El Fuerte is one of the municipalities of Sinaloa, containing a population of 97,536 people. It is located on the last delta of Sinaloa, in the proximity with the East Mountains and plains of Sonora, Mexico. Two important dams belong to this area (Miguel Hidalgo and Josefa Ortiz). The geomorphology of the region could be summed up like: mountains, plains, vegetation and water.
Don Juan and his wife Socorro, both over 80 years old, live on the “Hill of the Mask”. They are the guardians of an archaeological site formed by stone-glyphs craved more than 1,000 years ago. They keep the record of the visitors and provide them with information of the place. Their house might look modest and simple at first; however, if we take a second sight, we realize that it is a dwelling able to survive independently of any inputs except those of its immediate environment. Throughout the years they have been living surrounded by an environment with temperatures up to 40 Celsius degrees (summer) on what might be taken as a hostile landscape, only few miles away from the services of El Fuerte, the biggest town of the municipality.
The house is placed on a hill, a landscape deprived from electricity, drainage and sewage, the basic infrastructures of contemporary dwellings, the symbols of progress. The house reminds me the work of Brenda and Robert Vale (2000); they have developed the concept of “the autonomous house”, a house that is not linked to the main services of gas, water, electricity or drainage, but instead uses the main services of sun, wind and rain to service itself and process its own wastes. They argue that on the autonomous house the resources can be collected on its site and the technology that is uses to harvest these resources are simple, robust and controllable by the occupants of the house, “…a design that was simple and could be controlled and repaired by the users, as well as one that minimized environmental impact and energy use.” (Vale B, Vale R, 2000, p. 34)
In terms of sustainability, the placement and distribution of the house is the first aspect to consider when “reading the building”. There is an interesting incorporation of shading and natural ventilation, a separation of the social-public from the private areas and an interaction between the interior and the exterior. It is an adaptation of the house to the landscape, some tree trunks have the function of supporting columns (see picture above). Regarding water and energy consumption, this house has two external areas containing the laundry and cooking activities. On the outside, covered underneath a light wood structure, a wood cooking stove and a stone slab for laundry serve the dwellers.
We witness a dwelling assisted by the basic raw materials coming from the immediate environment: wood from the surrounding vegetation and a small water well providing sanitation. This home lacks electricity; Don Juan and Doña Socorro make the most of the natural light although they have a couple of gas lamps for darkness. They have the possibility to develop basic crops for food on their terrain but it is important to say that their children and relatives supply them with some products brought from El Fuerte.
This house is simple, understandable, available for maintenance and repair and therefore more adaptable. Don Juan and Doña Socorro live their lives surrounded by nature, on a dwelling that provides a healthy lifestyle. In addition, they are devoted to the protection of an interesting archaeological site; their work is transcendental to the cultural preservation of El Fuerte. Perhaps this house is not going to the coffee table books or magazines portraying “ecological design”, but it is one of the finest example of a sustainable home and lifestyle that I have ever seen.