Bohios were structures where the native Taínos (pre-Columbian inhabitants of most Caribbean islands) lived. We are building one right here:

We used the process of constructing the bohio in our study of sustainable building this past week. While we learned about amazing ways of keeping houses heated and cooled without having any kind of central heat or AC system (even in relatively extreme climates), and about alternative building materials like rammed earth tires or cob, we used the hands-on experience of building the bohio to learn the basics of construction.

The first thing we did was to dig a swale - a ditch dug on contour - that will catch any runoff or erosion. We placed it downhill from the bohio site, and uphill from the pond. The swale will allow the rainwater to seep back into the ground without taking any of our soil with it. It is a great place to plant because so many nutrients are carried here by the runoff.

We planted seven moringa trees and dozens of other plants - crotalaria, jack beans, black eyed peas, etc. You can already see our growth...

Then we were ready to start the foundation. Since our structure is primitive and has a relatively small amount of load to bear, the foundation is simply leveled and tamped earth. Once the foundation was laid, we put up the center post.

This was more difficult than it looks - our auger is only 3.5 feet long and the hole needed to be 5 feet deep. Unfortunately, our post-hole digger is 5 feet long too, so to get those last few inches was quite a workout.

Next, we measured out a perfect circle around the center post with eight stakes spread evenly around the circumference.

Time to dig!

With this many people working, it took no time at all.

The next day we put up the beams that attached the posts together in an octagon. This meant I got to use a portable skill saw, which is pretty awesome, except that I don't have a picture documenting it. But the best part of the day was the sense of accomplishment I got when I could finally climb on something. When you're building something and you can actually start to climb up onto it, you know you're getting somewhere.

The next day we attached the rafters, stretching from the 6-foot-tall beams to the 20-foot-tall post in the center.

Once all the rafters were up, we headed into town with the farm dump truck to collect palm branches. We walked through a couple of different resorts and condominium complexes with machetes in hand, looking for good leaves to use for a thatch roof. We collected all afternoon and probably got enough to fill a quarter of the roof.

All the hard work will be worth it, though, when we can look up at a ceiling full of this:

While others worked on the thatching process, I worked on making bamboo blinds. First we had to split the bamboo.

Then we cleaned them, pieced them back together like a puzzle and tied them up using cordage we had all made the night before.

It looks great close up.

We have a long way to go with the finishing touches. And we still have to build the earthen floor (a clay, soil, and straw mixture poured over gravel and treated with linseed oil and beeswax). But it is definitely coming along... soon we will be sleeping inside the bohio in our hammocks.

For now we have to resort to the ground.


Anonymous said...

Ben, this is so amazing...it's better than i imagined when you told me about it. I'm so proud of you, it looks great...the blinds are so cool. We could totally do that! YEAH! good job again, I'm so glad you're getting to do this.

ck said...

building good shelter may be one of the most satisfying activities a human can do. it's probably part of being made in the image of a creator God. And add power tools- complete bliss! good job!

benjamin said...

right on, chris! it is infectious - just being around the whole process, from observation and design to the actual construction, makes me want to build a place of my own so much.

i'll have to see your house some time...

jamesthesealion said...

well, it's been a tough race up to this point, but I can now officially say without doubt that you're cooler than me. Props, ben.

micah daniel said...

this is micah antanaitis. i don't know if you remember meeting me, but i live in maplehurst with luke. I stumbled upon your blog via the wigshop and started to read about some of the things you're doing. these are exciting things! just thought i'd say so.

the idea of a sustainable design that is context specific and environmentally aware and made with materials at hand is something beautiful. i'll have to check back now to see what things you are learning.

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