In today’s blog I want to introduce you to a term that best represents what I am trying to achieve with the building of my home in Haciendas Coba in Tulum. And that term is conscious architecture. Here I will do my best to define it and how it’s shaped the way I approach my current building project.
So what does conscious architecture mean? For me, it involves leaving a minimal footprint on the environment when engaging in construction. And the way we go about that is with the small touches. For example, we pay a lot of attention to lighting, so we use LEDs because they consume less energy.
One of the biggest motivating factors about this project is knowing how dependent we are on the system. Many of us living in the Riviera Maya have experienced many times when power or the electricity just goes out. And when that happens, what do you do? Sometimes it takes an hour or even an entire day before it gets restored. It can even last for days, as many friends living in subdivisions have told me. When that happens, you can’t even keep your stuff in the fridge for very long. Sometimes they’re forced to leave their place to go and rent a hotel room for a few nights. And the reason for this is because we’re totally dependent on the system.
So one of the things that I like about conscious architecture is the use of solar panels. There’s no grid where we are, so if anything happens like I mentioned above, I’ll be going directly to my house because I have solar panels installed. I’ll have batteries in there that power all of my house in a way that we’re not using the grid. And at the same time, if you look at the methods that every country utilizes to generate power, they’re also damaging nature in a big way.
Regarding the wind, our building methods involve lifting the houses off the ground. This is done so that first and foremost we don’t impact the ground too much. We don’t have to break it too much. And secondly, when your house is higher, you get better ventilation. The rooftop of my house is also tilted in order to catch rainwater.
All of the electronic devices that we plan on using in the house are going to be deliberately purchased for lower energy consumption, to maximize what the solar panels are generating, and to have a low impact on the land itself.
Right now Tulum is experiencing tremendous growth. It’s happening faster than the development plan from the municipality itself.. What does that mean? That you have all of these beautiful condos and houses all over Tulum and they’re lucky if they have electricity now. But there’s no sewage system put into practice yet because of the municipality. Maybe they’ll get it in a couple of years, but in the meantime you have buildings that will sit there for five years before the sewage system is in place.
Who’s regulating how they dispose of all the waste waters, and what do they do with it? What we want to do as part of the conscious architecture movement is basically do everything through septic tanks. And we know really well what is going through that septic tank because we’re going to be using well water.
In the community we’re going to have a few main wells that will be distributing water to the different houses. Once it passes through the septic tank it will pass through another process. So we basically are sending the water back underground cleaner than how we took it in. I think that this is very important. And it’s a large part of the concept behind conscious architecture.
We want to use the materials that nature is giving us, like wood for example. We don’t want people impacting more than 30%. So within that 30% your house is going to take that space of the woods that you are allowed. Basically you could reuse it in your house as well. We have limestone in the ground, so whatever you get to dig in order to build your house, all that limestone that comes out, it’s also reusable.
I’ve had people visiting the house say to me “Oh, but you’re using concrete, you’re using a block, that’s not sustainable.” And that’s exactly what we are trying to avoid, not getting caught up in that particular concept. But in my particular case, we elevated the house about two meters above ground. That basically means that we barely broke the ground and we don’t have limestone to reuse.
I have seen other projects where they’re lifting the houses tremendously and you have houses that could be upwards of 20 or 30 feet high. And the foundation, you dig the holes for the columns, but there’s not much that you’re taking out of it. So you cannot reuse it. That’s why we’re saying that we’re trying to be as conscious as possible, that our footprint is minimal. It’s not a hundred percent sustainable. And that’s basically what we mean by conscious architecture.