As the third consecutive week of wind and rain blows ashore here in Portugal, Eric and I have temporarily postponed thatching the roof on our current build project with hopes of a soon-to-come sunny day. We've retreated to a cozy office space with motivation to continue building creatively in a different manner.
In the last several weeks, we have had many new people arrive at the project, curious about the building and us as people, eager to learn and get involved in building a natural structure themselves. We have done our best to empower people to be creative, to create and contribute to a project that is not "ours" but rather an open collaboration of every person that has picked up a handful of cob or pulled a piece of cane for a wattle and daub wall. Through the experience of leading several build projects, I've had an epiphone that natural building is not only a tool for building physical structures, but rather an opportunity to build on intangible personal levels as well. This is certainly worth exploring more.
Stages of every bio-construction project are mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. One of the most difficult parts for me has the emotional realm -- the revolving door of new faces every week, accepting that my life is a bit more public than I would prefer or are immediately comfortable with, dealing with the monotony of building a cob wall for three weeks straight, and much more. In essence, the biggest challenges I have encountered in natural building are ultimately not even directly related to the building itself. The biggest challenges I've encountered have been mine own, within myself in relation to my environment!
I am more and more convinced that taking part in a natural build project will emphasize in yourself what you need to work on most. Ultimately, you will learn and develop practical techniques that you can use to build a natural structure. I can now look and feel a batch of cob and know it needs more sand or more clay, whereas two years ago I would have no clue. However, the intangible skills learned in the human relationships that take place in a natural build project are equally, if not more, important!
This philosophy has its roots in one of our biggest sources of inspiration in starting thePOOSH.org -- how can a natural build project be an open space, a space where anybody can randomly walk up and express their desire to help and in return feel empowered, feel useful and involved and able to express the creative potential that resides in every one of us? Before I got involved in natural building, I didn't know that I needed to work on myself and empower myself, instill confidence in myself, before I could feel comfortable empowering others. Granted, this is an ongoing journey but what a revelation that natural building can be a tool for self-edification as well...and that this can lead to self-improvement in those around you as well!!!
This blog post was seriously influenced by a section in The Hand-Sculpted House entitled "For Your Edification." Furthermore, this warm book is essential reading for natural builders, a celebration of personal growth through the practice of building with nature.
Hiya, POOSHers! I’m April and the newest member of thePOOSH team. I recently joined the team after helping these guys to build a yogaship— yoga studio earthship-style— in Portugal. (An earthship is a style of building that utilizes car tires rammed with earth and encompassed by cob to form the main structure of the walls). I became interested in natural and sustainable building after living for a summer on a farm with an earthship-type structure. Since then, I’ve seen over and over again how this way of living revolutionizes the way people see the world and how they can live in it. We don’t have to rely on ‘professionals’ for the things we need because we can learn how to do anything ourselves. We don’t have to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and work for the rest of our lives in jobs we hate in order to have a home. We don’t have to live in isolated boxes with only our close family. We can build our own homes, grow our own food, and form communities of friends and family who we actually enjoy living with (at least most of the time)!
Let’s be real here though, aiming to live sustainably is a lot more work than the normal Western lifestyle. But I’ve found it easier than most of the things I did in my life before. I have to push my body further than I did before, but I never have to force my mind to ignore all the things I’m doing that don’t make sense or bring me any joy.
“How does one get here?,” I ask myself. I think it could go a little something like this: You were brought up in a culture that was incomprehensible to you as a human being, a culture where drugs and bibles were equally interchangeable as solutions for any of life’s problems—as soon as one stops working, switch back to the other— and you were too entrenched to know how or what to do different. But you knew that you had to do something different. So you tried ditching the small town for university in the ‘big city’ and a library of books on philosophy and history. Good job, this made you aware of the problems facing people in the 21st century but gave no clue what to do about any of them. And you escaped from one culture of terrible habits, only to enter another more socially-accepted culture that felt as equally destructive and unfulfilling as the one you crawled out of. This is the culture of working 40-hours-a-week at a desk typically, married to someone you don’t spend time with, in a house that you can’t afford and a car you can’t afford, with children that you mold to fit this lifestyle although you aren’t sure why because it sure as hell didn’t make you happy but it must be better than those people in poor countries who live in houses made of dirt. (And don’t get me wrong, in many ways it is but let’s not digress.)
