The Kalu Yala Blog

Living Building Systems

August 5, 2010

by Alana Armstrong
Posted In: Adventures in the Tropics, Designing the Village

Taking a break from the field work, I’ve had time to reflect and absorb all the ground the Sucio Tres has covered in the last 10 days.  Maybe, I have the last statement mixed up… More so, I’ve been able to clean the dirt from under my finger nails as they’ve acclimated back to city life the last few days.

Before I jump back into my research of building systems and conventions, I have to share a common field interaction of ours:

the barbed wire fence.

More often, we’re ducking between strung pricked wires versus searching for a civilized gate entrance. The wire is a barrier to be respected and crossed carefully.  If not, you might become victim to its claws like William and Scott have. I still hold the highest rank as a professional fence crosser in the group as my multiple crossings have left me unscathed.  I know my size, agility, and backpack are coveted by my teammates for this task.

Living Fence

Living Fence seen in El Valle

In all seriousness, the boundary fence found throughout Kalu Yala is a beautiful system to analyze.


1.   It simply demonstrates that site sourced materials can be harvested sensibly and repurposed as systems.

2.   It conveys we can repurpose natural materials for human use but still preserve the natural beauty.

It’s a beautiful example of native materials (minus the wire) organized into a system. Farmers use found or fallen log posts to set land boundaries and corral livestock.  With time, these site-sourced posts literally grow into the landscape, resprouting and forming living screens.

Why must we harvest, process and manufacture to always form standard and modularity within building systems?  At Kalu Yala, we know there is a better way to build given our natural resources.  We’re not suggesting we disregard standardization, but suggest we look outside today’s conventional building methods to build new ideas and patterns.

This being considered,

How does one design and engineer building systems or methodologies to represent built form but naturally blend with the environment?


Le Musee du Quai Branly

Photo Credit: Inhabitat

There’s a wave of new living systems and ideas flooding the building market: green roofs, vertical gardens, and bio swales to manage storm water runoff to name a few. One of my new favorite architects to follow is Patrick Blanc, who gained recent international fame with the design of the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. Blanc eloquently merges nature with the built environment and demonstrates many of the advantages to merge these systems: lower energy consumption, improved air quality, and community enhancement.

Many of these sustainable ideas apply to Kalu Yala. Stayed tuned.  We’re engineering the formula at the lab and in the office at Kalu Yala.

2 Responses to “Living Building Systems”

  1. dad says:

    thought I taught you how to get thru barb wire on our hunting trips

  2. Susan Miller Evans says:

    August 5, 2010

    She travels the world and just slides through any barrier she meets whether it is barbed wire or a traffic
    jam. Love the comparison with the Museum on your blog. A unique French Museum!
    What do I hear about voting? Send me more information.