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wofati in tropical climate?

 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Hi. Until today I did not know 'wofati'. I think it's an interesting way of building.

Because of my idea for a project at the tropical island Curacao (Caribbean, Netherlands' Antilles), I ask myself: would this be possible there? Curacao has a dry climate, but with a wet season, sometimes very heavy rainstorms (October - January). When you build a house there that's 'eco-friendly', it has to keep the warmth (sunlight) out, and the cooling wind (mostly from North-East) in. When the house is in a sloping hill, the rain must NOT flood it! These are all things to think through before starting.

The spot I have in mind to start the project (see blog http://curaduracuracao.blogspot.nl/2015_04_01_archive.html ) has a hilly ridge, but only the part facing South. I think that's OK, for the most insulating 'earth roof' part of the wofati will then be facing the hot South side and keep the warm sun out. Then some ventilation pipes, like you mention for a cooling cellar, can be added, the inward pipe coming from the East side and the outward going in Western direction (so the air flow passes the house diagonally). But to keep the water out when it rains, I think it needs some very strong dams!

I don't know if the trees growing there (at the South side of the hilly ridge) are right for the needed wood. Wood is not often used on the island, nowadays all houses are built of concrete blocks, in the past small houses were like cob or adobe and larger houses of imported bricks, sometimes imported wood. But, as I said, there are trees growing there! I'll show you a photo here.

What do you (all) think, do you have other ideas, things I forgot maybe?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Inga......Welcome!

I haven't read through your blog yet, but will try to share a perspective in regards to building in such a biome. I had lived in and out of the Caribbean fore almost a decade while traveling and working in the Marines. While a beautiful place, modern methods and the number of humans on these islands can have a very large impact.


I did not know 'wofati'...Curacao Island in (Caribbean, Netherlands' Antilles), I ask myself: would this be possible there?


A form of it may be achievable yet compared to other natural building systems and vernacular styles of the region, I would suggest it is probably more labor, material intensive than other systems. I know well the geology of most of these islands and digging without machines borderlines on the impossible and is more like "hard rock minding" than digging.

If the cost and impact of heavy equipment excavation is possible and economically-environmentally viable I am certain that a form of "fossorial architecture" could be adapted to some building sites on the island as possible augmentation to other architectural forms, especially in the hotter seasons. Water and flash flooding is very much an issue and will almost require professional level geological/hydrological and other engineering examination by the DIYer or their designates.

I don't know if the trees growing there (at the South side of the hilly ridge) are right for the needed wood.


Tree species on these islands are so heavily impacted by humans that even cutting a single one is a crime on some islands, or so heavily regulated, that employing them in a structure can be challenging. It simply is not warranted from an environmental perspective in many cases on the more fragile islands. Water import/transport of materials has been going on before the European invasion and displacement of indigenous natives, and still today is the most economically viable method for acquiring building materials on many of the more arid biome type islands.

What do you (all) think, do you have other ideas, things I forgot maybe?


I would suggest a primary focus on a vernacular system of earth/timber/stone architecture, employing wood species like mahogany, purple or yellow heart or related species. The stone, clay resources can fashion all manner of indigenous structures like tabya, adobe, bousillage, taipa, bajareque, etc. There are many traditional natural modalities of vernacular styles applicable to such a location, and most are going to me more efficient and easier to build for the primary structure than something below grade, on most island building sites as referenced here.

Regards,

j
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Thank you, Jay, for your reaction. I think in many parts you are right.
One important thing I forgot to mention in my post: the rain water needs to be 'harvested', kept somewhere for garden use during the dry season.
Another important thing, you mention it: it's impossible to dig deeper than some inches, because of the rock. So my building would not be IN the hill, but ON it, only covered with a layer of soil.
The trees, yes I think you're right, real rees are rare on the island. So: no wood. Another fact I forgot: some old houses were made of coral stones. Still there is coral stone to find along all the coast of the island. Maybe that's a better building material than wood ...
 
