Building an Eco-Toilet and Library in Palomino, Colombia

Students from University Javeriana directed by Christiaan Job Nieman, Carlos Hernandez, Cesar Ramirez and Antonio Yemail. Zuloark, Spain are Building a Society in Palomino, Guajira in Colombia. They just finished building a library and eco-toilet with local materials only.

Eco Toilet built in Palomino, Colombia

The eco-toilet in Palomino. Separating the solid from the fluid waste it prevents odors and facilitates composting, and it uses no water.

A new project has been built as part of the course “New Territories” for architecture and industrial design students of the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia. The coastal village of Palomino near the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has been the focus of different student projects in the last two years, that vary from organizing a football tournament or naming the streets, to the building of different structures to promote cultural activities and waterless/compost toilets for the awareness on health issues. In these interventions we try not only to build physical objects and buildings, but to help build the community on different levels. The idea is to do this with local knowledge, people and materials. The two week visits are spend first “harvest mapping” to identify these resources, and then acting with that information to build something for the community.

Palomino is located at the coast and near the Sierra Nevada in Northern Colombia

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, as seen from Palomino. It rises 5.775 meters only 42 km from the Caribbean coast. Unique geographic and ecological conditions.

Palomino is a strategically positioned village between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the coast, and on the road that connects two mayor cities of the north of Colombia. Palomino has endured many years of violence, and has a mixed ethnical population with clear segregation within it’s just over 3000 inhabitants. The Kogui indian tribe that lives in the Palomino area of the Sierra Nevada and their ancestral culture is very present in the area, but the town itself is inhabited by the different “colonos” who are from all over.
The situation of most inhabitants is of poverty, and they have little access to services provided by the government. Almost no access to drinking water, very poor communication networks and insufficient garbage management.
A very colorful and diverse cultural background in music, dance and traditions is the basis of the work done by the students, focussing on the cultural activities of the children.

Palomino Sports Office and Culture House

The sports office and culture house, built in previous trips to Palomino

In earlier visits the students have build a Cultural Center, and a Sports Office, each with their own eco-toilet. In this last visit the students diagnosed the results of these projects after 6 months of use. One of the conclusions is that the maintenance of these projects is difficult, as they are on community (public) property, and the leaders of the community have little motivation to manage them. There is no financial benefit for them, and realistically it’s understandable that their priority is on paid work rather than cleaning public toilets for free.

This led the group to decide to build a new eco-toilet on a privately owned lot, to guarantee that it will be maintained by it’s owners. The place chosen was the home of Chamaco and Gilma, because they open their home to more than 70 children each day to serve them lunch donated by government institutions. This makes the toilet have a public use after all, benefitting the children which is always our focus group.

Lunch in the home of Gilma and Chamaco

The children of Palomino receiving their lunch in the home of Gilma and Chamaco. They are the users of the library/toilet.

The concept always has been that to make the eco-toilet effective it should include another function, so this time it became a Library/Eco-toilet.

Eco-toilet and library, built in Palomino, Colombia

Retractable staircase as public entrance to the library/toilet. A very interesting way of creating ambiguity on the border between public and private.

The entrance is a staircase/door with counterweight to open and close facing the local football field, as a border between public and private use, as well as an internal entrance from the lunchroom. Built out of wood bought from neighbors, it has a roof that collects rain, because water is another scarce resource. It has a small library with donated books on shelves made out of re-used plastic containers, and of course it has a composting toilet system (one potty and two urinals).

Library from reused plastic containers, for Palomino, Colombia

Library made out of reused plastic containers. When more books arrive it can be expanded.

Wash basin connected to rainwater collection system

Rainwater collection system. Water is used by children to wash their hands before lunch, and the dishes afterwards.

Written by Christiaan Job Nieman

Christiaan Job Nieman is a Dutch designer living in Bogotá, Colombia. He works as a design teacher at various universities next to his independent projects, where he focuses on sustainability and social innovation in product design, architecture and urbanism.

Twitter facebook LinkedIn


  1. I totally love the project that you are doing in Palomino, looking forward to read all about any new developments!
    Is the book for sale already?

  2. What a great project. Especially the fact that you came back, analysed things and did a redesign. Good stuff!

    Check out this book: THE BIG NECESSITY by Rose George ‘adventures in the world of human waste’

  3. I am Gregorio Rojas father and am really proud of the team work done in Palomino. I think is a real true experience for the students and Palomino community.
    Let me know when the book is available.


  4. I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome blog!

  5. Guest bloggers are always welcome to contribute to this blog. If you are interested you can contact me through the contact form and elaborate on the idea you have for a blog. Than we can share thoughts and we’ll decide about if and how we can proceed.

  6. Thanks for all the positive reactions and many likes! At the moment we are working hard on the book about the Palomino projects. Just as in Palomino it is a collective effort, so publishing a book with 60 student editors, and the proces of budgeting and fact checking by the university is taking some time, but we will get there! As soon as it is out I will post it.

  7. Our own Palomino blog has been updated!
    In spanish only, sorry.

  8. Update:
    The Palomino project has been awarded the first prize in the category Urbanism & Landscaping of the Colombian Architecture Biennale, and made the final selection of the Ibero-american Architecture and Urbanism Biennale in Cadiz!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.