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One with Nature

An ecological community in Mexico relies on sustainable housing and biophilic design

Lintel June18 1

In central Mexico’s Guanajuato state sits a 630-acre reserve where just 5 percent of the surface area will be turned into thoroughfares and housing. The majority of the land, which for centuries had been aggressively degraded, has been set aside for conservation, restoration and sustainable stewardship. Known as Diada Cristo Rey, this low-density ecological community will be home to 240 hectares of green areas, 5 kilometers of walking trails, and 25,000 rescued native plants.

Adrián Lugo, general director at Lintel, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, the firm behind Diada, says interest in the project stems from the firm’s hallmark innovative spirit, as well as its understanding of an enormous need to find better sustainable development models. “These new models are to support healthier lifestyles in tandem with an abiding respect for nature,” he says. “The Diada Cristo Rey site, for instance, was identified as ideal for having been all-but-devastated by centuries of mining activities at the same time it had somehow held onto a beauty—until recently very much in jeopardy—that made its preservation an obligation, not just nice to have."

Diada is founded on the preservation of the ecosystems as well as the efficient management of resources. Designed and built for the minimum invasion of the ecosystem, the architects use environmentally friendly materials, of which metal is an essential aspect of, mixed with the environment and biotechnologies to achieve an interaction and harmonious coexistence between families and nature.

To build these residences, Lintel uses its Ethos proprietary solution that it designed for development projects with the goal of actively enhancing quality of life. “These projects wield a major social and economic impact in their communities, which have been selected for extraordinary ecological and natural beauty, but whose location, topography and accessibility make it all but impossible to develop with traditional construction techniques,” Lugo explains.

Biophilic Design

Biophilia is humanity’s innate, genetically determined attraction to nature, and the focus on the community’s rehabilitation is biophilic design. “Biophilic design, with its physical and philosophical connection to the environment, optimizes human productivity, community cohesion, healing and learning by reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving cognitive function,” explains Lugo. “The Diada Cristo Rey community flips the traditional notion of ownership where a place belongs to us. In contrast, its inhabitants see themselves as belonging to the place. It means we respect it, and its ecology, which is best served by low-density communities that put nature at center and whose structures are integrated into the ecosystem.”

This close connection with the environment, along with the appreciation of plants and animals, make Diada a unique and harmonious place. Using biophilic design, the homes feature abundant natural light, close contact with the surrounding landscape, and natural ventilation.

Site Development

Diada is located with the Sangre de Cristo community, an area dedicated to mining and is full of history and traditions. Diada looks to transform the community, while creating jobs and preserving the ecosystem.

As Lugo explains, the community has been subject to exploitation and pollution for centuries, largely a byproduct of silver mining that began in the sixteenth century. “The devastation visited on its inhabitants—in addition to all those centuries of environmental degradation—got us thinking about new models for sustainable development based on alternative, less-extractive economic activities such as ecotourism, smart agriculture, vineyards, etc.,” he adds.

Originally, the development was targeted toward families in search of second homes, but over time, the target merged with a wider demographic that now seeks permanent residence in communities that prioritize nature and support lifestyles that foster improved health as well as harmony with the environment. “Word-of-mouth on the part of first-adopter residents whose testimonies and live experiences attracted other, like-minded buyers, was our first approach,” Lugo says. “It led to greater exposure and market-penetration supported by online and social media messaging.”

Community Design

The team at Lintel spent eight months researching, analyzing and designing the Diada community and the Ethos residential construction system. More than that, Lugo says it was about heavy thinking; really going deep and asking themselves why, in a time of technological advances and highly precise, assembly-line manufacturing, that most people still make their biggest lifestyle investment—a house—according to old paradigms that cannot control construction processes and take place in similarly uncontrolled environments subject to extreme conditions like rain, dust, temperature, etc.

The entire project, made up of a total of eight phases, has two complete. Reconstruction of the Hacienda, which is now a boutique hotel, began in 2009, and the community’s vineyard was planted in 2014. In addition to the hotel and vineyard, the community features a spa, restaurant and event spaces, and an indoor pool. The community’s location also makes it popular for those who enjoy mountain sports, while being near a dam and local wildlife. Development began in 2013 for Diada, and is now a total of 600 lots for detached, single-family residences with 11 standard residential models.

Most have an average of four available floor plans per house, totaling 35 different layouts that can be personalized. The smallest residence is a stand-alone module measuring 732 square feet, and the largest residence is made up of four joined modules, totaling 1,896 square feet. All models include kitchens, closets, doors, bath fixtures, partitions, floors and ceilings.

Production Process

Building on the desire to create an eco-friendly community, the designers turned to Ethos to build the homes. Ethos is an innovative construction system that integrates natural features such as light, ventilation and vegetation to generate the least possible impact on the land. This system allows the residents and community to develop activities and a lifestyle that promotes learning from nature and the commitment to its care.

The sustainable homes are prefabricated with the highest technology, allowing the company to provide a completely habitable home with all of the services and benefits up to 50 percent faster than a normal construction process. A four-module residence with an 1,896-square-foot built area takes approximately five weeks to manufacture and four weeks to erect and finish, for a total of nine to 10 weeks from beginning to end and client delivery, Lugo explains.

Additionally, houses are mounted on metallic posts at levels above the natural topography, neither disrupting the soil fertility nor impeding free rainwater drainage, and utilized construction materials reduce residential maintenance to near zero, providing superior energy efficiency.

“The Ethos system leverages superior-quality, prefab modular construction with elements crafted in our 70,000-square-foot Guanajuato plant,” Lugo says. “Equipped with entirely controlled temperature, humidity, cleanliness and lighting environments, its production line supports seven work stations that start at structural assembly and conclude with finishes and shipment.”

Seeking to make a positive impact on the environment, the company uses high-quality materials that are low maintenance. Steel offers a highly rigid, structurally solid construction, which in turn, Lugo says, supports accident- and damage-free module transport, erection and assembly. All of these are critical considerations given that the residences leave the factory all but 100 percent complete and sometimes are hauled 300 miles or more before reaching the lots.

For exterior finishes, the homes use quarried stone and metal sheeting, with sheet colors corresponding to project locations. The metal placements are factory PVDF-painted, offering enhanced durability and carefree, 20- to 30-year maintenance. Rusty tones were selected for Diada Guanajuato specifically to blend with the landscape’s natural hues and highlight a sense of belonging in a color allusion to old-school mining towns.

“The Diada design philosophy privileges enjoying nature, which leads to prominent, picture-window fenestrations and decks that bring the outdoors in,” Lugo adds. “Designs accommodate the addition of as many modules as may be required to create ancillary spaces for play, media rooms or additional bedrooms that connect to residences via decks that further incorporate natural settings into constructed compounds.”

“Simply put, Ethos uses highly stable materials endowed with long-term durability, such as steel structure module-chassis construction; light-frame steel construction for walls, roofs and floors; high-resistance exterior finishes such as steel sheeting with PVDF-painted finish for walls and roofs; as well as natural materials such as quarried stone on selected walls,” Lugo says. “All of these are complemented by thermic materials for low-energy HVAC systems.”

This process has been working so well that the activation of Diada Cristo Ray in Guanajuato has led to sister developments Diada La Mancha in Veracruz and Diada Zirahuén in Michoacán.

“At Lintel we believe the best way to live is to get back to basics,” Lugo adds. “It means respect for nature and our own reincorporation into nature through development concepts whose sophistication, in fact, is a product of their simplicity.”