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December 5, 2012

In this series, trace the story of lamesadevenn, a green live/work space in Santa Fe, New Mexico, created for two community groups, La Mesita and La Resolana. Rather than simply becoming a building that addresses the structural needs of the groups, lamesadevenn seeks to embody their values of sustainability, experiential education, and community involvement. Part 6: The Foundation.

Twenty-seven months, thousands of late night studio hours, hundreds of intercontinental emails, several bottles of cheap whiskey, dozens of increasingly strained community conversations, a handful of visits from the county inspectors, and one tenuous construction loan later, lamesadevenn’s hallmark Rancho project finally broke ground.

lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
Excavating for most residential foundations takes a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. Due to the expansive soils and the lamesadevenn collaborative’s desire to mitigate erosion by impeding rain runoff, the bulldozers were chomping for nearly a month. In Santa Fe, earthwork averages around $800 a month, but through some dealing with two amenable local contractors, Su Hogar and Wingspan Construction, lamesadevenn managed to cut this price in half.
Courtesy of 
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
Keeping with lamesadevenn’s commitment to working with the land as much as possible, the Rancho building was designed to do more than house people and programs: it would also keep the earth around it intact. This meant that a particularly robust (read: deep and expensive) foundation was required—and the amount of rebar laid in the footing trenches, shown here, would far exceed that used in an average house.
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
Like the Greek economy and last season's Minnesota Twins, the concrete spit out of the agitator truck was, well, in a slump. In lay terms, the “slump” of freshly mixed concrete is simply a measure of how well it holds up when you try to build sandcastle with it. As the pumpers began to partially pour the spread footings, consulting E/CA architect Christopher Alba (who doubles as lamesadevenn founder Christian Alba’s concerned father) had the stuff tested using a funnel shaped “slump cone.” As he suspected, the pumpers had mixed the concrete with too much water, rendering it overly “slumpy,” which would have seriously reduced strength when the foundation fully cured. They stopped pouring and the adjusted the mix in the nick of time.
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
Once the spread footings were poured and allowed to partially cure, “stem walls,” like those pictured here, are erected and then “grouted solid,” or filled with concrete.
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
And at long last, the walls—real concrete block walls—began to rise. After such a drawn out design and building process, it felt like the walls sprang up overnight. And they almost did—it took only a few days for skilled masons, like the fellow pictured here, to build the first floor of a building that had at times seemed an unattainable dream.
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
Less speedy was the complicated installation of radiant heat tubes, broken into different zones to heat the house with maximum efficiency. Pictured here are the ends of the tubes of several distinct heating zones, each of which had to be tied into a network of serpentine, liquid-filled tubes, which in turn would be embedded in the concrete floor demarcated by the wooden formwork.
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation

The radiant heat tubes are shown here in the final stage before pouring the concrete slab over them. Now an industry standard, radiant heat has proven cost efficient over forced air and baseboard systems in the long run though it's costly up front. It has also proven to be a headache for many home owners. Because the tubes are embedded into the cement floor, installation errors can incur astronomical remediation fees. lamesadevenn was fortunate to collaborate with one of Santa Fe’s best, Thom Elrite from Territorial Plumbing and Electric, to get their system right.

When the first chill comes in autumn, the boiler will send hot liquid through the embedded tubes in the floor. Because it has so much concrete—technically, “thermal mass”—the floor will hold on to the heat much longer than, say, the old metal radiator in your grandparents’ house, and so will demand less replenishment from the boiler, which means less use of natural gas. It’s good for your bare feet on a cold morning, great for your wallet when the energy costs start to rise, and a nice gesture towards the planet.

Courtesy of 
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
The foundation nears completion. The three major first level spaces of the building can be seen, the first in the foreground and two more in the back. Note the wide gap of earth between the first space and the second: a signature feature of lamesadevenn’s design.
Courtesy of 
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lamesadevenn backstory building foundation
Excavating for most residential foundations takes a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. Due to the expansive soils and the lamesadevenn collaborative’s desire to mitigate erosion by impeding rain runoff, the bulldozers were chomping for nearly a month. In Santa Fe, earthwork averages around $800 a month, but through some dealing with two amenable local contractors, Su Hogar and Wingspan Construction, lamesadevenn managed to cut this price in half.

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