Monday, June 28, 2010

Week 4

The water and waste management team joined us on site including Cory VonAchen and Greg Ewing (check out their blog which is linked on the left side of the page). Their first major project was to brave the intense stench of the septic tank to move it from the back of the house (where we will be building Phase 2 and therefore need to fill with concrete) to the north side of the house and new building. They have also been running tests on water flow rates and scoping out materials needed for their sand filter. The GIEU study abroad group, including 14 undergraduate students (from all different departments) and 1 instructor, Mindy Matice, has also joined us on site. The extra hands have made the work progress much more quickly. We finally reached a completion point with interior trench digging for Phase 1 and began slab formwork. We have reached the rebar level and will soon be pouring column footings. We got our first electrically operated tool – a concrete mixer! Unfortunately, the primary generator is down and the smaller, temporary one, may not be able to take it. That will be fixed “soon” though. In the meantime, we will continue to mix concrete by hand.
We were recently visited on site by another pedreiro who is currently working on a project down the street at another lodge. He approved of our work thus far but recommended that we dig shallow footings for the veranda columns and confirmed that the veranda columns should be full of concrete as well (regardless of whether they are constructed with brick + rebar or if constructed with PVC pipe – an option we are currently looking into. We have also had mixed responses to what concrete and mortar mixes are typically used and finally received a confirmation that our mixes were good – 4 sand, 1 sikal (equivalent to lime), 1 cement for mortar, and 3 sand, 2 aggregate, and 1 cement for concrete.

Our days of manual labor and nights of computer and drawing-related labor have been getting longer as we have been working out more construction details but we have managed to enjoy a few more world cup games – happily seeing Brazil and the USA continue onto the round of 16. We were also joined by a group of five enthusiastic writers, photographers, and videographers. They are making an epic journey through South America in an orange 1982 Volkwagon Westfalia and happened to get wind of the project we are working on. They stopped and worked with us for a day – helping finish up the trenches for the veranda columns (check out their website – Milton (the cook) and Maria (the housekeeper) also hosted a little festa at their house (they live in the house on the building site) this week – there was loud music from car speakers, dancing, and cachaça. Saúde (pronounced “saw-oo-gee”)!

Pictured here are Cory and Greg with the gear they used to remove all the waste – buckets and masks; material arriving and being unloaded (it seems that material delivery is the one and only thing in here which happens as scheduled, we have been very impressed); mixing mortar using the “volcano” method (basically, piling materials, mixing materials into a mountainous heap, creating a crater in the middle, pouring water in the crater, shovel and mix materials, then repeat; the group enjoying a brick laying demonstration; an expert mason, in the making

Week 2-3

Between the visit to the construction site in Pocone and the arrival of more helping hands, we re-mason lined and water-leveled the entire site with respect to the finished floor elevation (FFE) of the existing house. This means we will need a lot of fill to get 4 cm (slab thickness) below the FFE but we cannot move the FFE because of the rising water levels during the wet season. While we were doing this, Ethan and Julie built a barbed wire fence around the entire site to keep the cows out, for once and for all (this is both to save our time of having to restring our lines but also for the safety of the cows as we begin to dig massive holes for the column footings). We also dug all 60 cm deep pier footings for all interior columns and began the trenches needed for the slab form work and moved a few electric poles out of our way (please note the OSHA-approved ladder in the picture).

Lesson One

The engineer was no where to be found so a few of our questions went unanswered, but here are the questions which were answered by the pedreiro (master builder):

