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This investigation and research is a look into the development of a low cost facility down in the Las Lomas Community near the Texas – Mexico border. The intention of this facility is to house the different activities that my studio has researched over this current semester, those being a wax candle production facility, a hydroponic garden, and a radio station. In order to make this facility an option low cost materials and construction methods are necessary to create this facility. This post is my initial research into some low cost construction methods as well as some architects/architecture firms that emphasize in lower cost facilities in poorer areas around the world. To begin with I will go into the firms and people I have looked in my research.
MVRDV is an architectural firm that is based out of Rotterdam, Netherlands. They are known for some of their built commissions such as the offices for VPRO in Hilbersum, Netherlands and Wozoco housing complex in Amsterdam. MVRDV has been known to do research and competitions related to pressing topics such as urban sprawl and climate change. A more famous proposal made by them is Pig City which is a combat to the massive tracks of land required to raise pigs in the Netherlands. This proposal calls for a vertical set of farmland for the pigs to be raised in to diminish the footprint needed to raise them. When looking into MVRDV to works stuck out at me for implementation. First being their proposal for rebuilding housing in the New Orleans 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina. The other project was the Balancing Barn by MVRDV and Mole Architect. Combing these two projects stuck me as a useful implementation. In the New Orleans proposal MVRDV planned to combat the risk of flooding in the area by bending the house at the middle so that the two ends of the house were raised above the waterline. The main factor out Balancing Barn that struck me was the usage of the landscape to achieve an architectural need or want. To implement these premises in Las Lomas I began to think of the landscape of the area. Las Lomas is a mildly hilly area in south Texas and this could be used to our advantage. By digging into an existing hill and situating the facility partially inside and part outside of the hill, certain advantages can be achieved. The hill and earth can provide a sound barrier for the radio station as well as insulating the interior from the intense Texas heat. Also the the excavated earth can provide another advantage. By creating rammed earth blocks, the excavated dirt can become walls for any part of the structure that protrudes out of the hill. These two advantages can help in the creation of the facility.
The next architect that I began to look into was Teddy Cruz. Teddy Cruz is an architect in the San Diego area who has taken a particular interest in the poorer areas near the San Diego and Tijuana areas. These areas are drastically underdeveloped for the poorer communities. The factor that caught my attention about some of the work and research that Cruz has done is the reuse and resourcefulness of the inhabitants of this area. In this area people take old houses that are set for demolition in a certain area and purchase it for a cheaper rate and put it on a flat bed truck and move it down to a plot of land in the Tijuana area. Here the house is placed on stilts to allow the resident to have a possibility for a shop or a carport underneath. The other piece of work that intrigued me was a temporary installation done with Infosite and Mike Davis Studio. This was creating a structure using flatbed truck trailers, scaffolding, and some other recycled materials. This formed a stable platform for an exhibit. This idea began to intrigue me for our facility. Scaffolding is a less expensive material that could provide a simple structural frame for a facility. It would require some other additions such as insulation to secure the interior and a covering but would allow for a good initial simple basis for rooms.
The final architect that I looked into was Frei Otto. Frei Otto is a German architect and structural engineer who is known for his usage of tensile structures. One of his more famous creations was the 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich. This idea of tensile structures and canopies intrigued me when I finished researching the works of Teddy Cruz. Part of the issue with the idea of using scaffolding is that it does not provide protection from the intense sun in south Texas. These canopies and tensile structures would be a good means of shading the scaffolding type structure. Beyond that the canopies and tensile structures would be a good means with which to cover parts of the hydroponics systems to help preserve some of the water as well as not to subjugate the plants to the extreme sun, a massive advantage to these types of structures.
Finally I have done some very rough initial concept sketches to display my ideas that I got from doing my initial research. These show the different ideas that I previous mentioned which is the rammed earth structure that is built into the landscape, the initial scaffolding building, and then the canopy structure that is used to cover the scaffolding building and/or operate on its own to cover a hydroponics system.
After going through the initial MICRO-productX investigation I have switched gears in my studio to developing a hydroponics system for the same community that the candle investigation was for. The idea behind this is to investigate if it is feasible to create a hydroponic system that can grow vegetables for the community to eat. As with most people, I do not know what exactly a hydroponic system was so I set about researching the topic and trying to gain a small understanding of the topic and this is the yields from my initial round of researching.
