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KuNa, Construyendo Sueños
El Astillero, Tola, Nicaragua
image: public domain
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Location:
El Astillero, Tola, Nicaragua
Category:
housing
Phase:
in use
Updated:
2 January 2023
Over 1 million people in Nicaragua are homeless. KuNa, in Mayan “House of Nature”, is a bamboo social housing program managed by the communities of Chontales, Salinas de Nahualapa and El Astillero. 
Our mission is to create a bamboo based economy that empowers the community to design and build their own homes using local, regenerative and high performing materials. In 2021/2022, the NGO Casa Congo launched KuNa and built the first 21 bamboo homes.
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Introduction
After Nicaragua was struck by two category four hurricanes, Eta and Iota, tens of thousands of people were left with almost nothing. These hurricanes from late 2020 highlighted a broader issue around Nicaragua’s housing crisis, which counts over 1 million people living without adequate shelter and with less than $3/day.
In this challenging context of climate disasters and poverty, there is hope: bamboo. Bamboo has over 1,500 different species and two of the strongest types (Asper and Guadua) are abundant in Nicaragua. Aside from bamboo’s ability to sequester carbon, grow rapidly and enhance ecosystems, bamboo is also an incredibly versatile building material. 
Before initiating the design and planning of KuNa, the project team conducted multiple surveys with local community members and the architecture was defined through a participatory design process.
Casa Congo partnered with ANF and INVUR to introduce guadua bamboo to the local building code and approve its utilization for social housing, which had typically been delivered out of less sustainable traditional building techniques. MARENA (local ministry of environment) was a key stakeholder to support KuNa due to the decarbonization potential of bamboo homes compared to traditional ones. 
The first 21 beneficiaries to receive a KuNa home were selected within El Astillero based on poverty thresholds and family requirements, with a view to then scale the program in the following years to end the housing crisis in this village.
Typical household in El Astillero

image: public domain
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Impact
KuNa’s mission is not to give homes to communities in need, it’s to give communities the skills and tools to build their own homes sustainably in the long term. 
Given Nicaragua’s lack of infrastructure and industry around bamboo, KuNa’s first step was to establish the country’s first complete bamboo supply chain – from farm to wall. The key to KuNa’s success revolved around the team “Construyendo Suenos”, which comprises of over 70 farmers, carpenters and project beneficiaries who rallied together to make their dreams come true. 
We trained farmers in the Chontales region to improve the forestry management of 6 hectare of bamboo and established a salt based treatment centre with the community of Las Salinas of Nahualapa, where we leverage ocean tides to fill natural salt pools and cure bamboo. We trained a team of carpenters and built a prefabrication workshop and storage shed in El Astillero, where the dried bamboo is sorted in sizes and then transformed into modular panels following a series of standardized steps (150 poles / home).
So far, KuNa has given a home to 21 families in need and its impact in terms of long-term education and capability building is significant. Having a safe and well-designed house is a life changing asset. 
Thanks to a collaboration with a student from the Polytechnic of Milan, each KuNa house will also have an agroecological garden with medicinal plants, food and water management systems. 
So far, Kuna has indirectly impacted around 1000 local people and set a new case study for bamboo social housing in Nicaragua.
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Core team
KuNa was a truly multi-disciplinary and international team effort that involved many private and public organizations. 
The project was initiated and lead by Sol Rodriguez and Nicholas Kaspareck, co founders of Casa Congo and respectively an engineer specialized in mass timber and an architect experienced in sustainable development.  Manuel Cortez, school director of Casa Congo, and Guillermo Lopez, El Astillero's best builder, ran the project locally and oversaw logistics.  
Casa Congo formed a team of carpenters comprised of local men and women who saw KuNa as an opportunity to learn about bamboo. This team later self proclaimed themselves as “Equipo Construyendo Suenos” – the Team Building Dreams.
A critical part to the mission was the arrival of Don Oscar Ruiz. Don Oscar is a Colombian farmer with over 40 years of experience in bamboo silviculture who came to Nicaragua to train the farming cooperative in Chontales and handover his knowledge to Dona Rita, who lead the local bamboo harvesting efforts.
Jaime Pena, founder of Arquitectura Mixta, volunteered his time to design KuNa and then introduced Tacuara, a Colombian bioconstruction collective. Uraba Ponzone lead Tacuara’s team of bamboo masters in Nicaragua for three months and trained the local community in bamboo carpentry and prefabrication. 
From the other side of the world, Francesca Aiuti, an intern from the Polytechnic of Milan, designed the KuNa agroecological gardens and handed a playbook over to the families.
Many more organizations and individuals were part of this epic effort - it really does take a village!
Bamboo project team after completing the first KuNa home