So you decided that the best thing to do was leave all this insanity behind by becoming a self-dependent hermit in the woods, writing books for the rest of your life. Thankfully, before you were able to carry this plan out you met some of the most amazing humans on the planet living on a farm in the beautiful woodlands of Oregon. This is where everything suddenly made sense. You realized in one night that life is simple—just enjoy it. And the only way to help other people be happy is to be happy; humans need examples to believe that something so often sought after but not found is possible. But if it’s so simple, why did it take you so long to figure out? And how could you have ever thought that living alone would be as fun as listening and playing Bluegrass around the fire, picking blackberries for making jam and then eating it with your fingers, washing in the river by riding down the natural rapids, drinking hot toddies (whiskey + green tea), and being so excited to come home every single day that you run down the hill smiling so hard your cheeks hurt. It doesn’t matter what you thought before, only that you know how to create the life that makes you happy and now you can show others who want to live this way too.
Something a bit like that is how I came to be an advocate for people doing what makes them feel alive and free, and I’ve seen how much easier that is when people are empowered to build their own homes out of materials they can find in their natural environments. I have many ideas for developing thePOOSH website and community to be even bigger and better than it already is. My major focuses, shaped by my life experiences and interests, will be exposing this way of life to children and people living in poverty. (And I know very well that you can be poor with a lot of money and rich with a little money, so poverty isn’t dependent on the amount of dough in your pocket.) I also want to spend some time experimenting with building play-areas from natural and recycled materials, for children of all ages.
The best way to describe my life mission is to help both hope and fun grow, and this fits naturally (and sustainably, I might add) into the mission of thePOOSH. Natural/sustainable building isn’t just a fashionable way for educated people to prove their environmental and social consciousness. It’s a way for people to take more control in shaping their realities while also acknowledging that we are an integrated species living on a planet we depend upon, where we can love, learn from, and dance in cob with our bare feet with the other humans we share it with.So I can’t wait to meet more of you so we can POOSH/learn/grow/dance together!
On my walk down to the beach that I currently use as my temporary office (yes, I am lucky, I tell myself this every day!), I saw some pleasant looking travelers. We stopped and exchanged greetings; it turns out they were looking for the community I'm currently living at. What a coincidence! In past situations where strangers are spontaneously looking to visit where I'm currently living, my initial response has been somewhat fear-based: How long are they intending to stay? Will they contribute or is this just a "green" vacation? Are they nice, respectful people? I'd like to explore what it means to involve local and non-local community in a sustainable land-based project and (hopefully!) inspire project leaders to fully embrace involving as many people as can be properly managed -- the benefits are endless and full of unforeseen surprises!
In the last month of my life, I've had several epitomes on what involving community could mean to a project. On the one hand, you have local community. In many rural projects, this often means elderly people that congregate at cafes and bars. One of the many things that stuck with me in my recent Peramculture Design Course was the strong suggestion to spend time at these locations talking to locals, especially elderly locals. These people are wise, even if they are not working the land as you would. They know details on climate, geography, available human and physical resources and the history of the local region, a very important story to have told from several different sources in a sustainable land-based project. Embracing the idea of involving external community in your project oftentimes provides much more than the obvious benefit of having more helping hands. New people bring a fresh energy to a project, making day-to-day activities less monotonous. Each person has unique attributes and talents -- I've recently found myself a part of amazing campfire jam sessions with people I just met. I was recently a part of informal workshops on non-violent communication, body percussion, Ayurvedic massage and chi gong!
The possibilities are endless! When involving new people, it is very beneficial to expresss interest in these attributes and talents that every person has and open up space for people to share these in a group setting. Additionally, it is helpful to build a welcome area that has info on what you expect of visitors vs. temporary residents, as an example. Labeling social areas, kitchen, workshop, private spaces, etc. is also very helpful for external community to familiarize themselves with your project.