After some browsing on the internet I stumbled upon a great website that deals with hydroponics, http://www.hydroponicsonline.com . This a great source of information and is the main site I have been sifting through.
To begin with, what exactly is hydroponics. The word hydroponics actually means “water working.” When I saw this I personally was rather confused with the application to plant growing but it became evident rather quickly. When working with hydroponics, you are essentially growing plants in water instead of soil. That is a bit oversimplified but is the general application of the term to what we use hydroponics as. More specifically, in hydroponics the plants absorb nutrients through the water that they are immersed in. The water, which essentially takes the place of the soil, is filled with nutrients by adding nutrient solutions to the water. Since the grower is no longer at the mercy of what nutrients are in the soil and dealing with the composition of the soil, specific nutrients can be added to the water that are known to have great positive effects on the plants growth and flourishing. Another advantage to hydroponics is that the plants are able to absorb as much water as needed and are not at the mercy of the weather or a persons memory to water them or to ensure that they are over watered. These watering methods generally make hydroponics an option for those who live in barren climates.
The four main hydroponic systems that are made are 1) Ebb and flow 2) Drip 3) Nutrient Film Technique 4) Passive.
Ebb and flow systems are systems that essentially flood the growing medium that the plant sits in with the water and nutrient solution. The water then slowly recedes out of the growing medium, thus allowing the plant to absorb any nutrients or water it requires at the moment. Once the water drains away the plant now has the opportunity to absorb any oxygen that it needs through the root system. The flooding typically takes place for fifteen minutes every hour or so.
Drip systems are used with a plant sitting in a growing medium and then either misters or a drip ring near the plant drips the water and nutrient solution into the plants. This system occurs for five minutes of every hour. This system is less advantageous for the small scale hydroponic gardens, however for larger scale production of crops or plants this can actually be a very efficient means of watering plants.
Nutrient Film Technique is essentially using a gutter system to water the plants. The plants are placed in a gutter or channel that is on a slight incline. From this the nutrient solution is pumped or poured at the top of the gutter and filters down the channel past all the plants. By this means the plants absorb the nutrients and water necessary at the time of watering. A main factor of this means of hydroponics is that the plants are not in a growing medium, therefore special attention needs to be paid to the plants and making sure that the roots of the plants do not get dried out and cause them to die.
Passive techniques are typically the slowest and lowest maintenance hydroponic systems. In these systems plants are held in a growing medium partially. The bottom of the roots dangle into the nutrient solution and draw up nutrients and water whenever they require. The addition to this form of hydroponics is the use of an air pump. This system has no pumping in and out of the water, therefore air needs to be pumped in to feed the roots of the plant system.
This is just a small tip of the iceberg when it comes to hydroponics. As I said earlier I give the credit to this knowledge mostly to http://www.hydroponicsonline.com. For a greater depth of the knowledge the site has a set of tutorials that I have read through that goes into a good amount of depth on hydroponics systems and I highly recommend it to those who are unfamiliar with hydroponics. The tutorials can be found here.
After undergoing this investigation into making candles out of tallow and other materials it began imperative towards the end of this quest to look into the economics of the venture. I decided to look into the four different types of candles that I made during the process and see how they compared to each other price wise. I held certain things constant in this situation. All candles are to be a total of 1 pound when completed. They are assumed to use approximately six inches of candle wick. Also the candles that use fragrance, also called essential oils, are assumed to use 5 drops. Finally, the candles that use beeswax are assumed to use 14 ounces of tallow and 1.75 ounces of beeswax, as accurate as I could be when making candles this size. The following as a table to summarize the costs of the candles. Also I will follow the table with my prices for each ingredient for my calculations.
Beef Fat – $.88/ 1 lb
Salt – $3.38/16 0z
Wick – $2.79/ 6 ft
Essential Oil – $2.99/ .5 oz or 180 drops
Beeswax – $8 / 1 lb
In reflecting on the past parts of my investigation into tallow wax being used for candles, I was in a sort bothered by the lack of precision from the initial process. The candles were of different sizes due to imprecise pouring techniques of the candle associated with the first attempt at pouring the candles. With this in mind I decided that I needed to revisit the burning of the candles investigation.
