I was recently lucky enough to take part in a sustainable building internship with a Majorcan organisation called Artifex Balear. The founder is a wonderfully eccentric man called Miquel Ramis. You can start to see what I mean by watching a YouTube video of him called: ‘This guy can make anything out of anything’. He has practiced stone masonry as a hobby for most of his life and quit his job in marketing to create Artifex; a stone masonry, sustainable building, alternative education and general green innovations organisation.
He has based all this in a disused military barracks in the industrial town of Inca in Majorca. The council gave him the building for free as he agreed to renovate it so that it could be used after he left it.
There is a great Majorcan saying, ‘poc-a-poc’ , which means little by little. It describes the way of life of the people who live there and is the perfect description for Artifex Balear.
The workshop is around eight years old and is still a derelict building with holes in the floor and no windows. What has changed is it now has exquisite handmade vaults and arches, sporadically placed around the building. There are beautiful statues and mosaics just dotted about and then there are pieces of half-dreamed up projects filling every bit of space in-between.
To some it might sound like a nightmare, but you rarely get the chance to work in such a free and creative environment; any idea for any of the projects you saw you could run with and see what happened. I created a heliostat powered by a clepsydra, which is an ancient water clock as done by the famous engineer Al-Jazari. My two friends created a cinva-ram, which is a machine that compresses earth into useable bricks.
The only limitations were that the projects used recycled materials, that they were economically viable and that they were useful for the community. It’s this sort of back garden shed engineering that should be encouraged, to get away from a wasteful society of replacing rather than fixing. Hopefully, this sort of thinking can spread and there is no greater satisfaction than bringing a machine back to life but, as the Majorcans say, poc-a-poc.