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Image gallery
The first complete KuNa

image: Manuel Cortez | © all rights reserved
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Bamboo transportation with mules

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Farmers in Chontale selecting bamboo

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Nicholas Kaspareck, Sol Rodriguez and 6m lengths of bamboo

image: Tim Nathan | © all rights reserved
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Workshop in El Astillero with the project beneficiaries

image: Manuel Cortez | © all rights reserved
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Bamboo learning moment with Guillermo Lopez, Don Oscar and community members of Las Salinas de Nahualapa

image: Nicholas Kaspareck | © all rights reserved
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Truck loaded with guadua bamboo

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Salt pools for treating and washing bamboo

image: Tim Nathan | © all rights reserved
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KuNa workshop in El Astillero

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Creating a bamboo prefab panel

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Truck loaded with prefab panels being shipped to a site

image: Manuel Cortez | © all rights reserved
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Bamboo Drying Racks

image: Manuel Cortez | © all rights reserved
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La lateadora - the machine to make bamboo slats

image: Mattia Bosoni | © all rights reserved
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KuNa on site assembly

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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KuNa panel assembly

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Assembled house structure (1.5 days)

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Panel cladding technique

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Alberto Calero, local bamboo carpenter

image: Mattia Bosoni | © all rights reserved
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Technical drawings
Nicaragua community managed bamboo value chain

image: Nicholas Kaspareck | © all rights reserved
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Building methodology diagram

image: Tacuara | © all rights reserved
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Results from demographic survey

image: Manuel Cortez | © all rights reserved
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Map with location of homes

image: Mattia Bosoni | © all rights reserved
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KuNa Floor Plan

image: Sol Rodriguez | © all rights reserved
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KuNa garden sections

image: Francesca Aiuti | © all rights reserved
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External links
Help bring our project to life!

There are no updates yet.

Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
KuNa was launched in March 2021 and achieved practical completion on September 30th 2022. So far we have:
  • Trained 70 farmers and carpenters in bamboo silviculture and construction
  • Established a bamboo pilot plantation 
  • Built 1 prefab workshop and storage facility 
  • Built 1 temporary treatment and drying facility
  • Integrated guadua bamboo in Nicaragua's building code
  • Sunk 40 tCO2e 
  • Built 21 homes 
We've established a complete value chain, from farm to wall and the local community now has the tools and skills to procure bamboo and build more homes independantly.
An indication of our team’s capacity:
90% funding already raised
100% expertise already found
50% materials / equipment already found
100% builders already found
Finance: € 77,500
Following the first pilot, KuNa is now a project ready to be replicated and improved. However, due to budget and timing constraints, KuNa does not have an ideal prefab workshop and lacks enough tools / equipment to truly scale the program in El Astillero. Our request for additional funding would be primarily channelled towards upgrading our workshop and purchasing more power tools.
  • New flooring for workshop
8,000
  • New roof with raiwater collection system
12,000
  • Photovoltaic panels and battery system
45,000
  • Equipment and power tools
10,000
  • Land concession for workshop (5 years)
2,500
Skills: Planning & Management
As a final contribution of expertise, KuNa requires an expert in managing workshops and production facilities to train 1 - 2 community members of El Astillero to be the KuNa workshop managers. This would include empowering the local team with skills and tools to perform inventory controls, workflow management, PMP’s and other best practice SOP’s to run a bamboo workshop of this kind. Ideally this person can also supervise the launch of new bamboo initiatives such as furniture making. 
KuNa workshop

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Stuff: Equipment & tools
  • Corded drills x 6
  • Cordless hammer drill x 12
  • Cordless screwdriver x 12
  • Laser sticks x 12
  • Measuring tapes x 24
  • Mitre saw x 6
  • Cordless circular saw x 6
  • Cordless polisher x 6
  • Table saw x 1
  • PPE full kits x 24
  • Various manual tools and tool boxes
Woman removing node residue from bamboo poles

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Hands
The first iteration of KuNa has been entirely focused on the bamboo architectural structure and electrical / hydraulic systems. It would be of real value to have volunteer architects and builders focused on creating bamboo furniture, also leveraging the bamboo offcuts. Many women of the local community have expressed a desire to learn how to make bamboo furniture – either to furniture their new KuNa homes or to sell and make Astillero into a bamboo craft village. 
Making a bamboo lounge

image: Camila Duque | © all rights reserved
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Help bring our project to life!
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