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Houses in Heaven are made of steel : understanding change in Ecuadorian amazon Secoya structures

By Gabriel Arboleda


This thesis explores the change in the building structures of a Northeastern Ecuadorian group, the Secoya of the Aguarico River. In the context of environmental activism and cultural survival there are many reasons to lament major alterations in the Secoya's lifestyle in recent years. One of the most visible transformations experienced by this group is the abandonment of several traditional architectural types, including the Jaihub'e or communitarian longhouse. The thesis focuses on understanding the forces that have influenced the Secoya decision to adopt the Zinc House type, a metallic-roofed individual housing unit. These include change in their economic systems, depletion of the natural resources necessary for traditional construction, Western cultural pressure, difficulty to adapt the traditional structures to a modern life, and finally a historical predisposition to change. In short, the Secoya changed firstly because everything around changed, leaving them with no other option, and secondly because, simply, human beings naturally tend to change. The change was meaningful for the Secoya because many building practices that were actively linked to social life were abandoned. It was meaningful for us outsiders because our expectations of an exotic culture were left unfulfilled when it changed. However, rather than the loss of another indigenous culture, what the case illuminates is the nature of our own expectations, those conforming to an urban, pop mythology regarding sustainability. We should follow the Secoya example and change our own urban mythology, because our mythology wrongly overvalues cultural idleness and nature as the means for guaranteeing sustainability;(cont.) it emphasizes that sustainability depends on resource saving rather than on social justice, and it believes that sustainable solutions are an universal panacea that invariably applies to every culture, geography and historical context. The thesis seeks to expand the frontier of architectural theory towards an unconventional scenario, that of the Upper Amazon, in a series of specific topics: First, it provides detailed knowledge on three typologies of ethnic interest, one of them aboriginal (locally originated), one indigenous (locally adapted) and one modern (neutral-global). Second, it offers historical knowledge about the evolution of the Upper Amazonian building tradition. Third, it discusses how myth and building structure interact in the Upper Amazonian traditional house. Fourth, it details the serious cultural implications of the abandonment of the traditional types. Five, it presents knowledge about the environmental and social factors contributing to the abandonment of those types. And six, it helps to develop awareness about our own urban myths on sustainability in the context of Gabriel Arboleda.Thesis (S.M.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Architecture, June 2005.Includes bibliographical references (p. 132-135)

Topics: Architecture.
Publisher: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Year: 2005
OAI identifier:
Provided by: DSpace@MIT

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