© 2018 by Carlos Guzmán

Existing colmado supply model

The Colmado Farm

Evolving the cultural landscape of the
Dominican Republic

A colmado is a very popular Dominican establishment that sells goods to people from across the country and all walks of life. It is a cultural phenomenon and an integral part of the identity of Dominicans. Besides being a marketplace, it is also a social hub for people that live nearby, a bar, and oftentimes a disco. Every neighborhood, every household, and every Dominican depends on the colmado in one way or another—and with over 70,000 registered and an additional 30,000 unregistered colmados in the Dominican Republic, shouldn’t their architecture reflect their true cultural significance? 

These businesses are slowly beginning to disappear due to the expansion of large supermarket chains all across the country. Their demise represents a problem that extends beyond financial and social losses; it also signifies the death of a part of the Dominican culture. This thesis aims to offer a solution to their disappearance by proposing a model for urban agriculture in the country, along with the design of one of many typologies that could result of the adoption of this method for national food production.

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If one considers the Dominican colmado not as a singular store on the block but instead as a web of over 100,000 community retailers and service providers that work together to serve the community and each other, it’s easy to imagine the social and financial benefits of such an arrangement.

 

What if there was a way to control the supply of goods to the colmado stores? What if there was a place that not only grew food organically to be sold to colmado owners but that also offered the technical expertise to them, so that they in turn can also grow their own vegetables and goods? What would this model look like? How would it change the way these stores look like, feel like and operate?
 

Existing colmado supply model
Proposed colmado model
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The impacts of this model on the infrastructure of existing colmado stores can be visualized in the following renderings. I argue that this level of transformation would completely redefine the existing notion of the colmado space and how these places are felt and conceived in the Dominican collective memory. 

However, a detailed study of the different design responses under this model in all of the different existing colmado typologies is outside of the scope of work of this thesis. The aim of this research was focused on offering a potential design solution and architectural program for the colmado center as described in the  proposed model, using factors to inform the design that are outside of the building’s morphology and its technical components, and emphasizing the idea that the building is part of a much larger system that will continue to grow and evolve in complexity over time, much like a biological organism. Finally, the purpose is to use this information to make predictions of what that could mean for the overall context of the colmado business, their customers and the community. 

 

The main drivers for site selection were the following:

  • The site would need to be in the most intense urban areas of Santo Domingo. Intense in the sense of being full of activity or active real estate development. This project is a product of urbanization and as such needs to be developed within these conditions. 

  • The site should be in an area where there is a significant number of public markets or colmado stores. The hope is to provide to these stores and to encourage the movement.

  • The site had to be within walking distance of public transportation to encourage visitors and public attention to the activities within the building. 

Due to the nature of this project and the building program, climate studies played a crucial role in the design process. Through the use of climate modelling using Grasshopper and Ladybug -and with EPW data collected at the closest weather station in the region, it was possible to test out different building configurations in the site in order to maximize sunlight exposure to crop areas on the soil and on building surfaces. Additionally, the site that was used to develop this project s located in the capital of the Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo, in a underdeveloped and largely poor neighborhood. 

The following diagrams will better explain these concepts:

 

Carlos Guzmán 

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The climate of Santo Domingo according to the Koppen-Geiger Climate Classification is labeled as (Am), which corresponds to the equatorial monsoonal climate groups. The only season of the year where an air conditioner is not necessary for interior comforta and air quality is during the winter. The rest of the year all areas inside a building need to be properly venditlated or de-humidified for maximum comfort and air quality.   

FLOORPLANS AND BUILDING SECTIONS

By utilizing height changes and cross ventilation as passive strategies in the building design, in theory it becomes possible to depend less on mechanical ventilation and technological equipment—this would be of particular use in areas of the building where hydroponic equipment is utilized for the production of vegetables.

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In the following building section at the hydroponic greenhouse, the benefits of proper building orientation are shown. Although, additional mechanical equipment will be required to change the environment of the interior of the greenhouse in order to meet certain crop needs, the climate of the region and the arrangement of the space should allow for stacked ventilation and natural cooling to occur most of the time throughout the year. 

Because of the building 's orientation and position, it was necessary to study its connections with the rest of the urban environment and to make assumptions about it's future development.  In the following aerial photograph and render, it is demonstrated how the corner of the site and the building set back would create a connection with the train station and future public park making it possible to develop public programs connected to the building's main use and mission.

A few important observations on the site: 

  • Existing buildings are compromised and deteriorated. 

  • Predominantly poor area

  • Most of the housing units in the block are squatter structures made out of wood with metal roof and no structural floor. 

 

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BUILDING FEATURES AND DETAILS

Perhaps there’s a new kind of vernacular stored in the typical colmado store, not in its architectural design, but rather hidden in the many elements that we’ve come to associate with these stores.  In this project I explore the use of these integral elements as part of  the building design. 

This vertical gardening system creates a dynamic facade and allows the building to change along with the gardening processes that occurs within it. Simultaneously, this system can be used to create a building envelope with variable degrees of shading on the floors above creating a continuous language that is full of texture and rhythm.

The mobility of the crates and their application for soil-based agriculture can also create a flexible communal garden that can have different configurations  and potential uses over time. As seen on the images below, these farming grounds can be modified to create small gathering spaces for public or private events.  At the street level, they blend with the sidewalk by incorporating a public space for street vendors to gather and sell their goods to people passing by.

CRATE BASED COMMUNITY GARDEN

Client: N/A

Location: Dominican Republic

Academic faculty:  

  • Thesis adviser: Frank Smith AIA

  • Design critics: Ralph Jackson, FAIAMatthew Killam, Max DipersteinWilson Rodriguez

  • -Consultants: 

  • Structural Engineer: Amir Mesgar

  • Building Envelope: Monty Forman

  • Mechanical Engineer: Bruce MacRitchie

Reviewed on: December 7, 2017/ M.Arch Thesis project / Boston Architectural College

Living crate wall