Villa de Leyva, Boyacá: The House that Octavio Built…

“un obrero es aquel que trabaja con sus manos; un artesano el que trabaja con sus manos y su inteligencia; pero, un artista es el que trabaja con sus manos, su inteligencia y su corazón”.

He who works with his hands is a labourer  He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

As the rain poured down in Villa de Leyva, Octavio Mendoza dreamt of building a house from the earth. In 1999, a year of chaos in Colombia, he dreamed of forging his own chaos, a positive chaos… a constructive chaos in the face of national loss and destruction.

18 years and 400 tonnes of mud later, stands Casa Terracota. The greatest single piece of ceramic on the planet. A surrealist palace of 5 floors, hidden away in the recesses of Boyacá. A fusion of artisanship and architecture, packaged up into a dream geared not towards the sky but rooted firmly in the soil beneath his feet…

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Casa Terracota, Villa de Leyva, Boyacá. Colombia

The House that Octavio built is a return to our terrestrial nature. After all, we are all creatures of the mud. We work for the earth and the earth works for us. A reciprocal relationship that many have relegated to the shadows…

“As time moves forwards, we have forgotten what it means to be grounded. Literally. Building, constructing… living, has become less and less human. Architecture has lost its soul”. He continues.

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“It has become a product, monopolised by the University yuppie. A craft in which we are no longer willing to get our hands dirty… where we don’t even use our hands at all.” He runs his leathery palm along the soft clay in the kitchen.

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“The same is true with mud-building practices here in Colombia. In the campo, more often than not, the mud has become cold. It has lost its character, its pulse… its beating heart”.

By this, Octavio refers to the commercialisation of adobe… the churning out of mud-brick upon mud-brick upon mud-brick. Each brick, evenly shaped, evenly weighted, evenly dense… geometric perfection.

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“…But what if you could live inside just one brick? What if everything you needed could be forged within the veins of the brick itself? What if we experimented with the malleability of the earth instead of reducing it to the four corners of a casting block? What if we reclaimed natural forms – the ripples, the curves, the asymmetry – instead of rejecting them?”

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‘What if we reclaimed natural forms – the ripples, the curves, the asymmetry – instead of rejecting them?’

In this pursuit, Octavio dedicates himself to working exclusively with the four elements – EARTH and WATER to create form, FIRE and AIR to cook, harden and sustain it. “This is the only building that needs to be burned!” he laughs, “In my case, fire constructs… fire builds.”

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With his humble yet magnificent creation, Octavio offers a new model. A low-resource, low-cost permacultural vision. The thermic properties of mud retain the heat of the day, to conquer cold of the night. As the rain falls, the building smoothens. As the sun beats down on the walls, the building hardens. With time, the Casa de Terracotta improves and strengthens. In this sense, it in perfect dialogue with Nature.

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