Interview with Karla Paz

Eco-Effective Architecture Workshop 2016

Feb. 2016 | Conducted/Edited by Juliet Sakyi-Ansah, OBO The Architects’ Project | Mode: Open questionnaire via online communications

Eco-Effective Architecture 2016 Official Poster

Karla Paz [KP] is a Building Engineer-Technical Architect with more than 10 years of professional experience gained within the construction sector as Project and Construction Manager in both U.K. and Spain. She specialises in Sustainable Architecture and International Cooperation for Development. We [The Architects’ Project] met Karla at tap: Exchange 4.2 — Transcultural Praxis in December 2015 at The CASS in London.

Karla’s main reason for taking part in both the workshop and the seminar organised by myself [JS-A] and volunteers within the #tap network was to expand her knowledge and network for her next project: Eco-Effective Architecture Workshop in Abetenim, Ghana. I was keen to find out about what was motivating Karla to conceive a project in a location that is socially and culturally disconnected from what she is familiar with.

In this interview, Karla and I embrace the opportunity to discuss the meaningfulness of Eco-Effective Architecture Workshop. For #tap, we begin a new form of dialogue with our network by engaging directly with those who are actively participating in subjects of interest to The Architects’ Project agenda.

JS-A: Can you describe the prototype workshop Eco-Effective Architecture: what is it about?

KP: Based on eco-effective architecture the goal of the workshop is to develop an engineered solution that is most effective in its context; has a positive impact on both the environment and the community; and with technology that can be replicated locally. In order to achieve the best results, the workshop has been divided into four main stages.

EEA Prototype: Local empowerment [Akan Symbol for knowledge and life-long education]

LEARNING: where the prototype team will enjoy a deep engagement with the community through respectful observations and cooperative processes to be able to carry out accurate on-site analysis of local needs, initiatives, traditions, landscapes, resources and climatology. In return, seminars on the theory of eco-effective architecture will be provided to the local project team.

DESIGNING: collaborative approach where decisions are taken by the team, with some predefined strategies that reflect the workshop motto for the prototype process (free clean water, air, soil and power; up-cycling of materials, cycle-of-life-thinking, zero waste, local empowerment, bio-climatic responses and low cost strategies.

EEA Prototype: Up-cycled materials [floor]

BUILDING: This is a hands-on, full-on site-specific workshop experience; it promises high-impact learning practices and experience for personal development for both the local and international participants. Some of the evenings will be used to review the construction progress, along with informal discussions and presentations by the workshop leader, local community and international participants.

MONITORING: This stage will be led by myself and a group of individuals from the local community at the end of the Building period. We will measure the footprint of the project using indicators selected strategically based on critical activities, goals and needs.

EEA Prototype: Bioclimatic analysis [psychometric chart/adaptive comfort]

JS-A: What made you contextualise the workshop in Abetenim Ghana; which came first — you wanting to take on a project like this or you wanting to create an intervention at this particular site?

KP: My main reason for going to Ghana is related to my upcoming role as Project Manager for the construction of a secondary school in the community of Abetenim [project led by NKA Foundation]. While researching about the village, I discovered the daily challenges faced by this rural community due to the insufficient electrical supply, precarious access to clean water, architectonical pathologies in traditional buildings, economic development limitations, environmental issues, etc. After examining all these factors, I felt I could bring a dynamic perspective not only to the project but to the empowerment process.

The true technical and personal convincement of the positive impact that the prototype will have on the Abetenim community is so strong that I have taken the intricate decision to resign from my job as a Project Manager in London in order to transform my profession into a responsible mission; and my passion into tangible actions.

JS-A: Do you believe this can only happen in Abetenim? How is it related to development elsewhere?

KP: A prototype like this has to be specific about its locality. I do believe that we [the workshop team] will arrive at more ingeniously indigenous solutions by letting the community be the guide. Some solutions implemented in Abetenim can have global benefits and applications if replicated in other locations but it is important to remember that the social context and the environment are the main protagonists when designing for development. Every scenario is unique and should be treated as so. The correct approach begins with a deep scientific analysis and only after proving the effectiveness of a determinate strategy can the implementation of a mimicked one successfully take place.

At this point, I would like to highlight that the concept of an off-grid house that has a positive footprint around it is not just a solution for the so-called developing countries, but for the whole world. It is about UP-cycling, providing more diversity, safety, health and equity; it is about enjoying the abundance, not depleting it.

EEA Prototype: Input-Output

JS-A: In your project profile, you advocate that “eco-effectiveness is a positive agenda for conception and production of architecture that incorporates social, environmental benefit, enabling triple top line growth”. Can you tell us more about this and how it relates to your site for this workshop?

KP: We tend to mix up two nuclear concepts: the efficiency (sustainability) and the effectiveness; relaying on the first one to minimise its negative impact and inherently making a sub-optimal system more efficient by curtailing how much “bad” it produces. This is actually a dangerous strategy because it encourages us to stick to what has been poorly designed.

EEA Prototype: Design analysis [Effectiveness pyramid]

Let us take a tree as an example, thousands of blossoms for one seed to eventually fall onto the ground, take root, and grow. Someone can think that this process is inefficient and wasteful. But the tree makes copious blossoms and fruits without depleting its environment. Once they fall on earth, their materials decompose and break down into nutrients that nourish microorganisms, insects, plants, animals, and the earth itself. In fact, the tree’s fecundity nourishes just about everything around it. The marvelous thing about effective systems like trees is that one wants more of them, not less. And here is where this prototype has its roots.

During all stages of the prototyping process analysis, design, construction and monitoring the ecology-economy-equity pyramid will be used as a tool to specify or vet materials and systems. I do believe that this eco-effective agenda is a must for any developing context including Abetenim, not only as a prevention tool to avoid falling into the same mistakes that “developed” parts of the world have done, but as a catalyst for innovation, diversity, opportunities, culture, self-sufficiency, symbiosis with environment and economy.

If houses were designed; to be easily built with local raw materials or up-cycled technological materials; to not only provide a healthy and safe shelter but to supply free renewable energy and free clean water; to manage “waste”; to grow their own food; and to definitively have a positive impact, the triple line of growth [social-environmental-economical] will be ensured and a true development would be happening.

JS-A: Can you summarise for us what your thoughts are about the physical manifestation of your project on ‘un-experienced’ territory?

KP: I would rather answer this question in August when the prototype is completed and I am not an ‘Obroni’ in Abetenim anymore.

Eco-Effective Architecture Workshop takes place from 1st June to 30th July 2016, in Abetenim Ghana. Find out more on Facebook and Blogspot or contact Karla Paz by Email.

Notes: The words and images in this article are from Karla Paz unless stated. Karla remains responsible for what she has chosen to share with us.

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Juliet Sakyi-Ansah

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Architect & Research Scholar

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research + design-related activities relevant to, and informing