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Archive for March, 2012

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The Last “official” Day

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Post by Brian Hedberg, BA 2011, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Day 6. The last "official day. With an impending deadline and a project that looked far from finished, we decided to get up early Friday morning to get a jump on the day. We still needed to lay the third floor and assemble about three quarters of the outer layer (the skin). The third floor was scary work. Because of the building's angle, I needed to lean out over the 20 ft precipice to hold 2x4s in place for Paul to anchor in place. For Paul, this either meant stretching and contorting his body on top of the existing third floor truss supports, or doing the same while scaling a scaling a monstrous ladder. Meanwhile, Adam, Charley, Cyrus, Omar, and Eddie were wailing on the skin, and Sam, a RAW student from a previous year led a team of Oaxacanos to remove the wood arch support from the tunnel that had been made the previous day.

At the end of the day I was exhausted and a little bit disappointed that we didn't finish, but also relieved that the end was in sight– that we wouldn't be leaving the kids of San Pablo with an unfinished leaning tower of death. This may sound like a joke, but as the project pushed higher and higher into the sky without any railings or siding, there was a general sense that we were building a terrifying (or terrifyingly fun) playground. This sentiment died a little bit as the skin went up, but I still have my suspicions that building would pass through all the red tape in the US. 

Near sundown, we rushed from the sight to a pizza party at the funky, modern home of U of Minnesota Architecture professor Lance Lavine in downtown Oaxaca. The U of M students had gathered to see a presention on our project. It was a hilarious impromptu presentation that featured about as many pictures of Omar's hair or me making weird faces as it did shots of our project. It was nonetheless gratifying to the fruits of our week's labor examined and presented to other architecture students, many of whom seemed jealous that we were able to build something real, instead of studio models. Or perhaps they envied our mustaches, which were clearly bushier and more numerous than theirs. Either way, it was a good night, with surprisingly good pizza, guac, salad, and cervezas for all.  

Enclosing the Structure

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Post by Omar Davis, Masters of Landscape Architecture 2014, Harvard University

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday morning we were still feeling quite behind on our progress. The second floor was nearly finished but the third floor didn’t exist. The tunnel was cemented together but required the coverage of many cubic yards of earth. The skin-like walls of the tower needed to be attached. And the bridge needed to be hoisted up into place! We started in the morning with much gusto but by lunch found that we were still moving at an insufficient pace.

During lunch we discussed what tasks were inefficient and how we could reorganize our work. At this stage of construction were were slicing so much wood for the floors and walls that we decided to set up a cutting station.  We developed a system to make measurements by placing planks on the structure, handing this wood down to the station for cutting, and sending it back up to be screwed in place. This system employed a number of RAW students and Oaxacaeños in a fantastic assembly line. Trading commands and requests, planks and power tools, we fell into a rhythmic flow of materials and information. By the end of the day we covered much ground and felt a sense of comfort, knowing that we could use the same system at the very beginning of the next day.




One of the highlights of Thursday came toward the very end of the workday. Our tunnel got its much-needed coverage from a very large ‘helping hand’. Carl, the skilled ‘retro’ operator, was called in to carefully place earth on top of the tunnel to build a ramp and embankment.  I began to appreciate the finesse and dexterity required to operate an ungainly machine of seemingly unlimited strength. The tunnel was covered in less than an hour and we were finally able to walk across the top with much confidence!

With the sun hanging low in the sky, spilling orange light onto the site, we marveled at our ability to rally and reorganize our forces.   Although we are far from finished, we built an organizational framework that we will use to complete the structure in the days ahead. 

Hump day

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Post by Eddie Kahen, BArch 2013, University of Southern California

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Maestro maestro maestro…finally it was my turn to run the show (well, kinda). The surprise treat for my special day? I was feeling a little (a lot) under the weather. Headache, coughing, nasally, congested…oh yeah, and my contacts ripped!


