MMA Around The World: Colombia

Nicole Esser By: Nicole Esser

This summer, new employee Nicole Esser traveled to Colombia, South America. Below, she shares with us some of the fascinating things she saw and the fresh perspective she gained!


Traveling with an architecture lover is probably one of the world’s most annoying experiences. Or at least that’s what my fiancé’s face led me to believe as I insisted on touching, asking about, and photographing every construction detail in the country of Colombia.

This summer, after graduating with my masters of architecture, I returned to St. Louis and to Mackey Mitchell full time (after a whirlwind summer internship last year). The voyage to South America was a “last shot” to take a huge international, multi-week trip – meant to celebrate my graduation, my fiancé’s successes and our engagement, as well as to visit old friends. It was his third time visiting and he was beyond excited to return for food, people, music, dancing, beaches…and I could not wait to see some famous buildings.

What I found, besides a more diverse and beautiful country than I could have ever dreamt of, was a huge culture shock. Yet somehow the people around me made it feel like home. Some of the most surprising and intriguing things I experienced are:

  1. All but the most crazy buildings are built exactly the same way. And those construction methods seemed completely foreign to me. No matter what city we were in, a poured concrete skeleton of floor slabs and shear walls would be erected, then walls are filled in with hollow clay tile or “industrial” brick, just like legos. Both these materials came in impossibly slim sizes, to the point where I couldn’t believe that the wall didn’t blow over in the wind.
  2. Ladrillo is the word for brick, but it covers almost every scenario. No one could understand why I kept asking the name of a hollow clay tile or concrete block. A concrete block is a concrete ladrillo, followed by the size. Hollow clay tile are ladrillos that come in size #4 or #5. Bricks meant to host rebar and concrete are simply structural ladrillos. Bricks are made – and used – in every color, shape, size, finish, and pattern imaginable, but they are barely distinguished with words.
  3. For more modern looking buildings with big glass facades, glass is basically just stuck onto the concrete structure. Air tightness isn’t really a concern, as almost every opening is operable and many buildings are not conditioned. The entire country was probably the best example of using passive cooling.
  4. On a similar note, I have never been looked at stranger than when I asked if you had to have weeping on brick facades. Expansion joints are minimal as well. Because of the proximity to the equator, most cities have the exact same climate year round. Most walls have no more than two or three layers, made of backup and plaster.
  5. Not all surprises were architectural in nature. For example, baking chocolate chip cookies when you’re at a mountain altitude is a lot harder than you would think. Also, it was hard to tell if the giant fried ants were a regional delicacy or a joke played on gullible tourists!

I would absolutely recommend visiting Colombia to anyone who asks, and especially for architecture nerds like myself!