Adobe bricks, mezcal and the arid landscape of Oaxaca´s Central Valley

  • Location:
    Agua del Espino, San Martín Lachilá, San Agustín Amatengo Ejutla, Valles Centrales – Oaxaca, México
  • Date:
    2019
  • Team:
    Enlace Arquitectura, ReThink Foundation, Biñ Yu initiative, Miguel Salas and University of Toronto Harvard University
  • Photography:
    Enlace Arquitectura
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Year  2017-2020

Mexico´s Southwest region has a very rich cultural heritage and is defined by impressive natural and cultural resources. However, it significantly lags behind the rest of the country in terms of economic growth and prosperity.

Over the past decade the Central Valley of Oaxaca has become known for the production of mezcal, which is an intensely laborious and hand-crafted process that ferments and distills the pines of agave plants into high-proof alcohol. Even though mezcal has been around for centuries, it has acquired a newly awakened appreciation that has taken it to global markets. If properly managed, this could represent a valuable opportunity to reinvest economic gains in the community, improve agriculture production, encourage social inclusion and recuperate environmental conditions.

One such opportunity comes through the use of mezcal´s waste products which can be used to make adobe bricks. Bagazo is a fibrous substance derived from the agave pines and vinaza is an acidic liquid that is left behind during the distillation process. 95% of the mezcal makers in Oaxaca, currently dispose of vinaza by throwing it into the ground. Given its high acidic content (pH3.3), it contaminates the water table. For every liter of mezcal, 13 liters of vinaza are produced; 10,000 liters to a mezcal produce 130,000 liters of acid that need to find a clean way of being eliminated. Bagazo is benign to the environment and can be used as an effective fertilizer. When combined with earth bagazo and vinaza create adobe bricks that are stronger and more seismically-resistant than their traditional counterparts. COAA and architect Alejandro Montes are currently making adobe bricks with mezcal´s waste in Matatlán, and his methodology could be replicated in other townships to create new local economies.

Another important component of the project is the reforestation of the valley and common land. Due to the demand for wood used to cook the agave pines, there has been a steady depletion of the forest which has been to the detriment of the communities in terms of harsher dry seasons, less rain and an ever-decreasing water table. Together with Foundation Harp Helu we have begun an alliance to replant 15 hectares of land in the rainy season of 2020.