Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Panama Project #1… SUCCESS!

USC Architecture Brigades just returned from the completion of our first Panamanian development project after a successful and thrilling experience. This project for the community of Granja San Jose Arriba, has been an ongoing effort since our initial visit in August 2009. Since then we have been designing and preparing construction drawings for the “Rancho,” (the equivalent of a farmhouse that includes: a meeting space, crop solar drying room, kitchen, bedroom, silo room and storage space) and wind walls, a site strategy to disperse wind and protect their crops from extreme weather. After finalizing our materials our group of fourteen flew down to Panama on January 3rd for a 7 day excursion. Landing in Panama City we left immediately for the site, stopping only in the town of Santiago for a quick nap. Then after awakening we were off again to finish the journey with 2 hours of off-roading in pickup trucks. Once reaching the site we set right to work by demolishing their old, decaying rancho. Over the next 4 days we would replace it with a brand new wooden framed structure that includes much more facilities and a greater capacity.

The next 5 days of construction were exhausting and intense, but very rewarding. During that time everyone stayed at the house of Andreas Diaz, the president of the farm. While a little cramped at times it was overall a pleasant experience, allowing us to enjoy some prime star-gazing (no electrical lights to ruin it) and a slightly temperamental, yet refreshing shower. Once we arrived, most of the foundation had been poured, a good amount of the wood had been delivered (the local chainsaw expert cuts trees to size and then carries them on an hour journey from the mountains), and the series of wind walls had been completed. The entire build was a team effort, while some people finished foundations, others were erecting columns, and still others were working on the rock wall. Although we did suffer some setbacks, such as a delay in important wood pieces (which allowed us to take a waterfall hike/swim as construction halted) and the breakdown of our truck, we were still able to finish the majority of the structure. Over the course of the week we erected columns, put up all the trusses, laid flooring, finished the roof sheathing and began the final roofing layer. We also finished half-height rock and CMU walls (a valiant effort, that came with its own frustrating moments), and ended up learning as much from the community, as they did from us. After a final speech, via translator of course, we began the journey back to Panama City on the day before our departure. Returning to modern comforts, we enjoyed an amazing dinner, celebrated a birthday, and even dabbled in the Panamanian nightlife, all of which was that much better given our accomplishment.

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