Q: What are the extents of the slab? Building footprint? Breezeways? Roofline? Roofline, and then some?
A: Slab extends through veranda, entire footprint
Q: What is the slab thickness?
A: 4 cm. Our follow up question was, “Really, truly?! That thin?!” The answer was an astounding “YES!” We have also asked a handful of other people (including another pedreiro) and paid close attention to other buildings we have seen and that does seem to be standard.
Q: Is there rebar or reinforcement of any sort in the slab?
A: No.
Q: What size rebar goes where? And how many – how many in the columns (1, 2, 4?) and how many in the bond beams?
A: 5/16 rebar everywhere (which is .8cm), 4 go in each column and each bond beam, 2 rebar run in one of the mortar courses of the formwork,
Q: What is the maximum spread for the columns?
A: The pedreiro through out a 4, 5, 6 m answer, but this, of course, also has to do with what the dimensions of the beam between the columns and roof is. With the materials we will be using, we will maintain the 2m spread for interior columns and up the spread to 4m for exterior.
Q: Is there footing under columns? All the columns? What kind of footing?
A: Under all interior columns. Pier footing.
Q: What happens between the bond beam and the door? – Brick? Netting?
A: Courses of brick downwards from the bond beam to the door
Q: What is the height of the bond beam?
A: 20 cm (generally speaking, the pedreiro seemed to use dimensions based on the typical brick with mortar – 10 X 20 X 20)
Q: What is the dimension of the mortar joint?
A: 1.5 cm
Q: What is the typical order of building? – Specifically, what comes first the columns or the brick infill?
A: Brick infill for interior walls is last in terms of construction order. To give an idea of construction order for the interior:
1. Brick formwork for slab (concrete bed of 6-8cm, 7 courses of 4.5 by 9 by 9 bricks with 1.5cm mortar joints and rebar running all the way through after the 4th course)
2. Footing – including rebar
3. Column formwork, including bracing
4. Pour column
5. Remove column formwork
6. Bond beam rebar
7. Bond beam formwork
8. Pour bond beam
9. Remove bond beam formwork
10. Slab
11. Wall infill
12. Roof
Q: What type of formwork is used?
A: Brick formwork for slab. 10mm thick wood attached with wire for columns (check out PICASA!)
Q: What kind of tools will you (the construction supervisor) bring to the site? What tools do we need to get?
A: None. In fact, the pedreiro has not and will not be joining us on site. We are the pedreiros for this project.

The pedreiro also demonstrated exactly how a typical veranda column comes together (pictured above). A couple interesting facts we discovered during this trip to town included that the standard footwear for construction workers seems to be flip flops and there are 83 bridges from Pocone to the Jaguar lodge!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Learning Flexibility

We got impatient with hearing “the site will be cleared tomorrow” and decided to take matters into our own hands. After moving large obstacles (posts, satellite, part of a fence, etc.) out of the way, we began the ground-clearing process. While at first, an excruciatingly slow process with the few tools we had at our disposal – a short-handled axe and a pick axe; eventually, we were able to borrow some long-handled hoes (enchada) and rakes (ancinho) from the neighbor (about 10 km away). We successfully cleared the site and are happy we will no longer have to hear that the site will be cleared “tomorrow, for sure!” The pictures show the tools we used and the site after we finished our work, check out Picasa for some before pictures. Next up, some more digging (we think) for the column footings.
Otherwise, we’ve continued to see new kinds of birds and other wildlife every day and had some near encounters with more jaguars. There was a funny moment when we were clearing the site the other day when we looked up and everyone (as in, the tourists at the lodge, the cook, the housekeeper, the neighbor – who happened to be stopping by, and a couple tour guides) was booking it down the road and frantically calling us over to join them – “Jaguar! Jaguar! Jaguar!”. A jaguar had just crossed the road about 40 feet away, having hopped out from the swamp, swept up a capybara (giant rat – as in, small bear size) and walked off into the swamp on the other side. All we were able to see were the massive wet footprints the big cat left behind. There were also a couple tourists from the UK who we got to know the last few days. We spent an afternoon with them down the road at the neighbor’s (also the Eduardo’s uncle) place where we set up a TV in the semi-enclosed porch, and with cows, chickens, and endless wetlands in the background, enjoyed the USA VS. England World Cup match. Thank goodness for England’s butter-fingered goal-keeper! The tie game allowed us to remain friends afterwards. Chasing jaguars and enjoying futbol: some expected field conditions!!

