% recycled materials walls.

Museum of Recycling. It's a rustic eco center where every invention is exhibited and available for children, cooperatives, cartoneros (that's the name for people who live out of the selling of cardboard). It also has an eco-lab for youngsters. Found in Palermo neighborhood (Buenos Aires), this project lacks a little visual, but was built with used tires basement, aluminum tin and bottles PET ceiling. It has a heat generator which burns briquettes made with cardboard and leaves, and includes a garden that can produce 2kg of vegetables per day in only 20sq m distributed in the ceilings and terrace.

For more details on the projects and materials, contact architect Carlos Levinton by mail. [by Paula Alvarado, from Buenos Aires]

PET Bricks.

Detail of a recreation of the Orchard House at a local exhibition.

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