Rafael Mattar Neri

Prototype distillery unit

Pecaya, Venezuela

December 2003
Pecaya is a small town in the impoverished semi-desert region of Venezuela. Traditionally, much of its economy has centred on production of a local spirit drink, the 53 per cent proof Cocuy Pecayero which is made from the Agave Cocuy, an indigenous succulent plant. From the 1960s, it has been illegal for farmers to make their own booze, and a new organization has been set up to legalize the activities of the community of Cocuy by setting up a communal distillery. The architects designed a sustainable building that could be made by local and mostly semi-skilled labour with materials virtually taken from the site. Earth strengthened with cement was used to form sun-dried bricks, which were laid in walls two bricks wide to enhance stiffness. The roof is made with mud and cocuy fibre (a sort of sisal) supported by poles that bear on the mud walls.
So the materials ensure that the little building has high thermal capacity: it absorbs day-time heat (when the ambient temperature varies between 25 deg and 30 deg C). At night, when temperatures are rather lower, heat is re-radiated, ensuring that the interior has pretty constant thermal conditions. Orientation
ensures that the interior climate is maintained in equilibrium, and the mud brick open grid walls encourage passage of strong
east winds which help cool the place. The space is reminiscent of traditional open air
private distilleries, visually
open and informal.
The jury was impressed by the little buildings ecological economy, its sensitivity to
local people and their abilities, and by the way in which traditional materials and craftsmanship have been used and reinforced to the full.

Rafael Mattar Neri, Caracas
Project team
Lourdes Navarro, Hernan Sangronis, Jorge Partida, Galen Navarro, Rafael Mattar Neri
Nelson Garrido