Learning the Language (Construcao)

A second unexpected trip to Pocone last week yielded another visit to the engineer who provided a list of materials needed for the foundation and concrete structural support. We were also able to return to the construction supplies store to get an exact quote. There are some discrepancies with numbers which we need to clarify with the engineer, but the quotes are pictured here to give an idea of the materials and approximate quantities that will be used. While this information is helpful in understanding local materials used and likely construction processes to ensue, we still have many more questions for the construction supervisor and engineer, both of whom we will be meeting with tomorrow. Eduardo Falcao De Arruda (Owner of Jaguar Eco Lodge and site of project) has also had much input and insight into the local construction and logistic processes and is recommending a construction supervisor (pedreiro) who has recently built two structures at the lodge. While we have been waiting to meet with the construction supervisor, we have been building detailed 3D models of the structure and roof system based on the materials that will be used as well as the local construction methods that we have learned about based on buildings we have seen, our conversations with the engineer, conversations with the construction store manager, and with other local well-informed building owners.

Here are some of the questions we have for the engineer and construction supervisor:

What are the extents of the slab? Building footprint? Breezeways? Roofline? Roofline, and then some?
What is the slab thickness?
Is there rebar or reinforcement of any sort in the slab?
What size rebar goes where? And how many – how many in the columns (1, 2, 4?) and how many in the bond beams?
What is the maximum spread for the columns?
Is there footing under columns? All the columns? What kind of footing?
If the typical dimension for a beam is 10 by 20 by 4m, then why is the beam drawn in the truss elevation 12 cm?
What happens between the bond beam and the door? – Brick? Netting?
What is the height of the bond beam?
What is the approximate space below the netting/window (even though this is flexible, it would be good to know what they were thinking in order to understand the estimates)?
What accounts for the width difference between the column and brick? Even if there is a stucco finish, there is a difference in width.
What is the dimension of the mortar joint?
What is the typical order of building?
What type of formwork is used?
What kind of tools will you (the construction supervisor) bring to the site? What tools do we need to get?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Week 1-2

We paid a visit to the construction supplies store that will be providing the materials for the project. This gave us a better idea of what would be available to us and the concrete mixture typically used = 6 sand, 3 gravel, 1 cement. We should be connecting with the contractor/construction supervisor very soon to determine an exact start date. We met with the engineer to approve the final drawings and discuss the details of the structural system. Pictured are the final drawings given to us by the engineer. We will post diagrams of exactly how the roof members come together soon. “Soon” is as specific as it gets here. We returned to the Jaguar Reserve to discover the site unexcavated. We are sure it will get done soon though.

We walked the engineer through the project with our digital 3D model. This was especially helpful in explaining the desired roof system and concerns about the structural integrity of the trusses. This was a lesson in sticking to your guns and how easily the design will be pulled from under your feet if you aren’t quick and able to convincingly defend your work. There was a moment when the roof monitor was almost eliminated but we were able to explain the need for extra ventilation in the classroom, research, and living spaces. We submitted the pictured plan and truss elevation to the engineer who will ultimately create his own set of drawings, make suggestions for additional structural support for the truss system, and most importantly, take legal responsibility for the designs.

