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Soil Regeneration and Land Reclamation for Culebra, PR

While lack of water defines the island of Culebra’s precarious condition, it is the land that presents a way of linking past and future narratives and upholds the ecological and civic life of the Puerto Rican island. This project for a food waste upcycling plant and adjoining plant nursery is both an endeavor to revitalize the island’s soil and a reclaim violated land, where traces of unexploded ordnance and soil contamination dot an island from decades of U.S. Naval occupation. When target practice for bombing was orchestrated from a central command and military barracks on the site of the original Spanish colonial settlement of San IlDefonso, the residents of which were displaced to the current downtown region of Dewey. Today the promontory is home to the local offices of US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources (DRNA), and an assortment of other recent and archaic ruins. The proposed facility is sited facing the old town cemetery and within walking distance of the Culebra History Museum. A repeating series of semi-enclosed courtyards extend in parallel - one descending, the other projecting away from the hillside toward a raised viewing platform. The activity of the first series of enclosures is devoted to the collection and processing of the total daily volume of organic waste for the entire island that currently strains an over-capacity landfill. The second series of enclosures utilizes the outputs of the first process—compost and microbially enhanced liquid fertilizer — to propagate plants for the benefit of Culebra’s erosion resistance and soil regeneration.The walls of the facility are a perforated eco-brick derived from brown algae, while the nursery roofs, which contribute to rainwater collection, are framed in bamboo laminate and clad in strengthened polycarbonate sheet. This proposal does not simply stand on its own as a solution to the current overcrowded Culebra landfill, nor as a singular concession acknowledging and repairing the history of US military imposition. Instead, the efforts to establish a process of food waste recycling at a large scale should be seen as a part of a broader restructuring of Culebra’s ecology, food, and water systems within a circular economy model. In parallel, as a site of civic engagement, the bokashi plant and nursery have the potential to engage other like-minded sister initiatives through the proposed building design.