So. How do you go about involving external community in your project? On a larger scale, starting a simple blog and website will provide immediate exposure to your project. On a more local level, you might want to think about placing flyers or posters in cafes, bars and libraries. More creatively, organizing an event could be a fun way to involve external community. I recently attended an event by Tribodar Learning Center -- it was a festival for experimentation, the first time they had done an event of this scale. It was very, very inspiring to see 70-100 people paying a very small fee for a full day of workshops and spontaneous jam sessions put on by the people attending the event.
Finally, there is the chance meeting of people who are traveling through or spontaneously show up -- in the case of the travelers I met on the way to the beach, they seemed like nice people so I gave them directions and told them what I thought the community needed at the moment and to be open and straight-forward with how long they intend on staying, what they can contribute, etc. And I'm curious to see how they are getting on up there so I'm going to wrap this up and begin my walk home! Bye for now, m.
The time has come for an update on the lives of thePOOSH.org Team!
Jim and Maarja are currently in Estonia busy with a new non-profit they've founded called Eco-Nomics which focuses on decreasing costs as opposed to chasing after more money. They've recently put on some free workshops on building solar panels from reclaimed materials!
Eric, Loren and I have been "bombing" (to use a Portuguese-English term...it means something akin to working really hard) on the tirewall thatched-roof yoga studio for the last months. The project is being put on pause as a result of not having collected quite enough caniso (water reed) but will be resumed in the winter when we can collect more!
Eric recently traveled north with the Finnish goddess Satu, where he is visiting his family in the homeland of Finland. He plans to do some traditional Finnish natural building and will (hopefully!) send some photos of his adventures. Additionally, Eric will be focusing on making thePOOSh.org more interactive in its on and offline community.
Loren is considering options to learn the practical art of sailing which, in our opinion, is the one of the only conscious and sustainable ways to cross an ocean. Loren also has plans to focus a bit on thePOOSH.org development and, hopefully, we can get a groups function working so that thePOOSH community can discuss topics in a forum-type layout.
As for me? I will be heading down south along the coast of Sintra to Terra Alta, a beautiful piece of land where there will be three consecutive courses: a rocket-mass heater build, a permaculture design course and a Canyaviva dome build. I will be taking the permaculture course and immediately afterwards heading to Andancas festival to promote thePOOSH.org with April, who might be doing some community outreach for thePOOSH! Additionally, I hope to improve our social media as and try some new ideas out as soon as we get some graphic design help.
All things considered, we are a busy group! The last few months have been wonderful and it inspires and motivates me to continue to see thePOOSH.org community flower and grow with each passing day!
Keep in touch with us to see further developments, get some inspiration to join a natural building project or champion your own and don't hesitate to contact us -- we love to interact with this community!!
Until next time, Michael and thePOOSH Team.
Natural and sustainable building is a bit of a different process than most of the buildings you see around today. But how? I hope to shed a bit of light on this subject in this blog post.
I recently went to the hardware store to purchase some drill bits for our manual drills (if you haven't drilled a 7 inch hole manually, I highly recommend it), and I asked how much the man was selling turpentine for. I was curious because we are now making our own pine tar and I wanted to check the price of the most similar industrial product. He told me they had two prices; 4 euros for the inferior product and 9 euros for the “better” product. I kept asking him what does better mean to no avail.
We use these terms like “better” with so many hidden unsaid meanings behind them. In this specific case, does it last longer? Does it color the wood less? Does it protect against more bugs? Does it repel water? Without knowing the meaning behind the word better, I have no ability to make fully clear decisions. For example - do I really need the “better” option?
The “better” discussion comes up many times in natural building. Lime plaster is just “better” than natural plasters. Let's dissect this. What is the purpose of plastering a wall?
- to help seal the water out from penetrating and deteriorating the wall
- to provide a finished look to the wall
- and lastly, for asthetics
I think we can all agree that both natural plasters and lime plasters can achieve these objectives. So how is lime plaster “better”? Concrete will last a thousand years, lime will last 100 years, and natural plasters usually last tens of years. So if you do not need the plaster layer to last more than 20 - 30 years, why use the more industrial lime plaster or concrete option? Same goes if you do not mind re-plastering the wall after 20-30 years.
