Carlos Levinton's Latest: Helping Hampaturi with PET


Sometimes when we talk about recycling pet bottles or reusing plastic, the implementation on a high scale or at least in one that can really make a difference seems far-off. That's probably why this project by Argentine architect Carlos Levinton (featured in TreeHugger here) is so interesting. Levinton, who has run several building projects with recycled materials (like the PET bricks covered here) and has a background as one of the pioneers in eco-building in Argentina, took his knowledge to Bolivia in order to put it to work for 25 poor communities from the rural District Hampaturi, near La Paz (Bolivia's capital city). The goal: to provide them with systems that they can build with cheap (or free) materials to cook better, produce and keep hot water and prevent frosts in their cultivations. "It's paradoxical that a region like Hampaturi, so potentially rich in natural and social resources, is so vulnerable", explains Levinton presenting the case. "Right now, the vast amount of land doesn't solve the 2300 families sustainability and many people are forced to migrate to find new means for survival, while having a great ecosystem for cultivations and cattle, energy, exceptional water resources and eco-tourism opportunities, due to its proximity to La Paz", he continues.

The architect assures the actual state of things corresponds to historical and structural causes of marginalization, under development and abandonment of the region through years of wrong politic measurements.

Hampaturi region has different environments from jungle like valleys and warm weather to high peaks and very low temperatures, and is bountiful in slopes and thaw water. The region is formed by 178000 hectares, occupied with only 2300 families grouped in 22 communities. "The survival strategy of the population is based in the search for markets in La Paz city and the resources exploit in the region", says Levinton, "Highly fragmented due to lack of communication, without infrastructures and transportation and services, Hampaturi functions as a suburban system of La Paz and suffers the contamination from the city. School abandonment, precarious homes with serious pathologies, and lack of medical services produce child work, teens depression and eventually migration to the city".

But, the architect highlights, "there's a notable strength in the communities organization and their origin cultures' maintenance. Also, there's an extraordinary predisposition to learn and receptivity to the new".

In order to fight the region's lacks and also to turn it into a purifying ecosystem of urban pathologies", Levinton and his team worked during only five days in the region along with professionals, local government representatives and locals.

To some of the problems mentioned, the teams found and implemented the following solutions:
a. Lack of hot water for personal higene: in order to heat water, they built solar heaters with recycled plastic from bottles;
b. Frost and waste of cultivations in small plantings: they proposed the making of recycled plastic 'clouds' with PET ironed and nailed with threads of PET itself, in order to retain temperature underneath. The same 'cloud' functions as a rain water collector for drougt times, thanks to an ondulated surfase that orientates the water to recipients.
c. Need for thermic and hydric isolation in homes: they capacitated locals to build membranes with discarded tetrabrick;
d. No interior heat and poor cooking techniques (fires inside the houses, which provoqued toxic smoque): they built and taught how to make an adobe (pressed mud dried to the sun) oven in one of the houses.
e. Need for protection borders in rivers, defense and other spaces: they introduced a system to build with discarded tires, dirt and stones.

All of the solutions shown to the locals had no cost, but a tremendous impact in their lives.

In order to keep the flame going, besides teaching the rural communities, Levinton and his team taught classes in the Bolivian Architecture University and also to diverse people from the municipal governments. They also plan to build an Eco-Center like the one functioning in Guernica, Buenos Aires, which functions as a learning and working center.

For more information, contact Carlos Levinton at clevinton at fibertel dot com dot ar