The day started out with my list, a set of goals that were seemingly feasible yet inevitably unattainable. My goals for the day: decking on all three floors, finishing the  tunnel, and figuring out the skin…. How? Split up into teams and chop it up, and gett help from our hard working and willing Oaxacan amigos!  Result? Typical "architect's desired work: actual work" ratio… BUT, the yielded results were still quite nice.

We got our first floor done, we finished the tunnel, we placed our structure for the second floor, and we finalized our plan for the skin. Wednesday is hump day, meaning you work extra hard because the work week is almost over and the weekend is almost here. Fortunately for us we had extra motivation to work hard…a dinner / pool party hosted by RAW supporters and San Pablo Etla residents, Bill and Mary Stecher. (Bill is a retired architect and has coordinate all sorts of things with the community for the project.)

So once our workday ended, we headed down the hill to take a nice dip in the pool just as the sun was setting across the valley. Truly a beautful view. Calm, peaceful, relaxing, and refreshing! We were greeted with ice cold beers, fresh chips, salsa and guac, followed by delicious tamales. We were even treated to a Mezcal Tasting Tour. The evening provided a nice little midweek bonding session and morale lift as we looked on to the finish line.

To quote Ice Cube, it was a good day…


- Eddie

Teamwork, trusses and tacos

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Post by Cyrus Rivetna, BSAS, University of Illinois and MArch candidate, Lawrence Technological University

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 – On-site construction.

We started the day with an excellent fresh omelot and Oaxacan cheese cooked fresh for us at the hostel.  When we arrived at the site, we began assembling the truss on the ground; we completed one side, then needed the entire team, including our Oaxacan friends to turn the truss over to complete the reverse side.  By late morning the truss and center post were complete and ready to be hoisted into place; but first it was time for a break for lunch.  Sarai arrived with unbeliveable "tacos dorado con queso y flor de calabaza" (fried tacos with flowers from the squash plant), and fresh pineapple mint juice. After that, we all needed a short siesta.  

The rest of the afternoon was spent hoisting the tower into place.  All of us "gringos" were hesitant when the Oaxacans tied the rope to the truck with the intent to pull the truss up, but we were assured not to worry, and that they knew what they were doing.  Sure enough the structure was up in a few minutes with one rope tied to the back of a truck.  We quickly assembled one of the diagonal braces, but the other required a short pause to widen one of the foundation holes. Fortunately, Eduardo the backhoe driver was onsite, and able to dig through the solid rock to get the hole at the right depth and size.  By the end of the afternoon, the concrete was poured, and the structure was up and standing proud, but by design, was looking like it was about to tip over.  The day ended just before sunset, with the entire group enjoying shots of locally made Mezcal, provided by Roberto.

 - Cyrus

Back in Oaxaca with RAW – Real #Architecture Workshop

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Posted by Charley Umbarger, Bachelors ENVD 2011, University of Colorado, Boulder

As a veteran of 3 Real Architecture Workshops, being back in Oaxaca with Paul Neseth, Adam Jonas, and Barbara Hahn feels like homecoming. It's good to be back. This year's program will expand the the facilities of La Mesita, the restaurant and national park entrance-point perched above San Pablo Etla, north of Oaxaca City that served as last year's site for the lookout El Mirador. We are now two days into a leaning tower playground structure intended to accommodate exploration, sugar highs, hide-away spots, and tag.

I hit the ground running this year in Houston, literally and figuratively. My delayed flight left me 8 minutes to sprint 70-some gates across two terminals in time for a generous gate agent to re-open the flight for me. I boarded to a round of applause as Barb had been pushing for me from inside the plane. 

Once in Oaxaca, our 2012 team began to assemble.  In the days leading up to the workshop, Paul and Adam were busy overseeing the gathering of materials and preliminary excavating. Brian, Eddie, Cyrus and Omar trickled in from every direction and Sunday morning we found ourselves at a ceremonial community breakfast of tamales and emoladas in the presence of local ex-pats, retired architects, and RAW supporters, Jim Austin and Bill Stecher. After a day of planning, modeling and figuring we took to the tools and spent Monday in the sun preparing structural joints in the telephone poles which will be the skeleton of our tower. Stay tuned.

- Charley