Bambareque

Bambareque is a fusion of bamboo with the traditional bajareque buildings of the americas.

Bajareque is the wattle and daub of the americas – mud, sticks and stones combined to make simple one- and two-storey buildings. Its most endearing features are its low-cost, renewability, earthquake-resistance and ease of construction.


Cross-section of a bajareque wall from the western highlands of Guatemala

The combination of materials in bambareque is not original, but the name is. I built my first bambareque building – a composting toilet – in 2008, to see if it could add some of the benefits of building with bamboo to the excelent qualities of bajareque. It’s still in great shape and so, due to its use of a cheaper and more renewable resource and having better seismic resistance than traditional wood-framed bajareque, I think it deserves its own name.

In this area (western highlands of Guatemala), bajareque buildings are built by first assembling a frame of hardwood posts. A thin bamboo (Mexican weeping bamboo) is then strapped horizontally onto both sides of the uprights using wet agave fibre ties (aka maguey). Pine needles are draped from the bamboo before filling the cavity with rocks and a mix of mud and pine needles. The mud mix is then applied as an earthen plaster to seal and preserve the organic materials within.

Earthen plaster applied over a bajareque frame

I’ve yet to visit them but I have heard of 500-year-old bajareque buildings in Guatemala that are still standing, although most don’t last that long. Before the 1960’s, most rural dwellings in Guatemala were bajareque, then adobe took over until that too was superseded by reinforced concrete and cinder block. While block and adobe appear more substantial, and are generally more desirable to most rural Guatemalans, bajareque has superior resistance to earthquakes and it’s also considerably cheaper. Ironically, bajareque has seen a revival among wealthier central americans for building their weekend homes, which are often finished to an exceptionally beautiful degree.

A typical bajareque house in El Salvador – note the bamboo rafters.

Replacing the wooden frame in bajareque with bamboo makes it even cheaper and more ecological. The main difference it makes to the building is due to the size of the bamboo – it’s a lot thicker than the hardwood posts they usually use, which are normally three to four inches thick at most (8-10cm), whereas building-grade bamboo is about six inches in diameter (15cm). This creates a much larger cavity, and thus more work to fill it, but it also creates a more insulated wall.

Another difference is that bamboo doesn’t like being buried in the ground, since it’s more vulnerable to humidity, insects and fungal decay than the traditional hardwoods used for bajareque. The bamboo is pre-cured in borax and boric acid but the moisture in the soil will eventually leach that out. My original solution to this problem was to bury it in cement but I’ve since come up with several other lasting solutions:
(1) insert shortened hardwood posts soaked in burnt oil into the base of the bamboo uprights and insert the other end of the stick into the ground;
(2) bury large rocks into the ground (>60cm deep) leaving 10cm proud, glue rebar into them with epoxy, then bend the rebar into a hook, drop the bamboo onto the bar till it sits on the rock, and then fill the bamboo’s base with cement;
(3) tie the bamboo to a reinforced concrete foundation and fill the base cavities with cement.

Four years later, I’m more convinced than ever that bambareque is a sound building method and hope soon to begin building a bambareque community refuge in San Marcos La Laguna, for families whose houses are at risk from from landslides during Guatemala’s heavy rainy season. The venture is funded by The Appropriate Technology Collaborative, who is also bringing a team of volunteers to help build and document the design.

Another project currently underway is a bambareque cabin in The Yoga Forest, a retreat centre and edible forest garden in the hills above San Marcos La Laguna.

For more information on bajareque, check out the World Housing Encyclopedia’s “Vivienda de Bajareque” by Lang, Merlos, Holliday and Lopez.

Leave a Reply