Trez Brazos Valley
Republic of Panama ~ Central America
Kalu Yala is a sustainable town being built in the mountainous jungle outside of Panama City. The building site, located in the Tres Brazos Valley, is to become one of the few environmentally sustainable communities in the world, with aspirations to model a smarter, more intentional approach to living. Kalu Yala will be developed in the mountains about 45 minutes from the city.
Jimmy Stice is the CEO of Kalu Yala. Though not yet under construction, much of the town has been designed by Moule and Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists based in Pasadena, CA.; an architectural firm highly influenced by the New Urbanism movement.
Since Summer 2010, the Kalu Yala’s student internship program has provided programs in livestock, sustainable agriculture, designing & building, biology, business, community outreach, education, outdoor recreation and anthropology. As of Spring 2013, the program included students from 39 states, 13 countries and 92 colleges . It is a pay-for opportunity similar to study abroad but with a much more individually tailored program.
The Kalu Yala Internship program is a growing platform designed to engender a community culture before Kalu Yala is built. The program essentially brings students and young professionals from around the world to a place where they can create a personal life-course while contributing to the creation of a holistic, sustainable village.
Architectural Rendering of Kalu Yala’s Vision of Community.
Clay Chapman at the Confluence of the Pacora and Iguana Rivers in the Trez Brazos Valley.
A Burgeoning Community
Whether organic gardening or hands-on-building, the spirit of enthusiasm among the interns at Kalu Yala is encouraging. Similar to our experience with the students of ‘The American College of Building Arts’ in Charleston, there is a significant number of young people seeking purpose and identity by pushing for a back-to-basics approach to living. In addition, all of the students seem to be in the process of becoming bilingual (if not already) as they interact regularly with the local tribal population. At sunset one evening in the valley, Clay spoke to the interns about HFA values and how desperately the world needs the younger generations to, “… take up the mantel!”
World Wildlife Fund Headquarters, La Ciudad de Saber ~ Republic of Panama
HFA’s Clay Chapman with WWF Director Rodrigo Donaldi and Kalu Yala’s James Stice and Alix Tingle
James and Clay spoke back to back during the event and attended a catered reception after the lectures where specifics about the mutual interest of both the Environment and Forest Industry were discussed in greater detail.
HFA Concept Shared at World Wildlife Fund/Forest and Trade Network Event
City of Knowledge ~ Republic of Panama
Being asked to speak about the ‘Hope for Architecture’ concept at a World Wildlife Fund event conveys how broadly the implications of permanent building reach. Residential construction obviously composes the lion’s share of the timber industry market, and as the WWF collaborates with the Forest and Trade Network, it’s important to identify better practices for more sustainable uses of resources. Building houses that will last as much as 10 times longer than current, conventional building practices speaks to this.
A Visit to ‘CoastEco Timber’ ~ Forest Resources
Reclaimed . Rescued . Rediscovered
The images above depict several stages involved with harvesting timber from the flooded valleys of Lakes Gatun (created in 1913) and Bayano (created in 1976). For a 100 years trees have been standing at the bottom of Lago Gatun slowly curing to provide a remarkably stable stock of timber material. Small barges are utilized for the initial underwater recovery of the timber. Improvised thatched ranchos shade deckhands and divers from the intense tropical sun during this labor intensive process. Divers submerge as deep as 90 feet to cut the standing trees with pneumatic chainsaws. Floatation bags are inflated to surface the timbers which are then relocated to an extraction point. Individual timbers are winched up along a landing where there’re cut to length and stacked for transport. Once logs arrive to the mill, they are then sawn dimensionally to market standards. Some of this furniture grade material is then displayed at the CoastEco Wood Studio in Panama City.
Kalu Yala Collaborative Team with CoastEco Timber Affiliates
A Field Trip to CoastEco Timber Operation’s Primary Sawmill
CoastEco has the rights to the underwater harvesting of a 1,147 sq. hectare concession of old growth exotic hardwoods submerged in Lake Gatun. When Teddy Roosevelt dammed the Chagres River in 1913 to create what is now the Panama Canal, a jungle the size of Montreal, Canada was flooded to created Lake Gatun. This is the area in which CoastEco is salvaging timbers.