This is just an example, but I believe it is always important to understand the meaning behind the word “better”. Ask lots of questions, and then use your best judgement! Whatever you do though - Build something Great!
What does it take to be a natural builder?
I believe that anybody can learn natural building skills. I look at myself as an example. Two years ago, I couldn't tell you what an earthship was. Since then, I've been in full-power natural building mode, involved in many projects and thinking/talking/dreaming about natural and sustainable building.
I've learned that it takes more than physical skills to be a natural builder. This realization has been a tough one for me, because to be a successfull natural builder who sees projects through in a timely manner, it takes more than physical skills. It takes motivation, inspiration, attention to detail, organization, creativity, a positive attitude, resilience...
But most of all, it takes patience! Natural building takes longer than conventional building with power tools, cranes, tractors, etc. This is fact, an often-overlooked fact. In the last week or two, I've watched Loren carve a tree stump.
Yes, Loren did this for over a week. Last month, a group of 5-8 people picked water reed for two weeks for a thatched roof. Now, you might be saying to yourself...these people are insane! That thought is perfectly acceptable (and we are a bit crazy!) but my point is this. Being a natural builder is so much more than the acquisition of new skills. In my natural building journey, I've had some really tough times...not necessarily with the learning of new skills, but rather having to constantly step back and say to myself "Okay Michael, have patience. Have perseverance...when you look back at the finished project, you will feel ten times better than if you picked up that chainsaw and bought some gasoline."
When we thatch this roof and people for decades come to visit one of the few thatched roofs in Portugal, they will learn that each piece of water reed was hand-picked by a dedicated group of natural building enthusiasts. THIS is inspiration. THIS is the type of spirit that will inspire other people to try out natural building.
Through natural building, I am learning things about myself totally seperate from the building process itself. Perhaps it will become a new form of therapy? Hm...now there's a business idea....
I envision a Phantom Tollbooth-style workshop where it is encouraged that participants move sand grain-by-grain with tweezers to develop patience...maybe that's a bit too far but here we go! I'm off to hand-drill some holes!
Until next time,
Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about community; the people that surround you in your life and the dynamic, cooperation and dedication it takes to bring a community together to achieve something greater than just you or you and your partner could have created. The individual parts that work together to make the greater whole.
Humans have been relying on each other in this manner for a long, long time and I fear that some of this sense of community has been lost with the advent of the internet, the 40-hour work week and perhaps most of all, the facilitator of surface-level interaction in the form of a stale give-receive relationship -- money.
The necessity of a solid community to say, build a house, is not very common any more. A couple weeks ago, we gathered around 30 people and did what I thought was not possible; we pounded over 250 tires with 150 kilograms of earth each in five days to build a wall for a yoga/community center.
This was and is just one example of the overwhelming sense of community that I've experienced since being in Portugal. Certainly, this community was already established and working together before our arrival but it warms my heart immensely to feel and know that we have been integrated and accepted in this group. I wake up every day full of love, gratitude, a magical feeling of being part of something much larger than I am...sometimes I still feel lost, a lone wanderer on this planet, but this sense of community grounds and centers me.
Those of you searching for community; search no longer!!! The natural building community is centered around yes, natural building, but it is so much more than that. This is probably true of most communities; that the focus of the community is not at all the sole advantage of being a member.
However, whereas some communities are exclusive in the form of prior knowledge or skills, the natural building community is immediately accessible to anyone interested in learning a new skill or two, anyone who enjoys nature, anyone who wants to meet new people, see new things, play in the mud, learn a language, travel with free food and lodging...there are SO many advantages!
Become a part of this truly remarkable community by creating a profile on thePOOSH.org...build projects are located all over the world and are looking for your help! Become part of something larger than yourself and experience the warmth of community.
Building Man Festival is a unique festival whose time, thankfully, has finally begun! Inspired by the well-established Burning Man Festival which annually sets up camp in the barren Nevada desert, USA, Building Man shares comparisons with their gift lead economy. The innovative formula, however, is that unlike Burning Man, which has adopted a 'leave no trace' ethos, Building Man proudly stands for the complete opposite!
