To publicize our studio’s methods of wax production, the informative posters designed by each member of the class would be scaled down to fit in a small booklet (5.5″x3.5″)

Also, we are developing an informational poster to present our mission at profit-shares and fundraising “spirit” nights that we have scheduled with various local eateries. Here is our first version:


To prepare for developing a new building prototype that combines program of factory (wax production), radio (community awareness/info base), and community garden (community building recreation and health awareness), I looked at several radical groups that proposed innovative building types in the past.

One was ANT FARM. While reviewing a text entitled “Ant Farm 1968-1978” by Constance M. Lewallen and Steve Seid from Texas A&M’s library collection, I learned that the (primarily architectural) collective was involved in a number of endeavors that were innovative expressions of the avant garde lifestyles and were critiques of out-dated societal norms. Indeed, the Brutalist architectural movement that characterized much of the architecture of the 1960s was the polar opposite of the inflatable structures designed for a mobile lifestyle for which they are particularly well-known. The following image was found on a blogsite titled Experimental Communities

However, one experimental/proposed idea in the book really caught my attention: ANTFARM’s Surplus City.

This combination of community functions into a strange and interesting sections is very intriguing.

Another group I looked into was Future Systems. Founded in 1982, the group primarily produced theoretical designs until the 1990s. Much of the work uses construction techniques from other industries (such as airplane or boat) to design radical architectural solutions. The book “Future Systems: The Story of Tomorrow” compiles many of their projects. One in particular that I found interesting for my research was a garden center designed for Kew Gardens.

The last group I researched was FOA (Foreign Office Architects). In the book I found about their practice, FOA reviews its own architectural efforts from 1993-2003 and it is chock-full of programmatic/conceptual diagrams as well as beautiful plans and sections. The book is entitled “Phylogenesis: foa’s ark.” Phylogenesis refers to “the evolutionary development and diversification of a species or group of organisms, or of a particular feature of an organism.” They believe their architectural work is an evolving hybrid belonging to a global order of design that responds to local specificities.

Some images of work that I found provocative for my exploration include the following:

Meydan Retail complex in Istanbul, Turkey

Yokohama Ferry Terminal, Yokohama, Japan

Sketches of my own ideas will be in the next post.

How-To make a “bottleneck” candle with palm wax and an empty plastic bottle:

Alternative candle options using the same bottleneck mold:

To see other studio wax projects, visit the Class Blog!

One further candle experiment involved securing the wick along the exterior of the mold form. The intent was to melt the candle and leave an interesting wax sculpture at the end, carved by fire. View the slideshow below to see the set-up. The next post will reveal the images of the burning!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MicroXproduct – Wax

February 17, 2011

The burning of the internally spiraled wick was not as successful as hoped. The wick kept getting swamped by the wax, which was only melting in the center and couldn’t escape easily or burn off quickly enough. To keep the flame burning towards the end, the candle was tipped to allow the wax to drip out. Here are some images:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wax, Men, and Money

February 14, 2011

In 1981, the Texas Historical Commission published a report entitled “Wax, Men, & Money: A Historical & Archeological Study of Candelilla Wax Camps along the Rio Grande Border of Texas” by Curtis Tunnell (graphics by Sharon Roos).

Tunnell led some extraordinary research into this wax industry, which has survived (in one form or another) since the Spanish missions. Lucky for us! Here are some notes on this excellent text:

Candelilla Plant

Also known as the “weed” or “yerba,” the candelilla plant’s scientific name as assigned in 1829 is Euphorbia antisyphilitica. The plant is perennial and is found most naturally abundant in the areas shown in this map:

It grows well on well-drained limestone slopes, but does not tend to grow in bottomlands and clayey soils. Candelilla plants have small root systems that support numerous stems with a grayish green color. Although they can grow up to 2 m in diameter, a moderate size is 0.3-0.5 m in diameter with about 100 stems, ranging in length from 0.3-0.6 m and in diameter from 4 to 8 mm. Candelilla plants are very hardy and resistant to disease/pests; they flower during the spring and summer rains.

Best Conditions for Wax

The wax is a secretion of the plant skin to conserve moisture, and thus the wax is much heavier during the dry season and droughts. The average annual rainfall in its natural desert is 100 to 500 mm, so drought is common. Candelillas need from 2-5 years of growth before they produce significant wax. David Adams, one of the main refiners of candelilla wax in West Texas, was quoted saying that after the first harvesting, the candelilla return with some abundance in 2 years; after the second, 5 years; and after the third, possibly 10 years. Yet, the plant population had thus far sustained itself for 70 years of intense production. Candelilla plants regenerate from the root systems.

Attempts to Cultivate

Efforts in Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic have failed to cultivate candelilla for wax production. Likewise in Laredo, TX, and Presidio, TX, although the plants grew tremendously, they did not produce wax. Thus, if the Las Lomas community does wish to use candelilla wax, they may need to rely on the supply chain already in place. In this graphic, the dynamic of the sale and production of the wax is illustrated.

How to Get the Wax Out

The best way to harvest the plant known so far is simply to pull the “weed” by hand. Attempts to cut it do not work as well, and often kill the plant.

Once gathered, the wax is boiled out of the plants in a packed vat of acidic water. The crude wax (creote) is skimmed off the surface as it boils. Some of the instruments and the set up are diagrammed here:

Once the crude wax is cooled, it is sent to a refinery, where the dirt and other impurities are filtered out. Here is a diagram of one of these factories.

Here are some images of the making of (1) a larger candle with a spiraled wick and (2) a candle with a solid base and a fantastic upper surface. The latter was produced by having water already pooled in the mold before the wax was poured in.

Gecekondu – next stage

February 11, 2011

Currently reading “Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World,” a book by Robert Neuwirth.  The section on squatters in Istanbul was fascinating. It followed and interwove the stories of over 4 gecekondu squatters of different neighborhoods. The next step in our group gecekondu of Istanbul case study is to focus on a particular community of around 20,000 people, to learn the true dynamics and realities of these places.  I will discuss the different communities named in the book with my partners tomorrow, and we’ll see which community will be our focus.

MicroXproduct – Wax

February 11, 2011

The other new wax experiment was an attempt to use the incredible, strange forms of the wax when it pours into the water and cools. A flaw in one of the first molds led to the wax leaking out into the water I was trying to cool the form in. What resulted was an interesting mass of wax with holes and undulations.

So, in this mold, I kept the base of the waterbottle with the bottom of it still attached to the middle, in order to catch any water that leaked. I inserted the wick into the lid hole and twisted it to get some of the wax to more firmly plug the hole. Then, once the wax was melted and ready to pour, I put some water in the mold first. Then I slowly poured the wax into the mold. Some of the wax cooled in that initial pour and the rest cooled slowly above that layer. Because the base of the candle was in the ridged area of the waterbottle mold, it would not pop out once entirely cooled. Thus, 3 slits were made along the ridged sides, the sides were bent upwards, and the candle was able to come out without forcing (which might have harmed the delicate forms at the top of the candle).  Some of the initial wax that cooled was unconnected to the base, but those pieces can be melted down with the wax for the next candle, so there would be no waste.

Pictures soon!

MicroXproduct – Wax

February 11, 2011

After the first burn tests, I realized that it would be unlikely for that size wax to melt the candle once it was past the “bottleneck.” So, I decided to experiment with wick placement, seeing if I could spiral the wick in the wax as it cooled in the mold. Particularly, I was inspired by a product (brought to my attention by Valerie Stevens) with several wicks that carve through a wax wall as they burn.


So, the spiral wax set-up and initial cooling:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We’ll burn it tomorrow and see how it goes!