Tuesday, November 30, 2010

La Paz (3250m - 4100m above sea level)

La Paz is very intense. It is full of people, fumes, food markets, more people and more fumes. No one cares about bumping into you seeing as this happens about 50 times a day. No English politeness here. It is also full of tourist police signs saying look out for fake taxi drivers who invite their mates into the car to rob you and also look out for fake friendly tourists/bolivian girls who will do the same and don´t get into a minibus because you will be robbed. So you would think that it wouldn´t be much fun, but actually it´s so crazy here it actually is quite fun. I´m sure my lungs will thank me when I leave though. Also I did get into a minibus and nobody robbed me.

View from the bus arriving into La Paz from above

Another view from the bus

The street where my hotel is (under re-construction)

One of the many markets, there is also a witches market but I am afraid to take photos there

Basilica San Fransisco a mixture of spanish and mestizo styles due to half of it collapsing in snow. It is 16th century. There are stone pillars symbolising Tiwanaku, Inca and modern themes.

Presidential palace in Plaza Murillo

The cathedral in Plaza Murillo

A street leading down to Plaza San Fransisco

Lahuachaca (again) and Sica Sica

I decided to make a return trip to Lahuachaca (3800m above sea level) to see if I could find out if there were any other houses I could visit in the area of the Lak´a Uta type and where exactly they were. When I arrived at Centro Lak´a Uta though, Eurofrasio was not there and the guy who was filling in for him did not think there were any houses that would be easy for me to visit as they are scattered all over the place. I had also misinterpreted the information that there are 500 of such type houses in Sica Sica when actually there are in Sica Sica the muncipality which is why they are scattered everywhere. Anyway I decided to go to Sica Sica (4700m above sea level) in any case as there is a beautiful church and it is on my way back to La Paz. While I was wandering around Centro Lak´a Uta again I noticed the door to the building used for agricultural seminars was open so I investigated and have now got photos of the inside of that building and another interview with the people who were working there. Not bad for an hours stop on the way to La Paz! In Sica Sica I met some friendly people during my delicious al muerzo of lamb, rice and salad and soup. They were asking me all about my trip and I told them the al muerzo here was much better than in Lahuachaca (it wouldn´t be difficult). I am now in La Paz and will be off to Copacabana soon on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I have found another Lak´a Uta type building there in the shape of an ecolodge, so guess where I will be staying!

The agricultural seminar building, the lady working there thought it was ugly, but nice and warm even when it was freezing outside in Winter

Inside the building

A Sica Sica street, you can see a brick facade halfway down the street but with adobe sides. This is to give the impression of wealth as adobe brick is a cheaper material. This is part of the vernacular around here.

The rubbish tip with some adobe buildings behind, rubbish is everywhere

Another example of local vernacular

Sica Sica church ( 18th century)

View across the Plaza in Sica Sica

This building is so ugly I had to take a photo of it

Monday, November 29, 2010

Case Study No.2 - Centro Lak´a Uta, Lahuachaca (between La Paz and Oruro) Bolivia

It was a bit of an achievement to get off at the right place on this long road across the Altiplano but with help from my friendly bus seat neighbour I managed it. It was a bit of a smelly walk from central Lahuachaca to the Centro Lak´a Uta due to lots of rubbish and a distinct smell of excrement. Hygiene standards are a bit different in Bolivia. The centre came about because of Danish organisation DIB which takes an interest in improving the lives of poorer folk in developing countries. The biggest problem in Bolivia is the standard of housing so they took it upon themselves to begin a project here. This also coincided with the revolution of the miners, 35 of whom were looking for work. So these 35 miners and 30 from Lahuachaca and 4 builders started working with the Danish and Bolivian architects to produce a new house type and experiment. The Centro Lak´a Uta is therefore more of an example case showing the different experiments (6m wide parabolic arches very dangerous, cement and earth combined does not provide any benefit and in fact causes cracking). There is a nice family who look after the cente and provide tourists and people on educational trips with accommodation. They hold agricultural seminars there as well. This was a bit of a suprise to me as I had thought there would be more of a community. However I managed to interview one of the main facilitators who works for DIB in La Paz. He was a mine of information and very helpful to me. Also in Lahuachaca I interviewed Tecnico Don Juan Quispa who helped and taught the miners and locals to build. He was involved throughout the project and his own house is a Lak´a Uta type though not based in the centre. I then interviewed the family who look after the centre. There are apparently 500 of these types of houses in the Sica Sica area (the next town). I have seen some of these from the bus window. Also some people in Lake Titicaca were impressed and decided to build some similar houses in Copacabana town (on the shores of Lake Titicaca which is north west of La Paz). There are also some colourful versions of these houses in Cochabamba. Jaime Ayra was kind enough to give me photos of all of these which saves me a trip.

