Beyond Coffee: ZERI Foundation

“The Pavillion” in Manizales, Colombia

The most important work of the ZERI foundation and its “Eje Cafetero” project in Colombia was the construction of the ZERI pavilion, thanks to the magnificent design of Simón Vélez and the technical support of Marcelo Villegas.

  • The first objective of this initiative was to prove that Guadua (American bamboo) is a material fit for use in construction, competitive with the most rigid standards of civil engineering.
  • The second was to discard the stereotype of poverty associated with the use of this material, in preference of branding Guadua as a symbol of the Coffee Growing Region, of innovation, sustainability and of practicality.

To strengthen the objectives of the ZERI foundation, it decided to invite Colombian architect  Simón Vélez to design the pavilion for the Hanover Expo 2000 in Germany.  The foundation was invited by the German authorities to present its vision of “humanity, nature and technology,” a modern pavilion among the likes of the pavilion of Japan.

Coffee farmers in the “Eje Cafetero” have long used Guadua to build bench terraces to prevent landslides and routine erosion.  It has also been used for similar purposes in shantytowns in that region of Colombia (hence the association with poverty).  Many have come to realize that it is quite aesthetically pleasing and also incredibly architectually reliable leading to increasing use of Guadua in construction of houses, terraces and more.

The collaboration of the United Nations Development Program, ZERI, Manizales Chamber of Commerce and German partners, the launching of Guadua onto the world stage never would have occurred.  This is also important because it has given agricultural workers in similar climates an additional resource that they can grow, use and sell.

The ZERI foundation was awarded the Sustainability Award from the SCAA in 2009 for its continued efforts to promote sustainability, environmental awareness and economic viability on a global scale. Their specific project was actually related to growing mushrooms from the  cumulative ‘waste’ of the coffee harvest – hence reducing the carbon footprint and adding value for coffee farmers much like the pilot program in Zimbabwe.

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