Building Living Neighborhoods – Mexicali

Sustainable building project spearheaded by Christopher Alexander in Mexicali, Mexico (click to enlarge)
Sustainable building project spearheaded by Christopher Alexander in Mexicali, Mexico (click to enlarge)

Lightweight vaulted roof system on houses in Mexicali
Lightweight vaulted roof system on houses in Mexicali

Christopher Alexander is the author who’s famous for such books as The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language. The project in Mexicali, Mexico is a fascinating insight into his work and into the potential of community building using sustainable building materials.

“Project history
Under the sponsorship of the Governor of Baja California, we built a small community of houses and community buildings. The families built their own houses, assisted by students. The construction system and method were new — designed and invented by us. We ran a small block-making factory on site, using soil-cement instead of raw concrete for the blocks. The vaults were woven baskets of thin lattice strips, with burlap and chicken wire stapled to them, and the shell of the vault then plastered over the top. Each house was different. It was inherent in the construction process that a family could lay out their own house, as they wished. We then placed stakes at the corners of all rooms, and the construction system, which included special corner blocks, allowed us to build the columns in the positions marked by stakes, then to build the walls between the columns, then stretch the beams and pour them, and then to weave the vault for each room as it fell out naturally.”

Source: Building Living Neighborhoods – Mexicali
Building Living Neighborhoods home page
The Mexicali Construction Process
Mexicali Revisited
Christopher Alexander – Wiki

3 thoughts on “Building Living Neighborhoods – Mexicali”

  1. I wonder if someone could use a different lathing material (PVC pipe, bamboo, etc), and then remove it after the concrete cap is finished?

    Without realizing it, we built a similar roof on part of our house like this. Instead of lathing, I cut strips of 1/2″ plywood, and instead of burlap, we used sheet metal. After the sheet metal, we put 8″ of styrofoam insulation, then poured a 2-3″ cap of ferrocement on top to give a vaulted roof and ceiling.
    Ceiling: http://velacreations.blogspot.com/2009/03/ceiling-done.html
    Roof: http://velacreations.blogspot.com/2009/05/pouring-roof.html

    I could see using a plaster, like gypsum or acrylic cement on the burlap, and then being able to remove the lathing.

    Reply
  2. Those are beautiful houses, and the concept of testing it out in a community makes it even more worthwhile as it proves alternative methods of construction viable.

    This project was ‘under the sponsorship of the Governor of Baja California’ – that’s a politician worth his salt – I’d reward him with higher office if he makes these kind of wise decisions regularly, even if they don’t concern alternative building.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.