Natural and vernacular building techniques have roots in every culture around the world, but share the distinction of using local materials, being energy efficient, and having a low ecological footprint. Only during the past century have natural building methods been replaced by the construction industry which is characterized by an unsustainable sourcing of non-renewable resources, energy inefficient design, and a huge carbon footprint.
Natural building techniques allows individuals to use their hands and feet to form earth mixed with sand and straw, a sensory and aesthetic experience similar to sculpting with clay. Natural building is easy to learn, inexpensive to build, and lends itself to organic shapes such as curved walls, arches and niches. Earth homes are cool in summer and warm in winter and maximize the capture of natural sources of energy. Natural building methods don´t contribute to deforestation, pollution or mining nor depend on manufactured materials or power tools. In this age of environmental degradation, dwindling natural resources, and chemical toxins hidden in our homes, doesn’t it make sense to return to nature’s most abundant, cheap and healthy building material?
The challenge to find ways to adjust the demands of our communities so that they fit into the greater balance of the Lake ecosystem is exacerbated by unique demographic factors as well as the attractiveness of the Lake as a tourist destination.
The profit sector of modern mass culture has loaded the Lake environment with products to promote material progress without considering the serious side effects. The indigenous communities that inhabit the Lake, and the outsiders who increasingly call it home, are just beginning to appreciate the consequences.
With the alarm having sounded, today there are many organizational actors which play active roles in preserving the Lake as a healthy, living entity. These include international, national and local environmentally-focused groups directly engaged in the dynamics of protecting the Lake ecosystem. Still, there is a good deal of “catching up” to do, and the Utz’ K’aslimaal Collective is one of these actors joining the effort to design ecological forms of livelihood that respect the natural limitations and boundaries of the land itself.
All of the structures built on the land are made from locally available, natural materials. In the long term, we hope to build a center to launch a diverse array of educational programs that allow Western people to learn from indigenous people, engage in exchanges of mutual solidarity, and offer a new standard of tourism that involves and values the local community, culture, and environment.
The migration of young people to North American is a huge issue affecting the local community. Many young people choose to migrate in order to raise money to build a modern home of their own which can be prohibitively expensive. Through helping young people to discover the vernacular, beautiful and natural methods of construction, we also hope to add a small contribution towards helping young Tz´utujil people stay in their communities.
These activities range from hearing from and dining with local ancestral leaders and spiritual authorities, to spending a day touring the Lake by boat and visiting different towns to see magnificent examples of the very natural building methods you have been learning about and putting into practice. Of course, if you would rather just relax and enjoy your pleasant lodging accommodations, or meander around Santiago Atitlan and enjoy a cup of coffee or beer, you are more than welcome to do so. Nevertheless, we from the Utz’ K’aslimaal Collective, want to make sure that you have every opportunity to enjoy the immense natural and cultural beauty of Lake Atitlan.