Building Communities with Ferrocement

Initially, I had high-minded aspirations in my search for a better building system. My Yale architectural graduate thesis focused on low-cost, modular housing kit designs for Harlem, NY. While working on low-cost housing production in 1970’s Jamaica, I had firsthand experience of the technical issues involved with mass-producing hurricane & earthquake-resistant housing. (Anybody remember bagasse board? We used to make houses out of it!). The am‑cor Ferrocement System is competitive only because I developed it by applying a scientific, engineering based method of trial & error, and refinement through experimentation.

What I didn’t realize was how building with the System can affect individuals, bring them together, and create transformative, community experiences: it’s a “pure joy” moment, to witness a group of people stand back, look at what they’ve done together, and say:

Wow, we built that!”

Red Rock, OKUSA

I personally oversaw construction of an am‑cor casino for the Otoe Tribe of Missouria in Red Rock OK. I was given a crew of the young men of the tribe, who were without work and not at school. I could tell these guys were the least respected among the Tribe, their friends, and in their families.

The day before we assembled the am-cor casino Kit, we had our standard crew training. At the introductory session, each man told his personal story, watched the media presentation about the am‑cor Kit assembly process, and received his hard hat and am‑cor T-shirt.

Otoe Casino site

The next morning, I was at the site early and spoke with an excavator who was trenching for the casino sewer line. He drearily said, “Those Otoes, they don’t do anything.” Over by the offloaded am‑cor Kit were some cars parked in the early dawn light, engines running, windows fogged. I discovered this was my crew, reporting to work early, and actually very excited about building their own casino!

We worked together on Kit assembly, placing: wall panels, column sets, beams, roof panels, and trusses. I was completely surprised: in 2 weeks, this novice crew had completed the entire 18,000 sq.ft. (1700 m2) building shell! It was perfectly plumb and square, and ready for finishing. Concrete was ordered, and the panels were embedded in the foundation and floor slab. Our progress shots were submitted to the Tribe.

Several days later, the photos had been enlarged and placed in the Tribal Office. Amidst daguerreotypes of the Tribal Elders were new, brightly colored shots of these young men, on ladders, scaffolds, carrying panels, placing trusses using scissors lifts, and fastening panels together: a picture of the present alongside the tribal past.

At our Casino Dry-In celebration, I heard similar stories from many of my crew members: they were ebullient with their success and they had shown their wives, mothers, girlfriends how they could build a huge building to help the Tribe.

I suddenly realized how important this project was to them. It was more than just a cool new building; it was a symbol of their newfound self-respect! Suddenly these young men no longer thought of themselves as idlers or quitters, and they could picture a personal future of success and achievement.

Like an old fashioned barn raising, building the Casino united the community, closed the so-called generation gap, and created an atmosphere of ownership and contribution to the community among am‑cor crew members. Because the building went up so quickly and easily, my crew also had a sense of immediate-gratification: in those 2 weeks of construction, they suddenly became appreciated and respected, and thereby respected themselves as well.

Montego Bay, Jamaica, WI

Our first am‑cor Ferrocement Kit was an addition to a luxury villa. The mason hired by the villa owner to assemble our Kit actually sabotaged the job. He not only removed critical imported supplies from the site, but he also instructed his crew NOT to show up for our training session. For several days we tried to work with him and re-schedule the assembly. Finally, I hired my own work crew: young Jamaican men who were out of work in a stagnant island economy. Like my Otoe crew, they understood the process immediately and intuitively.

We assembled the 2 1/2 story 2,500 sq.ft. addition in record time, coated it with amcorite Ferrocement, and were ready for finish coat, services and interiors in 5 days.

amcorite Ferrocement wall application

The am‑cor Kit stood out on the hillside while it was being coated, a silver framework glinting in the setting sun. Apparently it was such an unusual sight that traffic stopped on the coast road in the afternoon. There was a stream of cars coming up the hill from the coast road full of friends and family to see the structure during construction. My crew told their families, girlfriends, and buddies how they had built a villa in 5 days. (It’s not unusual for luxury villa construction in Jamaica to take 2-3 years!)

The young men who worked with me, and saved the day in terms of project schedule, were happy and proud of their achievement. Normally they would be lucky to even have a menial job like carrying hod for a mason, without the chance of bettering their position. In their minds, they saw a new kind of career; they had actually framed up a house in a week, something that usually takes months of back-breaking masonry work.

My am‑cor System was approved by the Jamaica Bureau of Standards for earthquake and hurricane resistant construction. We went on to build hotel, restaurant, tourist villa, and housing types in Jamaica. We finished structures which normally took 3 years to build in less than 8 months; everything built over the summer, ready for occupancy at the beginning of the winter tourist season.

You can see pictures of the finished villas in the am‑cor website’s Galleries.

Low-cost am‑cor Kit assembly

My dream

I am happy too! It has been my lifelong dream to create a beautiful, affordable, durable home and living environment for the common man. People used to say “Wyman is such a dreamer”, and clients would say, “Angus, we love the look of your designs, but they are too expensive”.

I’ve been working on a solution to the “housing problem” for the majority of my career, and Ferrocement in particular for about 20 years. In order to create a healthy happy home environment, I had to immerse myself in physics and chemistry, subjects which were not my strong points in high school, and get back to the structural engineering which I took in college.

I had to dot the i’s and cross the t’s … and get it right, to come up with a viable construction method which fulfills all the criteria: beauty, affordability, scalability, disaster resistance and durability, to provide truly healthy happy homes! This took years, almost a lifetime – but it’s truly gratifying to witness the pride and self-respect that people feel after they’ve put up an am‑cor Kit.

I saw this transformation in the young men of the Otoe tribe, and my Jamaican crew. I want to bring this experience to the people & communities of Haiti!

Haiti FerroFacility

We are presenting our System to President elect Martelly, as a way to educate Haitians how to build their own hurricane and earthquake resistant homes and communities. Our proposal outlines a program to house over 100,000 people within 100 days, throughout the rural regions of Haiti, at a base cost of $US 69/person. The program includes a Zero-energy am‑cor FerroFacility house factory, with permanent, sustainable employment for over 2,700 people. The new face of Haiti will be constructed by Haitians and owned by Haitians!

The Haiti FerroFacility will attract worldwide attention from other governments and countries as the way out of economic stagnation: an economically viable road to self-determined prosperity and stability.

Florida Environmental Community

Clermont, FL is in the process of issuing industrial bonds to build an am‑cor Environmental Community: a Zero-carbon, post-oil, totally green and sustainable mixed use & planned community, integrating:

  • Industrial, retail, office, community, and apartments
  • Solar power generation, solar air conditioning, solar heating & hot water
  • Rainwater catchment & purification
  • Solar powered wastewater treatment

There is already positive response to our leases which include “free” utilities as well as free electrical car recharging. This community will prove that existing technology and integrated architectural and engineering design can lower Carbon emissions & create an economically viable, truly American fossil-fuel-free lifestyle!

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Comments: 1

By Rich Redles on 10.08.2011 14:27

This is exactly what the world needs more of. State of the art technology and experience combining to yield exceptional results that truly change the way we build and think. With an eye on the past but moving forward we learn, change, and make substantial progress for our mutual benefit. This technology does just that.

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