Monday, September 24, 2012

Its all coming together

Tamping the earthen floor

 Well, thanks to Britt Nielsen, I finally have photos to post.  I must admit, I have kinda fallen off the wagon on the photo taking, and since her photos are always way better than mine I just wait to get hers!

In the last week we have been installing the earthen floor, slate roofing all week, finishing the interior plaster, putting up decking and tar paper on the porch roof, healing cracks in the earthen plaster and filling cracks with a sand heavy slip paint, and finish plastering the ceiling.

It is incredible how much it has transformed here at the end.  Who knew that our moldy scruffy-looking straw-clay walls could become these beautifully smooth orange-brown earth colored walls and that our tarp-covered roof could become this gorgeous blue-grey slate masterpiece?!

So without further ado, I present to you the almost finished WASI retreat cottage! 

Cutting the slates
Mary Spicer and I on our beautiful new roof nailers

Britt on the slate roof wielding...a slate hammer?...nope I think it's her iPhone :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gettin' plastered

It's been a few weeks since I've updated you all on our progress, but we've been moving right along!  The last few weeks have been earthen plaster central, including 2 Saturday work parties with our new found community of natural building friends (both new from the workshop and old friends from the neighborhood here). 

Work party plastering!

Building partly plastered.  And garden wall.
We also managed to finish the leveling layer of our earthen floor and the earthen plaster on our ceiling.  And the plaster on our garden wall.  And starting slating the roof.  It's all coming together!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Inspiration overload!!

BEAUTIFUL natural built house at Earthaven (nice work, Steveo!)
I got lots of food for thought and inspiration last week, with both a tour of Earthaven Ecovillage and AsheVillage (the creation of Janell Kapoor of Kleiwerks in Asheville, NC). 

Super efficient earthen oven
Let’s start with AsheVillage because I’m obsessed with it.  So…basically this is the kind of place I would like to create in Austin or wherever I end up.  It is a natural building and permaculture demonstration site right in the middle of Asheville.  It is in an urban area, which makes it actually accessible to people and makes educating more and more people about the possibilities provided by natural building and permaculture a reality.  It is a collection of three adjoining residential properties right in a neighborhood that together make up an acre of land to work with.  On the front two properties are the (fairly large) houses that came with the property.  These have been lovingly redone by Janell and friends with natural plasters and finishes, vaulted and fun shaped ceilings, niches, and beautifully colored natural paints.  

Here are some photos from the front two houses (one of which is rented out as a guest house, which provides a revenue stream for the property…brilliant!):

One of the guest house bedrooms

Bright yellow walls in the dining room.  And bamboo curtain rods...I like that.

Storage niches

Then, there are the gardens and all the permaculture development of the site, which involves and extensive stormwater catchment and filtration system (under construction), an aguaponics system (where a fish pond and plant growing are linked with water and nutrients cycling through each and forming a symbiotic relationship…and you can eat the fish!!), water features, and tons of plants and herbs and flowers overflowing the property! 
More photos:

Trellis for plants to grow on, and behind it is the aguaponics cool!!

Pretty water features!

Lots of trellised tomato plants
a work in progress, but still cool!
Lastly, there is a small natural built cottage/tiny house built in the back and plans for many more, plus plans to expand their current outdoor kitchen/tool shed into a full fledged outdoor kitchen with big windows and a porch with a view.  While we were there we talked about the idea of making small living spaces that are just enough to provide a place to sleep and some personal space, but don't encourage the habit of staying inside all day in our comfortable houses and never interacting with the world.  When our houses are so large and comfortable that they become a bubble we can live in, we are never encouraged by those spaces to go outside and interact with the world outside our house.  So instead, build small and then have separate buildings for your bathroom and for your kitchen (maybe even have an outdoor kitchen or communal kitchen).  This encourages going outside and being in community with other people.  I like that way of living so much!

Little cottage in progress!

OK, now onto the Earthaven tour!  Wow, that was fun too.  They have so much going on there!!  Huge 13-sided community building built like a yurt, lots of different creative natural built houses from tiny huts to very large creations, composting toilets, wood-fired sauna, and a beautiful home built by our workshop instructor Steveo that kind of blew my mind.  So beautiful.

Here are some photos (thank to Tan for most of these!):

Wood-powered sauna

Sweetest balcony/deck I've ever seen

Community house

Community house roof: built like a yurt!
Another Earthaven house  

 Hope you were inspired too!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What a beautiful community we have

Group hug!
New timber frame porch
What a beautiful week!  In all ways the Natural Building Workshop this last week far exceeded my expectations.  I had been sort of anxious about it due to all the logistics to pull together and all the new people to get to know and the nervousness about teaching…and of course once we got to it none of that turned out to be worth worrying about (is anything really worth worrying about?!).  It turned out to be one of the most exciting and inspiring weeks of the whole summer so far.

First of all, we had an AMAZING group of people for the workshop.  People came from all different backgrounds and all different ages and in one week we managed to feel like one big family.  People were incredibly courageous and inspiring to me in so many ways: in the kinds of sacrifices they made to be there, in their openness and willingness to be vulnerable with each other, in their beautiful visions of the kind of future they want to create for themselves and others.  It reminded me that I really am part of a much bigger movement, far beyond just this apprenticeship and this cottage build; a movement full of amazing and fun people that I get to stay connected to and inspired by for the rest of my life.

We learned a ton of new techniques this week too!  What a whirlwind!  I learned about base coat plasters, finish plasters, earthen paints, straw bale construction and detailing, adobe wall construction, chorizo (a straw-clay like wall system), wattle and daub, and more of the details of navigating building codes.

So here are some photos of the week:

Me talking about the cottage

Sarah showing how to install cedar shake roofing
Plaster mixing

We got to visit Earthaven Ecovillage for a super inspiring tour of the various natural buildings on the property, including a gorgeous house that our instructor Steveo built there:
Arjuna's beautiful house at Earthaven (built by Steveo)

Cob hut at Earthaven

The group at White Duck Taco in Asheville!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Feelin' accomplished

Look at our cottage!!  It's got walls and a roof! (minus the slate...)

Straw-clay walls: done.  Bottle wall: done.  Roof decking: done.  Tar paper: done.  Nailers for slate: done.  Adobe blocks: done.

It’s been a busy couple weeks and it feels like we’ve finished a lot of big steps.  Our little cottage looks like a real building now!  It was starting to feel like we would be making and stuffing straw-clay in forms forever, but now we’re done!  Other than patching the holes in our wall (so…our straw-clay tamping technique wasn’t quite perfect), we are finished with the straw-clay portion of our building.

Taking off the formwork for the straw-clay walls

This next week is a BIG week for us here.  We are hosting an eight-day natural building workshop and have 30 people coming to stay here for the week.  It’s exciting to be having such an influx of new people (although a little intimidating to think of playing host to all those people) and to get to learn so many new things in one week.  By the end of the week we will have started plastering the cottage, have a timber frame porch on the front of it, an adobe garden wall made, some kind of sculpture/relief work on the courtyard yard side of the cottage, finish plaster on our cob oven, a second cob oven finished, a cob bench made, and a straw bale wall.

Here we go!!

Our adobe blocks!
Girls from the boarding school on Highland Lake that we had over for an adobe workshop.  They really got into it!!  (literally...)