This case study is relevant to my thesis because the organisation DIB chose to look at an Egyptian (Nubia) vernacular for inspiration in Bolivia. This vernacular is completely earth with parabolic roofs. In the Altiplano it rains very heavily so it is necessary to protect the earth with something. Hence the straw roofs shown on the pictures below. Vernacular/Indigenous architecture in the Altiplano area has been either a square adobe brick building with a metal sheet roof held down with rocks or a circular dwelling with a conical roof. You can see how these two ideas could combine to inform this kind of hybrid. In addition traditional ways of living have been considered and acted upon. The Aymara people who live on the Altiplano do not like the idea of living in a compartmentalised box such as a Western home. They have different buildings for different things. Bathroom one building, sleeping in another, cooking either outside or nowadays more commonly indoors in a separate building. Most of their activities are agricultural based so they are based outside between their various buildings as a kind of additional living area. It is therefore important that the houses offer a cool refuge from the harsh sun during an Altiplano day and also from the extreme cold at night. Having stayed in one of these types of dwellings myself (on an extremely boiling hot day ( I fried outside) and a very cold, wet and windy night) for two nights I can safely say that the houses are excellent for this climate. I was lovely and cool inside in the day and lovely and warm at night (with only the addition of one jumper).

Lak´a Uta view towards the tower with the house I stayed in in the foreground

Some tourists leaving just as I arrived, I wish I had been quick enough to interview them too

Rear of one of the tourist houses showing the trombe wall ( the earth is painted black then covered with plastic, this encourages heat absorbtion into the earth for release later in the evening when it is most needed)

View from the tower which is the sleeping space of the couple seen down below

View over the Lak´a Uta centre to the Altiplano beyond

Inside my little house

The kitchen

See, I was really there!

Beautiful drawings of different house types shown in the literature given to me by Jaime Ayra

I confess I had to try it out (it´s a pit toilet and was a bit smelly)

A drawing of the house type that I stayed in

Me and Don Juan Quispa and ´friend´

Maintenance is a big issue with adobe buildings. They need retouching every 1-2 years. However people in this region prioritise money making activities (such as animal raising, selling) over maintaining their homes.

This is a community centre with computers for the youth of Lahuachaca, it has a 6 parabolic roof which makes lovely arches inside

Most of these buildings are dormitories and a hall for seminars duing agricultural meetings

Welcome to Lak´a Uta

The map of the Aroma region where Lahuachaca is based. It is situated in the green bit along the major road running top to east of the map

Eee-aw (he woke me up a few times)

The lady Doña Rosa and a few of her many grandchildren and her son (they have 3 daughters and 3 sons). Her and her husband Eurofrasio (78 great talker) look after the centre and put me up very comfortably

Their green house

View from the tower out to Lahuachaca centre

Some kind of commotion was happening here as the lady in the centre was crying and there was a wedding going on in the shed on the right which is why everyone is dressed a bit fancier than usual. Ladies here are partial to illuminous synthetic skirts for celebrations and any other excuse really and of course the ubiquitious bowler hat

Inside the building opposite the tower which forms Doña Rosa and Eurofrasio´s kitchen and living space

Another view towards Lahuachaca centre with the market on the hill with pylons in the distance

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I arrived here after a rather dramatic bus journey, where I managed to get off the bus at 12.30am in the wrong town! I asked 3 different Bolivian´s if this was Oruro and they all agreed it was and it wasn´t until I asked a shop keeper where my hotel was (and he was struggling to find any roads he knew on my map) that I discovered that this was not Oruro. By which time of course, my bus had vanished. Luckily a couple of nice bus drivers let me on their bus and they flagged me a taxi on the edge of Oruro to take me to my hotel. I arrived at 2.30am and the hotel owner let me in! Phew! For some reason everyone likes to travel at night here, even though bus drivers have a reputation for drink driving at night and thefts occur but that´s why I ended up on the night bus in the first place. Oruro itself is not terribly exciting, its more of a workers town, but the surrounding countryside is supposed to be good so I intend to come back after visiting my case study (it´s between Oruro and La Paz).

The plaza in Oruro

The cathedral, not really beautiful

Some quite nice architecture

Sucre textile museum

I thought it might be worth putting up some photos of Bolivian textiles that I took in the textile museum in Sucre 

This is a Jalq´a design