Beauty and Building

It’s hard to talk to people about beauty and building. Last fall, a friend of a friend came by to see what we’re building. He looked appreciatively at our modest but well-built structure — which I have been ornamenting by cutting curves in rafter tails and support brackets — and said, “why are you spending all this time to cut fancy shapes when you have a house to build?” Before I could reply, he said, almost to himself, “Oh, you’re an artist,” as if that explained otherwise aberrant behavior, like a diagnosis of disease.

It’s the view from economic laws of production and profit.…

For a Hand-Made Education: Build your own Sustainable Shelter, & More

Make a sustainable, yurt-style shelter, by hand, with materials your can find and harvest yourself. Come June, Kiko Denzer will lead a week-long intensive natural building project to perfect a design for a simple, affordable, efficient and beautiful yurt made of sticks, string, and mud (6/9-15, Aprovecho Inst., Cottage Grove, OR; information and registration here. For design description and photos, click here.)

If you’re interested in a full year learning opportunity in natural building, home heat (ovens, rocket-stoves, and masonry heaters), traditional green woodwork, basic blacksmithing, tool-making, gardening, compost toilets, livestock (maybe) and more. Directed by Kiko Denzer (affiliated with the North American School of Natural Building, Aprovecho Institute, Primitives Skills communities, etc.) Labor for rent trade includes possibilities for long-term collaboration.…

Bottle insulation for a yurt floor

Rusty Orner, of Quiet Creek Farm, in PA, took the idea of insulating an oven floor with recycled beer bottles and applied it to a yurt he was building as a classroom and bunk space for students and interns.

On leveled ground, they made a rubble trench, covered with gravel bags and capped with mortar and slate, to support the lattice walls of the yurt. They filled the thirty foot diameter donut with packed shale, a thin layer of sand, and then 5,000 beer bottles. The empty bottles provide four inches of insulation and a thermal break to keep cold from migrating into the floor.…

Hug Hut at Muddy Creek School, Philomath

Muddy Creek charter school in Philomath commissioned this mud project as the initial step in creating an “outdoor classroom.” All 60 kids, K-5, participated in 2 days of playdough brainstorming and design, and six days of mud. Parents and neighbors contributed random prunings of willow, fruitwood, and forsythia that we wove into a rough hut; the mud came up out of a hole in the ground, and we ended up making a lovely cob bench and this “hug hut.”

The hut was designed to “last” for just one winter, and then get torn down so new students could make their own — instead of taking care of someone else’s work.…

A yurt of sticks and mud

2011 has been a year of yurts, w/two opportunities to try out this simple design of sticks and mud — a more permanent adaptation of the traditional, portable, Mongolian design. One was for a friend and neighbor. The other was a workshop at Aprovecho Institute, as part of their sustainable shelter building series. Lots of people helped! Both were made with locally harvested bamboo and fir poles (arranged reciprocally to make a self-supporting, conical roof w/a central skylight, which I’m still trying to figure out how to cover cheaply…) Here’s a little picture book about the whole process.…

Teaching with Mud, Sand, and Straw

Working with mud, sand, and straw is a way to teach geology, engineering, physics, history, drawing, composition, and design. It is also a way to teach social skills, like cooperation. But more important than just what it teaches is how it teaches:

Jon Young is a wilderness educator who takes kids into the woods, and teaches them to identify and track wildlife, among other things. He cites Microsoft research suggesting that tracks in the mud were an original source of writing, that alphabets are like birdprints, and that reading a set of tracks, from a brain science point of view, is the same as reading a bunch of symbols written on a page in ink.…

Low-Relief Mudwork

I cut these low-relief directly into wet mud smeared on sheetrock panels. After they are finished (and dry), I apply colored washes, which also make the surface more durable. Click on the thumbnail to see the entire image, uncropped. They range in size from about 16 x 24 inches to the big mural, which is about 8 x 20 feet. All were part of an installation/show at the Bush Barn Gallery in Salem, OR, in 2004. Note the wall made of temporary gallery wall panels that we assembled into a gateway, covered with cardboard, and then plastered with mud. The finger pattern was copied directly from a photograph of an actual African wall, in the book Butabu, about west African earthen building.…

The Hand-Sculpted House

(Excerpted from www.cobcottage.com .)

A Cob Cottage might be the ultimate expression of ecological design, a structure so attuned to its surroundings that the authors refer to it as “an ecstatic house.” They build a house the way others create a natural garden, using the oldest, most available materials earth, clay, sand, straw, and water and blending them to redefine the future (and past) of building. Cob (the word comes from an Old English root, meaning “lump”) is a mixture of non-toxic, recyclable, and often free materials. Building with cob requires no forms, no cement, and no machinery of any kind.…

Two-tier yurt with Bill Coperthwaite

Here’s the lovely, two-tier yurt that Bill Coperthwaite helped us build in October of ’09. (And here are my followup explorations that adapted the design by going back to traditional sticks and basket as well as incorporating earthen plasters — simpler to build, and better performance and comfort in wetter climates.) 

It’s on the grounds of the Ancient Arts Center near Alsea, just a long leap over a couple of ridges, into the next drainage south of us (the Alsea River). We finished the woven willow and mud walls in May of ’09. If you want to come help, we’ll be having more workshops (see http://www.ancientartscenter.com for more info).…