He stands in his office, surrounded by architectural plans of his latest project and in his hand is a piece of totora. He looks down at the plant stem and smiles to himself as he thinks of the years he has spent studying and working with this extraordinary plant.
Totora (Schoenoplectus califirnicus subsp totora) is an aquatic plant; a type of giant bulrush with a waxy stem that grows in lakes and marshland in South America. Totora commonly grows four metres in height and often more than seven and it has been used since earliest times to make huts (caballitos de totora), boats (balsas) and sleeping mats. The Uru people (an older civilisation than the Inca) still live on Lake Titicaca on floating islands made from totora
Juan Fernando Hildago Cordero studied architecture in his homeland of Ecuador and found himself becoming fascinated by the properties of Totora and how the flexible reed could be used as excellent insulation material in buildings and much more. He was convinced that the use of totora in building construction had huge potential - especially as it had been used so successfully by ancient civilisations. He completed his five years of architectural study before embarking in 2005 on a further six years of study focusing on Totora and its various uses in building construction.
Juan found in his studies of the plant that it is an astoundingly versatile material that can be braided for extra strength. Totora does not need to be treated with any chemicals and has a pleasant touch and smell with good sound proofing qualities. Totora contains silica so it is antifungal and it has really excellent insulating qualities. Juan took part in many experiments using totora in insulating panels. Panels made from ground and glued pith were effective and very cost effective, whilst panels made from three layers of totora reeds glued at 90º angles to each other were found to be even more effective. Since then houses in the High Andes – both new builds and older properties – have been fitted with totora panels on the outside to keep them warm during the cold winter months. The results have been really impressive and as Juan explains, the fact that the totora is a natural resource and is comparatively cheap to use makes it the perfect insulating material.
Over the years, Juan has completed many landmark properties in his home town of Cuenca, throughout Ecuador and South America. He has also spent much time creating an exciting range of furniture made from totora which he has exhibited with great success at the Maison & Objet Show in Paris. The French love his innovative and contemporary styles and his clever design ideas. The Malleable Table is the perfect example! This attractive square table has vertical totora reeds tightly packed in the frame to create the table surface. Place a bottle or wine glass on the surface and the reeds under each are pushed down leaving the surrounding reeds to hold the bottle and glass in place – no more spills! When you want the reeds back in their normal position, simply turn a handle for them to be realigned.
Juan has also regularly exhibited both in South America and Paris and in 2014 Juan Fernando Hildago Cordero was presented with an award by UNESCO for ‘excellence in crafts of the Andean countries’
Juan’s architectural work can be seen in many public buildings including the attractive new passenger terminal at Marsical Lamar International Airport in Cuenca – which Juan wanted to make light, spacious and efficient for handling high numbers of passengers in comfort. He has designed restoration work for market places and excitingly, was a member of the team that designed the prestigious new shopping centre in Ecuador basin. The shopping centre windows are covered by totora panels that can be moved according to the position of the sun, ensuring shoppers and staff enjoys comfort throughout the day.
Enjoy browsing through Eterne’s selection of totora furniture.