Ashley Reyson
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Hi Inga,

I generally agree with Jay's comments. Here's a couple additional thoughts...

The Wofati is Paul Wheaton's merger of John Hait's ideas (see book "Passive Annual Heat Storage") with those of mike oehler (the $50 and Up Underground House Book). A key benefit of Hait's system is passively maintaining the indoor temperature. A key benefit of Oehler's is extremely low cost construction if you have timber available. It sounds like you don't have timber available, which eliminates the advantage of Oehler's system. However, Hait's system may still be viable, depending on excavation issues that Jay already raised.

If you want to look further, before reading the full book, here's a couple links that will give you an overview of Hait's approach:
  • An article from Hait on "Umbrella Homes".
  • An article and photos from someone building a home with Hait's ideas.


  • I also like the wofati, but live in an area where timber is not abundant. I'm seriously considering Hait's design to eliminate mechanical heating (minor issue here) and cooling (major issue). However, the challenge in my area is humidity. An unusually nice summer night would be 82 degrees and 90+% humidity. A nice summer day would be 100+ degrees and at least 65% humidity. Bad days/nights are those with higher humidity. I believe I can easily maintain indoor temperatures close to 75 degrees with this design, but I may have 100% humidity indoors and condensation will be a problem. This may be solvable, but it's one more problem you may need to consider in your area.

    Good luck, and welcome to the forum!
     
    Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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    Thanks Ashley. At Curacao humidity is not a probem. In general the climate is dry, because of the 'trade winds' (blowing almost every day from the same direction, sometimes even stormy). Only in some valleys with trees (which are rare) it's a little more humid.
    In fact it's a part of the wofati that attracts me: a roof looking like a hill-side. Looking for more information -and getting more comments here- sure will inspire me, help me find out what to do and what not.
     
    Rick Valley
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    I only know Isla Mujeres, (a limestone shelf island) Long Key on Glovers Reef in Belize, (a low atoll islet, coral and sand and Isla San Andres (another limestone shelf, but higher, belongs to Colombia but closer to Nicaragua) I also am familiar with the Belizean mainland and Ecuadorean Pacific coast. Even if you build on top of the ground, how would you find soil that wasn't growing crops or trees? Access to subsoil temperatures is the key to the wofati I believe. You could do it economically with a gas-powered hammer drill and some dynamite. But why build that permanently? Better to use the drill and dynamite to fracture the rock and create tree planting spots. (Mollison pointed out to us that explosive cracking from a drill hole is the same pattern as tree roots. Plant inoculated tree legume seeds in the holes. Carob is a good one- edible pods and available all over on the islands. Any bamboo you could grow would be a good building material, find the best variety you can. Hard to find clay for natural building unless you're on a big island. As long as you plan your drainage, roof slope and building anchoring to withstand hurricane force winds and 1 inch per hour rainfalls (to 20 in/24 hours, you'll probably have a house when it's over. Thatch is safer than tin roofs which can turn into flying machetes, but they need frequent replacement, and coconut palm is just OK, not the best thatch. It's a challenge, and sea level change will raise havoc with all the islands and coasts. Best to build light with high peak roofs and covering that blows away leaving the structure standing. Design to funnel in the trade winds, plant shade and food at the same time. Nurture the marine fauna with sanctuaries and re-establish the abundance of 1500 AD, and use that fertility to nurture the land.
     
    Daniel Gair
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    This is what I would recommend for your situation.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wattle_and_daub
    There is also a great article in the Permaculture news on natural building this month, also using a similar system.
    Good luck!
    Holly
     
    kevin stewart
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    Hi Inge

    On the most manificent island in the Caribbean someone got a grant to build hoop greenhouses. That's all very normal but their first efforts with dark shade cloth did not work out so well and they switched to white shade cloth. They also had to line the lower edges with mesh wire to keep the iguanas out.