To start this I took the candles which I had already constructed and individually remelted all off the candles and re-poured them into new containers. This time in the process I picked a line that was constant on all four containers and poured the wax up to that level to have an common candle size. Also for this test I decided to utilize a different wick type than in my original investigation. I originally used a wax type of candle that has a base that was glued into the bottom of the container. In the new candles I decided to use a cotton wick which had a small thread of zinc in the middle to add stability to the wick.
For my initial revisit I decided to do the 30 minute candle burn over again. Each candle was burned on its own for approximately 30 minutes with pictures being taken at the beginning, middle, and end of the time period.
After completing the burn I had several observations which were in line with my previous observations. To begin with the melted wax areas that the candles created aligned with the previous results. The candles without beeswax burned more wax and created a more horizontal burn radius. The candles with beeswax burned a smaller radius but burned deep into the candles. This is also where a new occurrence to the burns occurred. The beeswax and beeswax, the tallow with fragrance, and beeswax with fragrance, all burned their wax to such a great level that the wicks of the candles fell over. I believe this relates partially to the new wicks that I utilized for this portion of the experiment. Also I believe the lack of overall height that the candles have related directly to the wicks falling over and thus extinguishing the candles.
In addition to the burn area, the other factors of the 30 minute burn stayed constant. All candles exhibited the same features when it came to smell, generally a mild smell yet nothing overpowering. Also the tallow candles did exhibit a slight flickering of the flame during the 30 minute burn and the tallow and beeswax candles did not experience this. With these factors in mind I see the next step as being adding more wax to these candles and then making another long burn such as my previous six hour burn to confirm those results.
After working with my original tallow wax and burning it in different instances I decided to revisit the tallow making process. This occurred over two separate instances. The first attempt involved trying to use a meat grinder to streamline the cutting process of the fat. I purchased a hand crank meat grinder and began my try to grind the fat. This turned out to be a utter failure. The meat grinder works off of a corkscrew that sends the fat down a tube towards a blade where it gut cut and then forced through a series of holes out the end of the grinder. This did not work due to the fact that all friction was lost inside of the tube because the fat acted as a lubricant on the metal on the interior of the grinder and just caused the fat to spin and not get cut. I believe an electric grinder would work but that is outside of my finances for this investigation.
The second instance I decided to just repeat my original process and see if I could accomplish two things. One, a better set of documentation of the process, and two trying to get a greater yield from the fat by cutting the fat into as small of pieces as possible. So, I began with my original process.
The recipe I went by is found here.
To start the process I began by calling the meat markets found in my local grocery store. I finally found a butcher who still had fat left so I purchased 3.5 lbs of beef fat from him for about $3.07. After this I began my prep work of the fat. The recipe called for ground fat and the store I bought the fat from told me the could not grind it for me for fear of cross contamination. So I preceded to cutting the beef fat into small cubes and strips. In total I cut about 3.5 lbs of fat in a little under an hour. After this I filled a pot with the beef fat and then added water till all the beef was covered. The last addition to the pot was three and a half tablespoons of salt.
At this point the pot went onto the stove. I then began boiling the mixture and turned the heat down to a simmer soon after. At this point the mixture was left to simmer for approximately 45 minutes as the recipe recommended 10 minutes per pound of fat. At the 45 minutes mark I noticed a marked change in the water to almost a yellow tint which I assumed to be the tallow.
I then strained out the chunks of gristle and fat from the fat/water combination and disposed of them in the compost. Next, I let the liquid cool down to room temperature. Once at room temperature, saran wrap was placed over the top and the mixture was left in the fridge to harden. I periodically checked on the mixture every hour or so and after about six or seven hours a thick layer of white fat had accumulated on the top.
I removed the pot out of the fridge and began carefully removing the fat from the pot. It had condensed into a layer about a half an inch thick on the top with a murky water mixture below it. After rinsing the fat pieces off with cold water I placed them in a freezer bag and then in the freezer for safe keeping. The next major task is disposing of the murky water. THE WATER IS NOT TO BE POURED DOWN THE SINK. I poured its contents into an empty margarita mix bottle with a funnel, and judging by how quickly the funnel clogged, one can only imagine how quickly the sink drain would clog.