Arts, music and culture festivals are ripe across the world and during the so called British "Summer Months", hundreds of thousands of festival goers storm out to various locations across the UK in search for that weekend of utter madness! Happy days indeed. But there have been, and still are, several key factors that have been overlooked by this ever-growing pastime. What impact do festivals really have on the environment? Now, don't get me wrong - I'm fully aware of the countless 'green festivals' who incorporate environmental consciousness into their weekend line-up. This often includes introducing sustainable off-grid energy, onsite waste management, sustainable transport and educational talks into their arsenal of measures, but this lust for entertainment still means that the land, which under 'normal circumstances' is usual home to livestock, is taken over by teams of event staff rigging temporary infrastructure and elaborate structures. This is where Building Man has hit the metaphorical nail on the head.
Replacing the outmoded 'leave no trace' philosophy, Building Man will help develop permanent site infrastructure and community arts hubs across the UK. If 2013 is the year for change, then it is fitting that this spring, Building Man is taking on its first project (festival!) at Bodenham Manner, within an hour bus ride from Bristol, England. Bodenham Manor is home to a 'fledgling community of change makers' who without a doubt, will provide the perfect host scenario for such a wonderful experience.
What's on the bill? A beautiful selection including: Permaculture Design, Eco Build Workshops, Appropriate Technology Installations, Contemporary Healing Practices, Food Waste Banquets, Evening Discourses, Conscious Cinema, Art and Crafts, Site Decoration and much, much more...
The 'headliners' this year? Those major acts thoughtfully selected for your enjoyment pleasures and to make that much needed change to Bodenham Manor include: Raising the Roof - the great reconstruction, Pimping the Pad - the pimping of the multi-functional room, Resistance is Fertile - the WET system, The Cobathon - Shoes off, beats on, cob rave (this i'm 100% getting involved in!) Time to grow - a permaculture paradise. This power performing arts extravaganza will feature (amongst others) Magnus Puto, Undercover Hippy, Clayton Blizzard and people powered workshops from Upcycle and Solar Sense.
Building Man practices a pioneering 100% participatory vibe and is organised exclusively by volunteers, which makes it completely free to you, the people. Everything's free, including a collaborative food waste banquet from the near michelin-starred People's Kitchen and Fareshare.
Skilled and unskilled, experienced or novice- kick off this years wild party antics and festival season with the truly inspiring, Building Man Festival! For more information visit www.buildingman.org or register to volunteer/attend at http://thepoosh.org/buildproject/buildingman/building-man-bodenham
I recently found myself touring around the UK promoting the sustainable building experience anywhere people would listen to us. Through our travels, we met some amazing people, some of whom wanted our assistance in building sustainable structures for various purposes. We ventured to Swattesfield Campground in Suffolk for this purpose. It was a mutual visit; we were needing a space to have some meetings and he had a community he wanted to bring closer.
Here is yet another possible build project presented to you which requires no formal training, very little money, and techniques/methods that anyone can use. This blog intends to inspire you to take on a natural build project like this one. Don´t have fear if this is your first time working with these techniques and materials -- it oftentimes is for us also!
Swattlesfield Campground is often frequented by many kinds of people for various lengths of time. The owner, Jonathan, wanted to introduce some activity which would draw people together. We had the perfect idea - pizza! Food, especially food that requires waiting, has a tendency to attract people. And once humans have a good reason to be in the same place, the rest (socialization) has a tendency to just work.
We spent one day planning our cob oven design. It was to be mainly built out of cob (a mixture of sand, clay, water, and straw - amounts depend on the local resources), tires (we absolutely love using "trash" for build projects), rocks (of various sizes), fire bricks (the only cost of the build, and there really are not any other options), and love. You always need love.
The idea was to build the foundation out of two stacks of firmly packed tires. On the larger stack of tires we would build the oven, and on the other a small preparation table. Experience cooking pizzas in a cob oven convinced us of the small table; it allows people to create their pizzas, cook them, and enjoy them all in one space, keeping social interactions and enjoyment to the maximum. In other words, we created our design to suit the use of the oven.