    If you don't have iguanas now I think it will be a case of: build it and they will come.

    As to trees consider the neem. You can pick up some seedlings on your way to the greenhouse, on kaminda lagun, at the drug rehabilitation landhuis.
    The greenhouses are at the landhuise, the neem are everywhere.

    So, not an inground greenhouse but it might work better in that environment with less work.

    If nothing else Inge, everyone deserves a trip to Bonaire.
    K
     
    Rick Valley
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    Good advice on Iguanas; but it is also possible to get along with them- I met a farmer near Toledo, Belize, whose farm was on the banks of the Rio Colombia, who would not permit iguana hunting on his farm, and each tree fallen across the Rio had a 4-foot monster basking on it... the only place in the district you could see that.
    The pajareque building technique I mentioned is a variant on Wattle and Daub; both use mud and fiber to create relatively thin, strong walls that need periodic re-plastering. On a limestone/coral island lime plaster may be more important, altho it takes wood fuel to make the plaster. I have never seen a set of natural building suggestions for an environment where soil was rare. But if you take your clue from indigenous peoples in similar ecologies, fiber would be the key- weaving mats and that sort of thing.
    Very nice local input in the last posting above.
     
    Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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    Rick Valley wrote:... Any bamboo you could grow would be a good building material, find the best variety you can. Hard to find clay for natural building unless you're on a big island. As long as you plan your drainage, roof slope and building anchoring to withstand hurricane force winds and 1 inch per hour rainfalls (to 20 in/24 hours, you'll probably have a house when it's over. Thatch is safer than tin roofs which can turn into flying machetes, but they need frequent replacement, and coconut palm is just OK, not the best thatch. It's a challenge, and sea level change will raise havoc with all the islands and coasts. Best to build light with high peak roofs and covering that blows away leaving the structure standing. Design to funnel in the trade winds, plant shade and food at the same time. Nurture the marine fauna with sanctuaries and re-establish the abundance of 1500 AD, and use that fertility to nurture the land.

    Hi Rick. Curaçao is fairly high, it even has some mountains. But you're right: under a thin layer of top soil there's rock, partly vulcanic, partly limestone and fossile corals.
    Growing bamboo for building material seems a good idea to me. But bamboo could become invasive and overgrow too much land. The coconut palm is a great tree! It gives food and drink in the coconuts, good stuff for the soil as well as for making textiles in the fibers and good roof material in the leaves!
    I am not happy I can not yet start there ... but I am lucky I now have plenty of time to find out everything I have to know ...
     
    Rick Valley
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    That is really good that there's a diversity of geology on Curacao: that makes things MUCH easier. There are two English words I have tried to eliminate from my vocabulary; "nature" which when used I believe encourages us to see ourselves as SEPARATE and "invasive" which more than the word weedy encourages us to shift into "MUST MAKE WAR ON THE ENEMY" mode which declares that "all is fair in war" and suspend the usual moral judgement and all other logical thought. I would think there is bamboo native on Curacao, certainly there is Bambusa vulgaris and some of it's forms since it is the easiest tropical to propagate and is everywhere in the tropics I have been around the world. But Bambusa vulgaris is not a very useful bamboo- not strong primarily- the best use for it is as banana props- but there are probably others. Why would bamboo be "invasive" if it is part of a culture? No one where bamboo is native worries about this "invasive" concept because they are too busy using bamboo for food, fiber, construction, cooking containers and so on. The number 1 consumer of bamboo on the planet is humans. The proper approach would be to look around and see if any likely bamboo is available and use it if it's close enough to be used (and not already in full use) or if not close enough, transplant some to the proper place in your project and get it established. In any case, MANY (maybe most) of the bamboo species in the tropics are not running bamboos, and so meet the criteria of not being invasive in any case. (Excuse the riff, but bambusaphobia must be fought harder than any invasive species) Remember that certainly, if you've ever been to a Chinese restaurant, you've eaten bamboo. And, just imagine: fresh, it's much tastier than from a can. So- what IS the soil type you are working with? Am I right to assume that the site is on limestone bedrock- I presume a "carbonate platform" with the volcanics and such in the interior of the island? One problem I have with the forums is that nearly everyone just states a problem and asks for a solution.
    But back to your situation: how close to the salt water are you? What elevation above sea level? Have you got your list of available pioneer woody plants? Are there any useful cacti present, which could be good for the semi-arid climate? I recognize that most of the islands historically were managed for production of cash crops like sugar, and so there isn't the sort of diversity in the flora that there could be, but have you tapped into what there is? Historically, did the Dutch ever bring many Indonesian cultivars in? If so there could be things that aren't in the Spanish lands.
    Coconut palm is a really good species; hopefully there is some genetic diversity available, but often in the Caribbean there isn't. There may be other palms available which are better for thatch, and you could keep an eye out for them.
     
    Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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    Rick Valley wrote:That is really good that there's a diversity of geology on Curacao: that makes things MUCH easier. There are two English words I have tried to eliminate from my vocabulary; "nature" which when used I believe encourages us to see ourselves as SEPARATE and "invasive" which more than the word weedy encourages us to shift into "MUST MAKE WAR ON THE ENEMY" mode which declares that "all is fair in war" and suspend the usual moral judgement and all other logical thought. I would think there is bamboo native on Curacao, certainly there is Bambusa vulgaris and some of it's forms since it is the easiest tropical to propagate and is everywhere in the tropics I have been around the world. But Bambusa vulgaris is not a very useful bamboo- not strong primarily- the best use for it is as banana props- but there are probably others. Why would bamboo be "invasive" if it is part of a culture? No one where bamboo is native worries about this "invasive" concept because they are too busy using bamboo for food, fiber, construction, cooking containers and so on. The number 1 consumer of bamboo on the planet is humans.

    Sorry for using that word. I do not like it too. But when I asked someone living on the island about growing bamboo, she reacted like you say: as if bamboo was an enemy to be afraid of.
    Maybe certain bambusa species grow there, but not the ones to use for building structures. The old houses there were either built of coral stones, or of branches of small trees (those looked more like huts or sheds).
    The proper approach would be to look around and see if any likely bamboo is available and use it if it's close enough to be used (and not already in full use) or if not close enough, transplant some to the proper place in your project and get it established. In any case, MANY (maybe most) of the bamboo species in the tropics are not running bamboos, and so meet the criteria of not being invasive in any case. (Excuse the riff, but bambusaphobia must be fought harder than any invasive species)

    I visited the island several times and looked around as much as I could, but did never see the bamboo species that are useful. Smaller species I might have overlooked.
    So- what IS the soil type you are working with? Am I right to assume that the site is on limestone bedrock- I presume a "carbonate platform" with the volcanics and such in the interior of the island? One problem I have with the forums is that nearly everyone just states a problem and asks for a solution.
    But back to your situation: how close to the salt water are you? What elevation above sea level? Have you got your list of available pioneer woody plants? Are there any useful cacti present, which could be good for the semi-arid climate? I recognize that most of the islands historically were managed for production of cash crops like sugar, and so there isn't the sort of diversity in the flora that there could be, but have you tapped into what there is? Historically, did the Dutch ever bring many Indonesian cultivars in? If so there could be things that aren't in the Spanish lands.
    Coconut palm is a really good species; hopefully there is some genetic diversity available, but often in the Caribbean there isn't. There may be other palms available which are better for thatch, and you could keep an eye out for them.

