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Natural Earth & Alternative Building Techniques:

As Empowerment Tools 

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Cob House

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Natural building is not only a movement but awareness to the fact that - how we live must be altered in regards to how we build our homes, use energy resources and grow our food by using ways that will preserve our environment. Over the past six years I have been doing environmental research and created an environmental website for People of Color in Belize, Central America.  Doing environmental work has given me new insights in learning and understanding nature as a model and tool for growing food and using earth materials for building homes.  I call this “Learning 21 Century Skills” in self-sufficiency and sustainable living. As so-called underdeveloped parts of the world develop they will not and cannot develop as the West has developed. Development can no longer create the extreme levels of waste and destruction to nature.  We must find harmony which is sustainable.

 

As we work towards self-sufficiency in learning how to build our homes and grow food naturally, we become aware that Africa is sustainable, and that natural building using earth materials was an essential aspect of how we built our homes.  As we become more ecologically conscious we know that how we build our homes, grow food and use energy must change. It is a challenge that must be sought and actualized within the dynamics of group participation. 

 

The industrial revolution played a tremendous role in disenfranchising people of skills that were handed down from one generation to the next.  In the past we built our own homes and communities with our hands. I can remember growing up in Northern California when the tradition was still in place, when family members came together to help each other build homes. These family and community outings were like work parties, picnics and family reunions. I can also remember a friend’s father who bought an adobe house.  And I can still remember how it felt to play inside an adobe home.  The adobe house had a warm feel to it - like being in nature’s womb.

 

My father’s generation had skills. They knew how to lay down bricks and concrete, do electrical wiring and carpentry.  Our mothers knew how to grow vegetable and flower gardens, can food, sew and make our clothes, and quilt making. My parents still had the values of survival and self-sufficiency that we had as a people had in order to survive as communities in the South.  It seems as though urban living and the culture of consumption and Bling has robbed us of many abilities that we once had as a people. Today we have a very different lifestyle which in many aspects has been programmed to retard our abilities.

 

As one starts to learn and research natural building one finds that there are many natural building techniques to choose from; such as cob, strawbale and adobe which are all a part of a international growing grassroots’ effort around the world in learning self and group sufficiency. It is a fascinating endeavor that is taking place in many parts of the world, the U.S., Africa, India, England, Central and South America, Thailand, etc. Alternative ways to live and to build are essential to our future sustainability on this planet.  You can find libraries of books to read on the subject of natural building, alternative energy and premaculture and there are also training videos available.  Many builders that initiate a building project will give workshops and/or work parties so that others can get hands-on experience.

 

The Internet is a great place for finding information. There are also listserv email groups for each building technique, newsletters and websites with information about natural building, solar energy, permaculture and networking with others.  If you live in an urban area you will have to travel to a rural or suburban area in order to get hands-on-training. You will have to search to find building projects close to where you live. In winter months you can always find projects going on in areas that have a warmer climate.  Most natural building workshops in the U.S. are taught in North Carolina, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Tennessee, Minnesota, and California – usually in a rural setting.

 

For those living in the N.E. there is Earthwood Building School in West Chazy, New York.  The owner and founder is Rob Roy with over 30 years of experience as an alternative builder and he publishes various books, videos and conducts workshops using a technique called cordwood.

 

Cob building is also a very interesting technique and an earth friendly technique. But, it is very labor intensive.  It is a traditional building technique and the word ‘Cob’ comes from the old English word “a lump or rounded mass”.  Cob building uses clay, sand, water and straw.  It is amazing how easy and inexpensive it is to learn basic cobbing. It promotes a shared effort in learning to build community.  The layperson, elders, middle aged, children and young adults can all be a part of the production process. Cob is used in Africa, South America and in Western Europe.  Cob structures, homes and cottages are being built in rainy and windy climates and even in cold climates as far north as Alaska. Modern cob builders are learning and borrowing from elders and indigenous communities.  Over one third of the world’s population build their shelter from using mud and clay.

 

In England tens of thousands of comfortable cob homes are still being inhabited and are over 500 years old. You can also find cob homes in New Paltz, NY dating back to the 1700s and still being occupied.  In Africa, China and Latin America the tradition of building with earth materials are still alive and these skills are passed on from one generation to the next. In the 1980s there was a rediscovery of building using the Cob and Strawbale technique in the south and western United States, as many looked into history; especially before the industrial revolution and studied various cultures in how homes were built using mud, clay and straw. 

 

Cob and adobe are the world’s most common natural construction building techniques used that promotes ease in construction and lends itself to freedom in design.  What is so great about cob and adobe is that they are resistant to weathering and practically fire proof.  Parts of the Great pyramids in Egypt and the Great Wall of China are made of Earth.  There is an adobe town (Taos Pueblo in New Mexico in the U.S. which is still standing.  What makes cob different from adobe is that cob is made into a cob mass and then applied; where as adobe is made into bricks and dried before being applied. Cob building and adobe building promotes community, as people

learn to depend on and be responsible for their own basic need for housing.  Natural building is not a part of the world of intensive processing or needing massive amounts of energy, but building in the tradition of building communities in the owner home construction process.

 

Cob is one of my favorite types of building, but it is very labor intensive and usually a home will initially be only about 500 sq. feet and builders will later add on. It is a different type of construction site and conceptualization of work.  I found cob building to be a lot of fun, enjoyable, communal, meditative and grounding.  After my first cob workshop at Spiralworks in Vermont, I became aware of the healing properties of clay in that my feet and hands felt like I had gotten a week of therapeutic massages. 

 

Cobbing is not a part of the “rush” world or the culture of demand.  It is an excellent material to work with as natural builders focused on the microenvironment in finding materials as close to the site location as possible.  Cob walls are think about one to two feet thick and provide immense thermal mass (holding heat), and adequate insulation that is ideal for passive solar construction.  Cob can be used to build ovens, benches and furniture. 

 

Cob, natural and alternative building is changing our concepts of how we feel about and use the Earth.  We start to undo culturally negative connotations like the word ‘dirt’ and to the positive aspect shared by indigenous people around the world that the Earth is our ‘Mother’.

 

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Strawbale House

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Cob Cottage

List of Suggested Reading in Sustainability---New Item***

To Learn more check out links below

 

Websites Alternative Building & Energy Techniques

Members.aol.com/Belriver/Belriver.htm

http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/africa.htm

http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/index.htm

http://www.geocities.com/flyingconcrete/lowinc.htm

http://www.earthship.org/learn/

http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/earthship.htm

http://www.sci-scotland.org.uk/earthship.html

http://www.earthship.org/

http://strawbale.com/

http://www.potkettleblack.com/natbild/lilacfarm.html

http://strawbale.com/gallery.html

http://www.cpros.com/~sequoia/

http://www.housealive.org/Zipolite2005_pictures.htm   (Cob workshop in Mexico)

http://www.northcoast.com/~tms/cheap.html

 

Permaculture/Alternative Agriculture

http://www.ciesin.org/TG/AG/iksys.html

http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/perma.html

http://www.permaearth.org/

http://www.permacultureactivist.net/pcresources/Africa.htm

 

List of Books

http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/natural_building.htm

Together we will work to build and develop the “LAND GIFT’ that was given for the betterment of all Afrikans. This LAND GIFT will be the INHERITANCE for all yet unborn Afrikan children to inherit. No longer will any Afrikan ever again in or outside of Afrika ever be LANDLESS AND HOMELESS ever again!!!