Saturday, August 24, 2013

Guatemala # 5 The "Tin" Roof Shelters the World

400 words, reading time 90 seconds

Look over a barrio in Caracas, a slum in Nairobi or a flavela in Rio and you will see much the same thing:  corrugated metal roofing.  All hail this under-heralded technology!

For some time modern architects have used common “tin” roofing in places, knowing it will become attractive with rust.  But for the world’s poor and many middle-class, it's not about appearance.  What other product has brought more comfort and material safety than galvanized and corrugated metal, whatever it may be called?

Thatched roofs have been common around the world and in history.  Earthen tile roofs are found throughout the tropical zone, sheltering millions who can afford them and offering a long useful life.  However tile is beyond the reach of most of people living there.   Acquiring a sheet or two of metal which is corrugated, so as to overlay one sheet tightly against another and channel water, is an early goal of the less well off around the world.

I’ve never seen corrugated roofing held up as one of the great inventions of modern technology but why is it not high on such a list? Dampness brings disease and death.  Thatched roofs catch fire and can host insects and pests.  Not tin roofs.  Yes, they are hot; tile is better.  But what is within reach of most people?  Plastic, but it doesn’t last long or maintain its protective value like metal.

In the little resort town of Isla de Flores, Guatemala, I took these two photos from my middle-class hotel in a middle-class neighborhood: corrugated metal roofing as far as the eye can see, first looking east, then looking west. 


Corrugated metal also serves as fencing.  To my eye, it may look like an architect has
been at work when someone of limited means was merely filling a gap or enclosing a space.

It’s a great thing metal roofs are already widely installed because I’m told their cost has risen several-fold during the Great Recession.  I can’t verify this from a Google search.  Metal remains widely used and the technology evolves.  What we can say is that there no better substitute in sight. 

Long live the “tin” that shelters ordinary people around the world!

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