The oven would have a fire brick covered floor to do the cooking on and the dome would be made out of cob... very very thick cob. The thicker the better here when the goal is to make lots of pizzas. The heat put off by the fire inside the oven takes longer to heat up the walls if they are thicker, but it also ensures that the walls keep releasing lots of heat inside the oven for many hours after the fire has been extinguished. We figured a sign reading "Pizzas for Hours" would be the best to see near dinner time. Once again, we are making sure the use dictates the design.
Understanding the heat flow elements of a cob oven design is extremely simple and applies to many structures, including houses. Dense heavy material will hold its temperature for a long time and material that is light and airy will stop heat from transferring from one environment to another. With this information, you can make lots of really good decisions. If you want the oven to stay warm for a long time, make the walls as thick as possible with dense material (cob with only a little straw), and the outermost layer a little lighter and airy (cob with higher amounts of straw) to stop the heat from escaping.
Thermal dynamics lesson over, you have your cob oven design. Now how do you build it? We read that the easiest way is to make a round pile of sand on the oven foundation (packed tires with a layer of fire bricks on top) and cover it in cob. This pile of sand then molds the cob into the desirable shape. Scoop the sand out once the cob is mostly dry to dry, and you have the inside of an oven.
Now it is time to build the archway which will serve as the door. Loren and Michael had a great time arching the bricks. We learned the key to the whole arch is finding a good keystone - who knew?! Join this archway to the dome with a little more cob. You will want to make sure the cob making the dome is still a little wet, or just add a little water to the dry cob to maximize bonding.
We spent two days building and at the end had a cob oven and stronger friendships. We had to carry on to the next project before the cob was dry, but my guess is that the pizza was amazing. A recent Google search of "Swattesfield Campground" returns a happy review praising the cob oven. Job well done!
I probably don´t need to tell readers of Mother Earth News this, but becoming more and more intimate with materials, processes, and activities enrich your life. Integrating more into your life and outsourcing less, leads to a smile on your face.
Want to bring your community closer and build something great like this? Create a build project listing (http://thepoosh.org/infobuildprojecthost) named "insert your name here´s smile-creating and sometimes roof-of-the-mouth burning cob oven" on thePOOSH.org and find some assistance.
Want to get some experience building (http://thepoosh.org/infopooshprofile) cob ovens? Check out all the build projects that people have posted on thePOOSH.org. Remember, as Llyod Kahn (author of Shelters) says, "If your unsure what to do, just start."
Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with a lovely lady named Fiona. She is actively working to organize an ecovillage on 125 acres in Sandy just 40 minutes from her current home in Portland, Oregon, USA. We talked for hours discussing the merits of sustainable living, travel, consumption and community.
The conversation began when she asked me about my dreams and passions. I told her about my plan of some day repurposing a derelict building (in my mind said building is a decommissioned barn) into a cathedral like living space. I explained that the goal of this project would be to only use second hand materials--preferably trash; thus, not only reducing my overall building waste and consumption of raw/natural materials, but literally removing (via transition) garbage from the earth throughout the process.
Fiona, suddenly got very excited and explained the rapidly growing idea of "rejuvenation design." At first I didn't understand. What does rejuvenation have to do with sustainability? To me rejuvenation seemed like a quick aesthetic fix, but in reality rejuvenation is so much more. The word "rejuvenate" is a transitive verb which, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means "to make young or youthful again; give new vigor to; to restore to an original or new state."
I had never heard the term "rejuvenate" applied to the sustainability movement. But as Fiona went on to explain, the idea of "rejuvenation", in fact, takes us rather far beyond the common conception/misconception of sustainability (self-sufficient, leave no trace, do no evil) but back to a place of restorative living--where everything we touch is made better in our presence--not destroyed or just "left unharmed;" where the term "low impact" is replaced by "positive impact."
Thus the practice of restorative design and living takes buildings out of a dark place with negative connotations into a new light--where we can both design and build living, breathing buildings, spaces that can make real positive change.
When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and check'd even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
Sonnet 15, William Shakespeare
Want to learn more about restorative design?
Check out Michael Pawlyn's sweet TED talk about Restorative Design and the closed-loop system
and read the transcript of Stephen R. Kellert's beautiful speech about Restorative Environmental Design: