Combing a Site

(Building Off grid- Part 1: Cleaning the Site)

One year ago, I embarked on a grand project. For the longest possible time I had wanted to really build an off-grid house. It had always been an impulsive idea in my mind, but the more the thought crosses my mind the more it becomes a reality. Now that corporations rule the world, the point of doing an off grid construction was more about proving a point on how small scale efficient systems may still work in a mega city like Metro Manila. The site was a typical subdivision lot sized 250 square meters. It had been the dumping ground for the neighbors since many years, making the land elevated for about 1 meter. It had one big native mango tree with a small crown but a very big trunk. This tree fruits 2 to 3 times a year without any spraying. The fruits are fleshy juicy and a bit resin tasting but pleasantly sweet.

Adobe blocks

Adobe blocks

Recycled wood to fence

Recycled wood to fence

One other tree was a fallen lucena tree, which had regrown and was lying diagonally along the property with a little crown towards the end. We found many treasures under those trees, but what was really amazing was the process that unfolds when you segregate the materials and put them back with their species. Suddenly you realize the treasure of materials at your disposal, that they were ones trash!

We started the process with clearing the topsoil. We shoveled one foot of the land into one corner of the property. This soil was set aside for future gardening activities. With the other materials we found in and below the topsoil we set up the terrain for construction. All the Adobe blocks went into shaping the landscape and terracing the grounds for future growing.  The porcelain and broken tiles went into creating an artistic mosaic. In addition, the adobe stonewalls and the half broken toilet bowl became an instant garden element as a built-in planting box. Also, some fallen wood from the typhoon Santi was used for the post of my garden fence.

Broken bottles

Broken bottles

Vines for food crops

Vines for food crops

Bottles and broken glass went into the walls as well and some broken tiles became the house number for the future. Plastics I mixed in the cement as well, and they blended in as foundation for the small garden walls I constructed. No more trash out and no more trash in. The fence was immediately planted with vines and food crops so workers would have food on the site. Soil from diggings was also separated for the earth walls, Adobe blocks, sand and some clay.

An additional benefit was the visible quality of the separated materials, like the quality of the sand and the strength of the adobe stones, which were both mined directly from the site. You could now decide how to use these materials as either minor or major construction. So some went into backfilling, while others became prime building materials. The fun was that whole thinking process on how we would use, maximize, and combine all materials found on site. All of these were happening before we would decide on importing missing stuff and materials that were really necessary for the construction to take off. Some of these missing materials were bamboo, wood, bricks, metal bars, cement, coarse sand and clay, while most of the base materials would be readily picked up from the site. After that the real excitement started when you really start to scratch the surface of the soil and craft life sustainable features out of normality.

 Featured image by Cholita Dantes

Photos by Yohann Salazar and Cholita Dantes 

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