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                         ~  CASA MUCARO  ~

Casa Mucaro is my home.  It is named for my totem animal, the mucaro or Puerto Rican screech owl.  It is only heard after dark and is seldom seen.  I hear mucaros almost every night, but in over 35 years here I have only seen one in silhouette at sundown.  Welcome to the jungle.
El mucaro       JUNGLE RAINBOW       

For more house photos, see the following albums:

       Early House Photos          EARLY HOUSE PHOTOS

       More Recent Photos         More Recent Photos

       Most Recent Photos         Most Recent Photos

My home, Casa Mucaro, started out about 35 years ago as a plywood cabin on stilts with a tarpaper roof.  The plywood window covers hinged up like awnings and were held by prop sticks.  The cement part of the house eventually grew over the plywood cabin,  which can still be seen in interior views of the house. 

My goals at that time were to establish fruit orchards with a variety of foods.  I liked the idea of subsistence farming, especially since being an artist was another of my goals.  The words Poor-Starving-Artist always seem to be found together.  I prefer a life not based on money, but in reality it is very useful to have.  It frees up time for other things. 

What I have done with my time is mostly house building.  My parents built their own home in California out of adobe blocks.  I was raised here, two blocks from Los Angeles International Airport.
                                                FAMILY ADOBE HOME

I grew up in times fascinated with dome construction, thanks mostly to Buckminster Fuller.  The only domes that didn't crack and leak at joints were the ferro-cement domes, a technique also used in boat building.  The domed shapes were made of rebar bent to shape and held in place by tie wires where the rebars intersect.  Three layers of chicken wire were traditionally used over the rebar to make a plasterable mesh .  The resulting walls are about 1 1/2 inch thick.  

We have hurricanes here in Puerto Rico.  The old architecture used wood and galvanized roofing material.  Most homes are now built out of cement block walls, with thick concrete slab ceilings.  They are heavy structures and require serious foundations. 

I like cement.  It's termite-proof, for one thing, and you don't destroy forests for it.  I don't know how ecology-friendly the rest of the industry is, but as a stone-like material cement has lots of potential uses.   We produce cement here on the island.  Anything that reduces outside dependency provides us with some cushion in global hard times.

We import about 95% of our food here in Puerto Rico.  Becoming more food self-reliant as an individual helps Puerto Rico to be more self-reliant, also.  In a worst case scenario if our food imports stopped, I think we would have sufficient panic to justifying a little more planning now. 

A flat cracker breaks more easily than a curved egg shell.  Part of that is because complex curvature makes the rounded shape stronger than the flat one.  One can make a domed cement roof with less material than a flat roof.  The walls can be thinner.  A much smaller foundation is needed, if any foundation is needed at all.  Even if a wall is undermined, it might not crack and fall apart like a heavier structure would. 

While looking for ways to plaster the ground with a thin layer of cement, I hit upon the idea of using nylon fishnet instead of chicken wire as the mesh material.  On the ground, fishnet won't rust like chicken wire will, which often destroys the cement as the rust expands.  It is also a lot more flexible than chicken wire is.  Fishnet will adapt to cover any shape carved into the ground. 

One experiment led to the next and soon I was considering what I could do with this "nylon-cement" material.  Supported by rebar above ground, it replaces chicken wire in ferro-cement construction.  On the ground, a 1/4  inch layer of nylon-cement over shapes in carved earth can provide floors, patios, stairs, ponds, septic tanks, and other things.  Below ground it can be used to line tunnels, if the earth permits tunneling at all.  Fortunately, the ground here proved suitable for tunneling. 

Those were exciting times.  I figured out how to meet many of my survival needs thanks to nylon-cement.  I even made a toilet and hand-powered washing machine out of it.  As a sculptor, building this house has been a dream-like experience of imagining shapes and then making them happen.  The materials are flexible to meet almost any design need. 

Growth has been organic, adapting flexibly to needs.  Some guiding principles were kept in mind, but mostly on-the-spot designing was going on all the time.  A team of men building a house from plans finishes a house in a few days it seems and then you get to experience the house.  I was experiencing it as it slowly grew, trying it out and making changes as I went.  If the walls were too close, I untied the wires and reshaped the rods.  I found where I needed to hang tools and made rings for hanging things built into the structure of the house.  If things are in the way, you can always hang them from the ceiling.

Eventually, the structure was ready for plastering.  The water content of the mix is important.  Different jobs call for different consistencies. 

At first, I used a technique I no longer use.  Trying to imitate chicken wire, I soaked pieces of fishnet in cement and water.  Working in late afternoon, I put it in buckets, climbed the structure, and draped it on the rod structure of the house like wet clothes to dry.  It rigidified like chicken wire by morning.  Toward the center of the domed roof, I used temporary bamboo columns from the ground to support me and the weight of the cement.

Plastering was done from the ground up.  The outside was plastered as high as I could reach on the first day.  The inside of that was plastered the next day.  On the third day, I stood on a drum outside and reached higher up.  Alternating inside and outside days for plastering, I eventually reached the center of the dome. 

The house is a cluster of domes, kind of like soap suds.  That was my model in those days, a sort of organic cellular growth.  Today, extending my architectural vision into city construction, I also see termite nests as being useful models.  

House construction has had a very good side benefit to me in that it kept my body well exercised.  A sedentary lifestile leads to various health problems.  A comunity of builders would have a bit of health insurance built into their lifestyle.  If children were taught to build their own schools, they would certainly be competent builders by the time they graduated.  They would also be more self-sufficient as adults in terms of producing things they need. 

The tuna factory that was my source of used fishnet has moved somewhere where labor is cheaper, so free fishnet is no longer available to me.  That seems to be timing out nicely, because I'm about 60 now anyway, and it seems reasonable to retire sometime.  The guesthouse I am working on now may be the last major construction I build myself.  I have big dreams, though, so future consulting is not out of the question.

I see the keys to success here as being tools, materials, and knowhow.  Learn all you can.   Practice it.

Click here for more information about nylon-cement.

Click here for more information about a simple technique for painting rebar and getting better longevity for your construction.