    I am not there now and I do not have a place or land there. I only have plans, or 'dreams'... So I can't answer those questions.
    Useful cacti, yes there are! They were the first plants I thought about. There are edible cacti, cacti with edible fruits and all of them are useful for fences/hedges. And yes, there are different palm trees there.
    The Dutch did not bring many things in. In Indonesia all spices were growing much better, so there was no reason to bring them to the Antilles. Curaçao was mainly a port for the slave-trade. People from Africa were brought there and then sold to (mostly) North America Black page in the Dutch history
     
    Rick Valley
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    Chances are that the bamboos on Curacao include Bambusa vulgaris (which is a medium to medium-large clumping bamboo) and Bambusa vulgaris vittata (which is the same species but bright yellow with green stripes) both are edible and can be used for building, split for baskets and lath & so on. Also there is probably Bambusa multiplex, which has many named forms and would count as a small to medium small bamboo, dep. on variety. But few of the tropical bamboos are fond of semi-arid climates, and there would do best as riparian plants. Some bamboos do fine with a pronounced dry season tho. I'm not expert in the tropical bamboos. But there are good resources out there- the American Bamboo Society and INBAR (International (council?) for Bamboo and Rattan are two of the resources. The ABS has many members in Florida, some in Puerto Rico and Hawaii and internationally. In Ecuador I'm helping on a project to "permutate"* a group of communities on the coast that already have bamboo firmly a part of the culture for building, with two common species, one native (Guadua angustifolia) one Indonesian (a Dendrocalamus) I'm helping to locate bamboos of smaller size appropriate for stabilizing slopes and farm roads which are also good for making ladders, for cooking containers and food, for harvesting poles and so on. There are good bamboo collections in Honduras, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica among the closest.
    I'd heard some about Curacao's involvement in the slave trade. It's complex, the post-Columbus history of the Caribbean. And lots of it isn't easy to find out about. But it's interesting that the African genes have prevailed so much. (as with the Garifuna people of Honduras and Belize for example ) And Curacao has it's own mestizo culture, no? If we can begin to accept each other as equals and make amends there's hope. Valuing what there is, the cultures, the abilities is a start. If you have international ability, you have access to resources many in Curacao do not. Mollison laid down some rules for working internationally that have resonance for me1) live with the people and as they do. (2) always go back. This would suggest you might want to build as they do! It's not easy to be a part-time resident; you return and find the things you left neglected or "requisitioned", that sort of thing. But I know people who succeed very well at being an ex-pat who is accepted in another culture. Learn the language!
    If you are able to research places that have semi-arid tropical climates you may find some interesting fruits and other useful plants to bring to Curacao. I'd imagine NE Brazil would be one place to find such. Brazil has a pretty active permaculture/agroforestry scene too, so there would be great people to connect with Marcia Hanzi was one I corresponded with for awhile, and she was in such an area. Cashew was a major fruit for her region. Africa has such zones too; Ebony, which is related to persimmon, is from there. Tamarind and Carob are good fruiting leguminous trees for such a climate. If you go to any Thai grocery you can get sweet Tamarind and from the dried fruit you can get the seed. I don't know much about the rhizobial bacteria for tamarind, but I would be very surprised if regular tamarind is not present on Curacao and you could take some earth from the root zone of one for inoculating the seeds you brought.
    *"permutate" : verb, to elaborate, catalyse and manifest the permacultural possibilities latent in a place and culture.
     
    Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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    Thank you Rick. That's a lot of information!
    The fruits you mention are there, at least saw and tasted cashews and tamarind (that one is very common there). Mangos, papayas, pomegranate and many more fruits, and plenty of vegetables grow in the gardens of people who like gardening. Not yet many of them know about permaculture, so an education centre for permaculture is really needed! (but I know someone who is doing efforts to start that centre!)

    About the culture of Curaçao ... That's a difficult part. The influence of the Dutch as 'the bosses' (first with slaves, later with companies, factories, etc. and as politicians), the African-native-latino-creole people working for them ... it still causes many problems I am glad my in-law-family accepts me as who I am, but myself I sometimes feel sorry for being Dutch. I do not want to make the mistakes some other Dutch people living on the island still make, the same their ancestors made.
     
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