The big reveal


This gallery contains 25 photos.

The PVC pipe that will hold our electrical wiring is first installed and then the electrical wires are pulled through using a fishing mechanism..  No rust here. You can see the new forms being built that will hold the steel and cement in the adjacent … Continue reading

Second floor slab completed

You can see the first part of the second floor concrete slab is down and starting to cure.  The concrete is hard enough to walk on and to continue to build upon but it will take at least three to four weeks for the slab to cure.

The next step will begin the construction of the supports that will allow us to pour the concrete slab over the livingroom.  This slab will also support the two upper bedrooms which are located directly over the livingroom.  You can see the livingroom in the sixth photo where I took the photo from standing on the upper floor slab at the top of the circular staircase.  That space will be completely covered in a few weeks after the same support structure goes underneath.  The height of the livingrooom overall is higher than the rest of the first floor ceilings so this is why this has become a separate construction process than the first slab we have just poured. The living room is 32 feet by 22 feet wide and 14 feet high.  Pedro, who is also an engineer has designed all the structural elements of the house, has some serious re-bar planned for this part of the building, including much bigger beams.   Basically he’s building the house like a highrise concrete building.  Except it’s only two stories.

Second floor concrete pour


This gallery contains 12 photos.

In this photo, you can see the Styrofoam that I mentioned in an earlier post.  The Styrofoam is permanent in the slab and provides insulation and sound proofing as well.  The entire second floor slab is tied to the structural columns which support the overall … Continue reading

The terrace arches get formed


This gallery contains 8 photos.

You can see the work involved in building the forms that will make the curved Spanish Colonial arches that will face the pool.   The work was long and laborious.  You can see the amount of steel we are using and how it’s being … Continue reading

Spanish Colonial Design in Panama

When I first made the decision to build in Panama, one of the things that became very clear to me was the importance of having someone to help me with designing and incorporating elements of an SCR house but most importantly source the necessary materials.

I interviewed two interior designers that were native Panamanians.   They showed me their work and I was impressed by one of them but her work was almost entirely contemporary design with clean lines, minimalistic elements and finishes.  I soon  realized that while Panama has a rich history of Spanish Colonial architecture dating back to the 1500’s, it was limited to the old city or Casco Viejo and a few homes dispersed throughout the city.  Quite simply, when old homes were torn down, they were replaced with newer homes which lacked the decorated Spanish Colonial influences.

Previous to 1989, Panama was governed by Noriega and a large part of its population lived in poverty with little or no middle class.  Most of the population were simply laborers who worked for less than $300 per month and many of the homes reflected a utilitarian lifestyle.  The decorative style of Spanish Colonial influences were reserved for those that had wealth.  The majority of people lived in very basic housing and in some cases, shanty towns made up of simple shacks with tin roofs and no running water.  So it would make sense that after the dictatorship ended and the Panama Canal returned to the citizens of Panama by the US government, Panamanians and the bureaucrats that ran the city adopted a more modern outlook towards the city’s development.

With the exception of the Canal Zone, which tends to favor Plantation style housing built by the Americans and the US military, the downtown skyline of Panama is very new and modern.  New homes tend to favor a more modern styling.

Furniture stores carry furniture imported from europe to match the newer styles and there appears to be an attitude suggesting that anything not modern represents the past and that just won’t do if you’re trying to show the world that Panama is moving into the 21st century.

Having said that, there is a strong movement to protect Panama’s  history and heritage. Casco Viejo, an eclectic mix of Art deco, Caribbean and Spanish Colonial style was designated a world heritage site by UNESCO a few years ago.   There are now regulations in place to ensure the old city maintains it’s integrity and look by limiting the type of construction and modification of its buildings.   Any construction requires approval by the council to ensure the renovation plans meet the requirements.   Facades must be maintained and the heights of the buildings must also remain intact and not be increased.  Developers that focus in this area have done wonderful restorations of beautiful historic buildings choosing to replicate hand painted tiles instead of replacing them with modern tiles.  Facades that were falling apart are now completely restored and resurrected into their orignal form that reflect the care and attention of the artisans of that period.

Pouring the Foundations and Footings

One of the things that I find myself doing is adding more things to this house.   Anyone that’s built a house knows this will add significant costs to the total.   At first it was going to be a 2800 square foot enclosed house and then all of a sudden it became 4000 square feet.  No one to blame but me on this.

One of the things they do in Panama when calculating construction costs is to include, in addition to the entire foot print of the house, any covered terraces and paved or finished ground like the area around the pool, which amounts to about 3000 square feet.  So, it’s not so surprising to hear that the final size of the house that I have chosen to build comes in at about 800 square meters or just over 8000 square feet in total.   This might not be so alarming until you find out that builders in Panama bid on jobs based on a per square meter price and this almost always includes every square meter that has something on it.  Building a house in Panama I’ve discovered is costing me as much or more than what it would cost me to build in my own home town.

One of the reasons is the geographic area I have chosen to build in Panama is relatively remote, about 40 mins from the largest real town of Chitre.  The pool of available workers and craftsmen is not great.  True craftsmen are a rarity and in high demand in Panama.  Timelines are completely blurred by inconsistent and unreliable trades who make promises they cannot keep.  I’m beginning to learn that things get done at their own speed here.  God forbid there’s a holiday, you’ll have to spend the next few days rounding up your workers at some outdoor bar.  It’s a fair comment to make and it’s universally understood in Panama and most of Central America including parts of Mexico and S. America that finding talented, committed tradesmen that take pride in their work is a rare animal.  I think one could surmise that there are probably both good and bad workers but in my case I can honestly say that labor is cheap if it’s done right the first time.  After the second and third time labor is very expensive in Panama.   More on this later, much later as in Maniana!!


















 After the foundation has been poured and cured, three courses of 8 inch concrete block are laid and filled with cement and rebar.  This is another example of the issues that I encountered when it came to pricing.  The concrete is much cheaper if you hire a bunch of laborers to mix the concrete using a mixer and then pour via a wheelbarrow into the foundation.   Of course it takes forever, but they are used to working this way.  It was decided by the contractor to use a concrete mixing truck and a pumper.  This upped the cost by almost double.  The argument is that you get a better quality concrete and a  better pour.  Its also a lot faster but the price is prohibitive and another example of if you want to go with something different from what’s normally done by laborers in Panama it’s probably going to be more expensive than what you would pay back home.   It’s a tough choice to make but the quality of this house is important to me.  I don’t want to skimp here.