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TOPIC: 2010: Scaling Up, The Visitor's Center
July 21st, 2010

Construction has commenced!

Settling on the major design decisions meant that we were able to get started with construction. Our group divided into two teams to tackle the most pressing tasks: laying mudbrick for the walls and framing the window and door openings.

We used a fire line of every available body to move a pile of bricks closer to our foundation and then had a quick lesson on how to lay mudbrick. We grabbed trowels, bricks and gloves, and sent a few from the team to mix mud.  As novice bricklayers, we found ourselves occasionally replacing rows, re-mixing mortar, and chipping away at malformed bricks. Eventually, though, we became more facile with using the plumb bob and recognizing the desired Jello-O pudding consistency of mud mortar. And course by course, our walls continued to rise.

Meanwhile, the wood team was hard at work constructing the frames for the windows and doors. Restricted to mortise and tenon joints (no nails or glue), the work was slow and required a fair amount of “figuring.” As soon as the frames were complete, we integrated them into the thick wall construction and laid brick around them.

As our skills improved, so did our pace, and within a few days the walls reached a height too tall even for our vertically endowed Norwegian. A few bricklayers peeled off from the group to construct Ladakhi style scaffolding.

With design/build projects like ours, the designs continue to develop during construction. Our skylight, cabinetry, window, and porch teams have been busy at work fleshing out ideas and designs, sometimes staying up late into the night to complete drawings. With each new detail, we have to be sure we can continue to build without affecting the walls.

Meanwhile, a team of dedicated wood carvers began creating a beautiful design on the feature pine timber beam that will be dividing the entry space from the gallery space.  Drawing from traditional symbols like the lotus flower, the beam will have a different motif on each side, providing a touch of handcrafted ornament to the space.

As we approached the height of the concrete bond beam, a rebar crew began forming the rebar cages for the beam. We tried the Ladakhi tools of rock and mallet for cutting through rebar to make sticks and stirrups, but found greater success with a hack saw and several dozen blades. We did, however, use the traditional method of bending steel rebar using a pipe and a log full of short, rigid sticks of rebar. Finally with a bent nail, a willow measuring stick, fine wire and a lot of patience, we tied together long rebar cages for the reinforcement of the concrete bond beam.

With lots of anticipation and excitement, we made the final preparations for the big milestone thus far in the project: pouring the concrete bond beam. Facing a 12-hour day of hard work, we all got to bed early, no doubt dreaming of rebar cages, formwork, and endless concrete mixing.

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TOPIC: 2010: Scaling Up, The Visitor's Center
July 21st, 2010