Topics to be discussed: lighting, cleaning, road, school. The official begins with the last of these points, the construction of a new school, for which this community has been waiting for 25 years. Dialogue occurs without formal preludes:
– And do you know where they’re going to build the weird school?
– Weird school?- the neighbors say, surprised.
“Yes, the strange school,” insists the official. The smart school.
– Smart school?- the neighbors reply.
The municipal employee then took out a piece of paper with the plan of the project, which definitely looks like anything but the plan of a school. What are so many tires doing in the middle of those curved walls? Quite a rarity that catches the neighborhood off guard. Rafael Muñiz, president of the development league, recalls that fortunately on one of the margins of that sketch was written the phone number of a certain Martin. ” And well, we called him and he appeared, with a group of gurises, ” recalls Muñiz.
Martín y los gurises— as the kids are called here-was a group of five twenty —year— old friends who a couple of years earlier had met in a Montevideo café to shape the pieces of a plan: to build a sustainable, public and rural school-replicating one of the bioarchitectural models conceived by the American Michael Reynolds-from disposable materials.
” It’s not waste, ” Jairo, 12, corrects this reporter. “It’s reusable material, which is different. They are not waste, ” he adds solemnly. Then, Jairo explains: “This school is made with old tires, bottles, cans and cartons, which were already used and we used them again. The school feeds itself. It uses solar energy-it adds while pointing to photovoltaic panels placed on the roof-and rainwater. The school takes care of us, but we have to take care of it too.” Maru, another 9-year-old interlocutor and student of the school like Jairo, accompanies us to the closed gallery that precedes the three classrooms and houses an organic garden with the fruits and vegetables that supply the school canteen, enabled in a community property adjacent to the school.
Both learned in various workshops that the same water that irrigates this garden in the school is used four times, in different phases. ” It’s rainwater, ” says Maru. Thanks to the tilt of the roof, the liquid moves to the three tanks located at the back of the building, with capacity for 30,000 liters. After a filtration process, children can drink it, wash their hands, or water the garden. The excess water fills the cisterns of the toilets, the same that after passing through two septic chambers completes its cycle in front of the building, underground, watering the native plants and shrubs that make up a wetland.
The “rare school” has attracted the attention of thousands of visitors since its inauguration last March. A few weeks ago, in the middle of Uruguayan winter, a busy open day was held. ” It’s freezing, ” a man grumbled before entering the building, with the mate and the thermos under his arm. A “cold that peels” is a combo with a temperature of 6 ºC, with whimsical drizzle and icy ocean wind that leaves no bird in sight. But inside a surprise awaited him: a temperature of 20 ºC, without an air conditioner.
Here is another key of the school, the orientation (towards the north) in order to absorb the little or much heat of the sun. And another: the thickness of the walls, authentic thermal masses that maintain the interior temperature, throughout the year, between 18ºC and 22ºC. With this explained, a young volunteer guides the visitors to the bottom of the gallery —while the children touch the plants and discover the smell of basil and parsley— to show them a small framed piece of wall, a kind of x-ray that reveals the bowels of the building: tires, cans, plastic bottles, sand, stony and some cement.
Approximately 2,000 tyres, 5,000 glass bottles, 3,000 plastic bottles and 14,000 aluminium cans were used to build the school, in addition to cardboard and nylon. Everything came together with the collaboration of recycling companies and cooperatives, as well as “green points” that were placed in the spa and also in Montevideo, taking advantage of music festivals and other events. The other 40% of the work was covered with traditional materials, such as sand, earth, rock, cement, wood and the glass of the large greenhouse gallery.
Following Reynolds ‘ method, the tires were filled with sand or stony and placed in rows of three at the bottom, two at the middle and one at the top. Bottles, nylon, cardboard and cans served to fill the gap and then cement covered the building to prevent the sun from coming into contact with the rubber. The back of the school surprises visitors with a large embankment that seems to want to swallow it, but that functions as a large insulating shell and through which the mouths of tubes that cross the mound and end in the classrooms to cool the atmosphere in summer. When outside it is normal to have a temperature of 38 ºC, inside it never exceeds 22 ºC.
This is the first sustainable school in Latin America, no less, and this is announced by a gigantic poster in the middle of the Interbalnearia Route, on the way to Punta del Este, the most chic-or tacky, depending on the tastes— of the Uruguayan spas, where hundreds of thousands of travelers pass. The venue, which has a total of 270 square meters, opened its doors in March after a marathon construction (just over a month), in a party broadcast live by all the news. There were the 40 students who are between 3 and 12 years old, the neighbors, the politicians and the NGO Tagma al completo, made up of Martín Espósito and his friends, those boys who once devised this plan in a Montevideo cafe.
Espósito remembers that it was in 2011 when a friend recommended him to watch a documentary, El guerrero de la basura, about Reynolds, his conception of architecture, his obsession with reusing what the world discards and his irreducible pact with nature. Espósito, linked to environmental activism, gathered his friends to spread the idea of building a public, rural school, taking as a reference the Global Model, adaptable to any climate,devised by that irreverent Yankee architect. But how do you convince Reynolds? Esposito wrote him an email and nothing. He sent a second and nothing. The third was also unanswered. One day he called and they answered him. They told him yes, but to collect the money first.
It wasn’t just about money. It was necessary to find the place and convince the rulers and the community of the advantages of that rarity destined to become a school center. For that they had to deal with the bureaucracy, so often crude and predisposed to block everything. The process, like a Kafkaesque novel, lasted five years. But they already had Reynolds ‘ yes. So they created an NGO they called Tagma. Then formalized the project and folder in hand toured more than 50 companies, until a local commercial firm, Nevex, decided to cover almost all of the 300,000 euros that cost the building.
” The public school has always been the democratic space par excellence in Uruguay and we are convinced that it can be the ideal engine to build this cultural change”, say Tagma. The folder stumbled through several public offices, reached the hands of mayors, secretaries of mayors, legislators and secretaries of legislators. Between several noes the yes of the authorities of primary education and the support of the Faculty of Architecture of the public university broke through.
Several destinations were considered, until reaching the current, Jaureguiberry, founded in the 30s of the last century by an engineer who dreamed of turning those sands into a natural park. They say that Don Miguel Jaureguiberry planted pines, acacias and eucalyptus, which attracted benteveos, calandrias, horneros and woodpeckers, first immigrants from this area. Probably from this “visionary”, as the neighbors call him, comes the strengthened environmental awareness of the locals reflected in his Jaurecológico portal.
” What we’ve learned most is that you can’t sit around and wait and that you also have to work on several fronts at the same time, ” says Espósito. ”There is conservatism and fear, because in the end everything has a political background and in politics mistakes are difficult to correct.” Precisely, the fear of which Espósito speaks was what made some neighbors doubt at the beginning of the viability of the project. It happened to Maru’s grandfather. “He said this was going to be a disaster. He said no and no. Only me and my mom wanted school, ” she explains. And now, is Grandpa happy? ” He’s quiet, ” Maru replies.
Reynolds, the garbage warrior, arrived in Montevideo in May 2015 to meet the community and give a lecture on the pillars of Earthship Biotecture, the company he founded after overcoming the vicissitudes of the American academic system, reluctant —especially 45 years ago— to such an unconventional model. And as he confessed, he fell in love with the Uruguayan project because it is a daring twenty-something, a public school and a rural community jealous of the space he inhabits. He hinted that he is tired of running into tycoons who are pointing to passing trends without any awareness of the integration and balance that must exist between us and the space we inhabit.