Here are the answers to the questions we had:
Q: In what direction are prevailing winds?
A: Northwest, Southwest
Q: What is the minimum overhang we need to have for both the roof monitor and roof to keep out rain?
A: 40 cm for the roof monitor, 1m is plenty for the roof.
Q: Can/Should we tie down roof tiles?
A: Once the tiles are placed down, they are fixed, so no, an additional tie down is not needed.
Q: Do we need to connect the roof monitor overhang with a cable?
A: No. The vertical member in the design should be sufficient.
Q: What are the standard dimensions of wood?
A: 10cm by 20cm by 4m
Q: Will we be able to (easily) get wood long enough for the collar tie?
A: Yes, no problem.
Q: What are other standard (and most economical) building materials?
A: Much of the building will be cast in place concrete.
Q: What are the accessibility requirements for the WC, and otherwise?
A: We will draw that in.
Q: Can you sign off on the projects in phases (specifically so that we can pour the foundation ASAP?)
A: Everything will be signed off on tomorrow once we present you the final printed design document.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Today we made the three hour drive to the small city of Pocone for a meeting with the engineer and client (Julie and Ethan, to a certain extent). The trip to Pocone also allowed a visit to a school at a similar scale as our building proposal. Posted are some important details which allow us to understand the methods of building construction at play as well as the typical building materials that are used locally. Clockwise from the top left, 1.) The standard building brick – in this case, the orientation of the block alternates each course, the blocks are filled with concrete, with cementatious application on exterior. In other examples we have seen, the block does not alternate and remains exposed, 2.) Hip and framing intersection at corner, 3.) Water delivery infrastructure – pipe penetrating through roof clay tile lapping, 4.) Structural beams, rafters, batons, 5.) Ship-lap beam joint at column, column with smaller member sandwiching, 6.) Top of roof tile, 7.) Finished floor of interior made of concrete and pigment, separate sloped slab for water drainage at roof line 8.) Portal beam led into column. To see even more building details and also get more of an idea about life in the wetlands of Brazil, please visit the “PHOTOS” link for the Picasa site!

After considering Eduardo’s concerns about noise from the generator (located at the far southeast corner of the overall site of the existing house) and about the need to have the new building be an addition to the house (for legal purposes), we decided that the best orientation for the new buildings would be along the east-west axis (more or less). This revisits the second design of one long building site, now with the existing house splitting the living and working facilities. Courtyards and wide porticoes connect the two new buildings to the existing house and porch. Posted are some Rhino screen shots of the how the design has developed. The top is the second design, the middle image is the third, and bottom, the forth and final design. Soon we will have more detailed drawings of the final design. A previous post included diagrams of the very first design. In the screen shots, you can see how the orientation and details of the building have changed as we have learned more about the site and addressed various field conditions.

We fashioned our own stakes out of scraps of wood and a newly sharpened machete and spent most of our post-breakfast daylight hours (8:30am to 5:30pm) at the site today. The new building site is an “L” to the west of the existing house. This orientation consolidates the space while also making the courtyard an important feature which connects the new buildings to the existing house. The task was not without its difficulties – mainly, extremely hard soil and mischievous cows who pulled out some of our stakes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Internet suddenly got reasonably fast. Such is the way in Brazil. Things come and go at a leisurely pace. To the left is the initial design and intent that was put together prior to our arrival. It has since changed but its simplicity allowed for easy adjustment. We will post photographs on the next one.
oi, Internet access is three hours away and slow and patchy. We will not be able to upload images until we find better internet. We are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, far far out in the wetlands of the Pantanal. Otherwise, we spoke with a local engineer (Carlos) today in Pocone who will be signing of on the project. He will have a printed document of our design by tomorrow. We were informed of a new site for the building which includes an existing house. In order to meet local code we are going to have to consider the school and field station an addition to the house and we have been designing it as such. We have staked out the building with dry line to get a sense of the footprint and to locate it in close proximity to the existing structure while working inbetween palm trees. Free range cattle like to pull the stakes from the ground. The simple layout that we have started with has lent itself well to the design changes that we are encountering. Many great building details and pictures, but since we can not upload I will describe my favorite thus far. At the porch columns that are made of poured concrete they stub out a bit of rebar which they then bend over the beam in order to make the connection. Were pretty settled in now and are staying at an ecolodge that is owned by Eduardo who also owns the property where the project is sited. Tourist come and go and there was a recent group doing a documentary on the pantanal. (world heritage site) We have seen much of the wild life, and even a glimpse of a jaguar. We will have a local construction supervisor on site and after tomorrow we will get ready to break ground. The site is getting cleared today, mainly of small brush as we situated the structure in such a way to dodge any trees. We will blog again soon and if at some point we make it back to Cuiaba we will uploade images. Tchau