Bomnong L'or Week 4 - The Big Pour
The fourth week of the Bomnong L’or project marked a miraculous turning point - it barely rained at all! The plan for the week involved pouring the concrete frame for the main teaching spaces and erecting the steel frame for the soap/IT building; both of these tasks were highly weather-dependent and therefore the sunshine was gratefully received.
The week initially involved frantic last minute preparations of the fabric formwork and supporting falsework. Roped in as well were a team of local tailors who helped stitch the fabric junctions together. Dress-making and tailoring is a key trade for women in the area and the project aims to combine traditionally female and male trades on site.
Having been pushed off schedule by the rain of the previous weeks, we were under pressure to pour the frame as early as possible. By the end of Tuesday we were ready to go, and on Wednesday morning the pouring began.
Casting concrete using a fabric formwork remains a largely untested construction technique, and so we were wary of the challenges that we might face when pouring. Many of these had been encountered during the preparation period; in particular as a result of the highly variable timber stock available to us. As a consequence, extensive cross-bracing was required in order to create an acceptably sturdy frame. When combined with the scaffold towers, this produced a remarkably complex maze of timber, steel and fabric for our concrete-pouring team to navigate.
Another challenge our experimental method faced became apparent when pouring the columns. The weight of the concrete caused the bottom of the fabric to bulge more than we had anticipated, leading to some characterful wobbles at the base of several columns. Fortunately these are easily remedied and the concrete beams proved to be less problematic. Once removed, the fabric leaves a beautiful imprint, giving the concrete a coarse yet tactile finish.
Meanwhile, to the envy of the concrete team, the steel frame of the soap/IT building shot up, and by the end of the week the first floor was in. Alongside providing English, Khmer and IT classes, the Bomnong L’or centre runs a soap-making enterprise that provides employment for some of the poorest women in the local community.
The steel frame sits within the existing masonry shell of the previous soap-making facility, and will continue to house the soap-making workshop at ground floor level, along with a computer room at first floor level. The new design improves cross ventilation and thermal insulation in the soap making space, creating a cooler environment that is more comfortable to work in and also encourages the naturally-produced soap to dry faster. The spaces will also be rearranged to allow for more storage space and working space, facilitating the growth of the soap-making enterprise.
To the relief of all involved, the final concrete beam was poured midway through Saturday. This means that we remain on schedule for the concrete frame to gain sufficient strength before being loaded with the roof trusses and floor structure. In celebration, we finished early on site and enjoyed a game of mass-volleyball with the local team.