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Meet the sisters championing clean construction techniques by getting their hands dirty

In Uruguay, two sisters have taken a sustainable approach to building houses
In Uruguay, two sisters have taken a sustainable approach to building houses Copyright Nacho Larumbe
Copyright Nacho Larumbe
By Sharifah Fadhilah AlshahabNacho Larumbe
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SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world that are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

Technological advances have had an enormous impact on the building and construction sectors. New tools and materials are making it easier and faster to build a house. However, some of these technological breakthroughs have brought along ecological costs to the environment. High levels of radioactivity and toxicity are just some of the issues affecting the building sector. Two sisters in Uruguay have adopted a unique approach to building homes for themselves and their community.

A unique way to build

"Bio-construction is a way of building with the resources of nature," Bettina Midon tells SCENES. "We create spaces built with mud. It is a material that keeps the humidity inside the house very well [and, it keeps] the house warm in winter and cool in summer," Bettina explains. 

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Bio-construction utilises the properties of natural materials to build eco-friendly homesNacho Larumbe

For such a relationship based on a natural environment to flourish, it is necessary to scrutinise the surrounding elements.

"Observing the soil in this space, how it behaves with the rain, whether it is soft or hard soil. How the sun rises in the morning, whether it receives the sun directly or not. Knowing that in winter the sun will be lower, in the summer the sun will be higher, I will know where the best place is for the windows," Bettina says. 

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Florencia Midon started building with her sister when their house house burned down and needed reconstructionNacho Larumbe

Adapting home-design to nature

The sisters' method of designing and building homes not only preserves the nature surrounding the house but also integrates it into the home's layout.

As children, the sisters participated in folklore fairs known as 'Aparcerías', where they learned traditional construction techniques.

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The sisters' first encounter with building using mud at folklore fairs they used to go as childrenNacho Larumbe

"Those are spaces where you can work with mud. They used the technique used by our gauchos, our natives," Florencia Midon explains.

Later, as young adults, disaster struck. Their home had accidentally caught fire and burned down. The sisters applied the knowledge they had acquired as children to rebuild the house that they affectionately called Casa Iris.

An all-women building workshop

Although it was their first proper building project, their work was the talk of the local area, so much so that neighbours were keen to learn too.

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The Midon sisters started a workshop to empower women who want to build their own homesNacho Larumbe

The sisters loved the idea and decided to start a workshop to empower other women like them. "The purpose of the workshop is to enable girls to build their own houses, create their own spaces, and feel confident that they can do it by themselves," Florencia explains.

“Power of the group”

The workshop is just what Deborah Mello needed. She had been thinking about building her own home but required guidance. The workshop gave her more than just the skills to accomplish her dream.

"The experience was one of great connections with other women who needed to build their own homes just like me," Deborah says. 

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After the workshop, many women go on to building their own homes or join the bio-construction industryNacho Larumbe

Like her, other workshop participants also feel the community spirit. "I learned many things in the workshop, but the most important for me is the power of the group. The power of working cooperatively. To understand that eight women were able to transform an empty space is the most important thing," Jen Calabuig explains. 

“Grab the tools and do it”

For a seasoned bio-builder, this process of building feels like second nature. "When I finish a house, I feel like I have closed a cycle. I feel calm. I feel grateful. I feel that I was able to complete the entire process and all the challenges that space brings," Florencia tells SCENES. Even the women, who are in the process of learning, echo a similar sentiment. "When you build your own house, you put a lot of emotions into the process. You put in a lot of love," Deborah expresses, "When I finished, it was an indescribable pleasure," she adds.

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Participants say they gain valuable guidance and camaraderie from the workshopNacho Larumbe

Bettina and Florencia's goal has given these women the courage to dream big and not underestimate their own capabilities. "Some of them have built their own houses, and others have started working as bio-constructors. Many of them could never have imagined it," Bettina explains. 

The programme has a ripple effect as the women who attend it go on to teach other women in their communities. Florencia says, "Whatever your dreams are, just grab the tools and do it."

As sisters Bettina and Florencia look ahead, they aim to continue organising seminars to equip women with the knowledge and confidence to reach their full potential.

Additional sources • Monazza Asif Farooqui

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