Hi, and please welcome Eyliese, who just finished a two-month natural building internship with me here in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. Here is her version of the encounter:
Hello, my name is Eyliese Jiunta and I am currently an undergraduate student at Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT majoring in Renewable Energy and Ecological Design. My studies concentrate on the economics, policies, and applications of renewable forms of energy, as well as design of products, buildings, and systems that aim to emulate ecological systems of sustainability. Basically, I learn how to design things in a sustainable way, and learn enough about renewable forms of energy, mostly solar (PV and Solar Thermal systems) to be able to implement them into my designs as well as understand their place in the world and how to make that place a little easier to attain. I like to think that I’m learning to design for a better future, however cliché that sounds.
The best part of the Renewable Energy and Ecological Design (REED) program, in my opinion, is the empowering ability to take a design, whether it be for a bike trailer, or a solar garage/vehicle charging station that you’ve created, and to have the ability to see it through its design, prototyping, and finishing phases. There is nothing more satisfying to me than to begin with an idea that can help solve one problem, small or large out there in the increasingly toxic world, and to take that idea and back it up with real research, data, trial and error, and to create a beautiful solution from it. This is what gets me excited. This is the outlet that I’ve discovered for my inherently artistic way of looking at the world, coupled with my desire for solutions to be practical and simple.
As a part of my program, I am required to complete an internship during the summer between my junior and senior years. The internship is supposed to give real world experience in the field of our choosing, as well as a glimpse into how others are out there designing solutions. Lucky for me, I managed to land an incredible opportunity working with Charlie Rendall in the highlands of Guatemala, learning the intricacies of bamboo, plaster, and earthen building, how to best deal with the unique policies that surround construction here, how to project manage like a pro, and how to always embrace a design opportunity that crops up, however small. Basically how to build with a sustainable material, run a tight ship, and manage to still have fun with it.
Charlie currently has quite a few projects underway: a Tai Chi Temple, a medical clinic, a Yoga Studio, a hotel, and a few various others. Quite the spread of different applications for bamboo – like I said, always keeping it interesting.
Most of my attention has thus far been focused on the medical clinic that is being built in San Pablo, a neighboring lake village. So far, I have had the opportunity to help with drafting the plans and dimensions of the building using Rhinoceros, a CAD program that intimidated me at first, but I would now dare say I feel almost comfortable using. Almost. I also built a 3D model of the building, which has proven pretty helpful for showing to Vicente, the site supervisor, and JoAn, the director of the clinic, a better way of envisioning the space than with traditional floor plans. I have also been involved in design decisions, detail drawings of the Bambareque (a hybrid of bamboo and barajeque, two different building types) wall system, and site visits.
So far, it has been a whirlwind of an experience. Charlie and his team are definitely doing it. They’re actively out there, getting clients, stretching the limits of a sustainable building material’s applications, (they’ve made bamboo hammer trusses!!!), and doing it all while enjoying their lives. That’s one thing that has stuck with me the most. For all of the bouncing from one project to another, getting materials out to this off the beaten path location, juggling budgets, there is clearly a feeling of a life being lived and enjoyed here. That is what I so often find others and myself from the States compromising. We get so caught up in “making a difference”, and stretching ourselves so thin that the cracks start to show that we forget what we’re doing it for. We forget that in order to be players in creating a sustainable future, we need to live in a sustainable present. I can see that a lot of it stems from front-loaded preparedness, being smart and efficient and thorough in the beginning and not cutting corners. This really does pay off later in the game, and the stress levels seem to stay manageable. That is one lesson I will definitely take away from here. That and how to solder electrical wires together, power-wash an entire house, and harvest bananas.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to hear a lecture by Jeremy Rifkin, a writer, activist, and the founder and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends. At this lecture, Rifkin spoke of The Third Industrial Revolution: a long-term economic sustainability plan to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change. He described nourishing the “hubs “of sustainability that are cropping up all over the world (they’re there, and they’re getting stronger, I swear!), and then using our increasingly efficient methods of communication to connect these hubs and form a new way of living that is based off of symbiotic relationships in nature. Well, this little hub of bamboo builders is definitely worth connecting and sharing with. There’s energy here, a spark of the future we want, and it deserves to be put on the map.