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Chukum: Yucatecan legacy to design and architecture

Chukum: Yucatecan legacy to design and architecture
Foto: Chukum Chichén.
Chukum applied in swimming pool.
Chukum applied in a swimming pool. Photo: Chukum Chichén.

Chukum is an ancient stucco technique that fits in with modern design trends that highlight nature and simplicity.

The material comes from Chukum trees, native to the Yucatan Peninsula. They are characterized by a thorny bark that is resin-rich in tannins, giving it a reddish hue similar to wine.

It’s no wonder that Chukum has been widely adopted in Mexican architecture, especially in the southeast of the country.

The use of the mixture, a beige-colored paste, has its origins in the Mayan culture, which used it to color their surfaces and murals. In the 19th century (during the henequen boom in Yucatan), the Chukum technique was implemented on the surfaces of hacienda ponds.

Being practical, economical, and aesthetically pleasing, it has become the flagship of many designers and builders such as Joaquín Ruiz Esparza of Chukum Chichén.

They began working with the material nine years back.

“I was working on a pool proposal and a construction worker suggested using chukum instead of Venetian plaster. We decided to give it a try and loved the result,” says Ruiz Esparza.

Chukum in pool.
A chukum finish give this pool a smooth, translucent finish. Photo: Chukum Chichén.

They have built close to 100 pools. Joaquín points out that although swimming pools are common, the finish can be used on all kinds of surfaces including interior and exterior walls, floors and ceilings. In the past, it was used mainly to coat the inside of cisterns or open-air water tanks.

Construction with chukum. Photo: Chukum Chichén.

In addition to having a minimalist and elegant appearance, it resists harsh weather and the passing of time. Chukum Chichén sells a completely natural mixture composed of resin, limestone powder, and adhesive.

“There are three varieties of chukum trees in the Yucatan region, and each bark gives a different tone. But the color does not depend on the bark, but on the extra fine powder of the limestone,” Ruiz Esparza says.

The adoption of chukum has not been limited to the Yucatecán Peninsula. Chukum Chichén exports to all parts of the country such as Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Los Cabos and even northern states like Tampico.

The before and after of a swimming pool. Photo: Photo: Chukum Chichén.

Chukum trees are exclusively endemic to the Yucatán state, the only region where they grow.

It’s also less expensive than some more commonly known alternatives.

“It has a cost of one-third compared to Venetian, in terms of material and installation. In terms of resistance, Chukum can last up to 10 times longer,” says Ruiz Esparza.

Proof of this can be found in his first pool.

“Where it all began, the pool in a corner home in Caucel, is flawless nine years later.”

In Yucatán Magazine: Red-tinted chukum brings contrasts to a white, modern home