‘Arcillas de Chitre’ ~ Panamanian Brick Manufacturing Facility
Panama’s Largest Manufacturer of Clay Based Masonry Materials
This was another important stop during our Central American journey. We toured the entire Arcilla brick making facility and saw a number of different kinds of material in process ranging from terra-cotta roof tiles to basic cored and solid commons. At one point Chapman asked to participate in the brick making process and jumped in at the molding table, later saying, “I couldn’t help myself.” The less mechanized approach to manufacturing was an enjoyable experience. It’s difficult to live and breath a building philosophy immersed in process and not appreciate it when that same nature is expressed in the actual making of the building materials themselves.
Native ‘Guna’ Village
Note the numerous dugout canoes (some out fitted with small outboard motors), and the livestock pen with loading-shoot at the right of frame. As indigenous peoples all over the world begin to assimilate towards modern lifestyles, there is a general attitude of magnanimous obligation amoung developed countries. Rather than rescuing tribal people from a preconceived state of poverty, should we not do more to identify with those valuable attributes of their world and do more to meet with them in the middle? Wouldn’t this be a better answer for a truly sustainable future? Kalu Yala is embracing this possibility.
A Day at the Beach
Catching Our Breath
We took a one day reprieve from the primary goals of our travel and drove out to Pedasi, a fishing village situated on the south-eastern tip of the Azuero Peninsula on Panama’s Pacific coast. Here we stayed in the Villas of Posada Los Distillederos, a boutique resort located 10 minutes or so outside of Pedasi directly on the beach and always within earshot of the surf. We also spent an afternoon at the popular surf beach ‘Playa Venao’ where consistent 4 to 5 footers broke away in long clean pipes for more than 300 yards at times. ”One of the best surf destinations I’ve ever visited.”
A Day of Design
George Moreno Architects & Urbanist Studios
New Urbanist Developer/James Stice, Artisan/Designer Clay Chapman and Architect/Lina Samudio Diaz working through structural design options for one of Kalu Yala’s primary buildings. There is a palpable energy when people, who have committed their lives to similar interest, come together in force. In my experience, the desire to harmonize with this creative spirit and contribute to the greater vision far out weighs the singular ego. In reflection, to create a ‘societal community’ without the broad insights of a ‘creative community’ is inherently problematic.
The Art of Hearing
The Essence of a ‘Charrette’ in Three Images
Animations of Collaborative Design
Clay Chapman and James Stice Expounding on Various Ideas for the Kalu Yala Vision.
To date, there are 9 main structures that will define the public commons of the community. These buildings will compose some 50,000 square feet of space. Constructions will be based on a fresh interpretation of traditional building mediums such as timber framing and structural masonry.
The Old Quarter of Panama City
Founded in 1519 by Spanish Conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila
We stayed in the Old Quarter’s ‘Canal House’ for the last three nights of the trip. The recently restored 1893 hotel has pleasant accommodations and a very helpful staff when it comes to making your way around the city. This historic district is currently undergoing a massive restoration. We were pleased to see many multi-century, structural masonry buildings being handled with utmost care during this lengthy revitalization.
Architecture Defines the Character and Culture of a People
As 101 as the statement above may be, think of the implications concerning the character and culture of a people resigned to disposable building. Left Image: Wonderfully restored multi-century structural stone masonry townhouse close to the centrally located Bolivar Plaza. Right Image: Simon Bolivar Monument in the fore with St. Francisco of Assisi Church/Casco Antiguo.
Remnants of a Still Living Tradition ~ Performing Artifacts!
Clay Chapman with Structural Mass Wall in Background Resembling Masonry Assemblies of Ancient Rome.
The trip to Panama was a wonderful experience. We have high hopes for Kalu Yala as ground breaking comes into sight. This is what the world needs — fresh approaches to our built environment in the broader context of community, environment and purposeful, healthy living. Approaching architecture as ‘individual buildings’ with no accountability for surrounding interactions is no longer a reasonable MO in the challenging context of our world today. We must shore up the future for those inevitable difficulties our children will be facing.