Oct 23, 2013
Left to right, top to bottom: András, Budapest, Hungary; Ali, Istanbul, Turkey; Yahya, Aleppo, Syria; Talla, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Simone, Copenhagen, Denmark; Shaul, Tel Aviv, Israel; Eva, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Chelsea, Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Elaine, Kerry, Ireland; Selena, Columbus, Ohio, USA; Marthe, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Maggy, Paris, France; Maja, Aarhus, Denmark; Eduard, Barcelona, Spain; Bea “Big Lady”, Stockholm, Sweden; Rono, Feira de Santana, Brazil; Eliza, Portland, Oregon, USA; Robert, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland; Andraž, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Lisa, Boise, Idaho, USA; Gülnur, Istanbul, Turkey; Selen, Istanbul, Turkey; Alisa, Dortmund, Germany; Miriam Jasmine, Breitenfürst, Germany
Believe it or not, even in the year 2013, most of the homes in the world are still made from mud and other natural materials. While we who have inherited privilege in the first world keep modernizing the technology it takes to build our shelters, those who do not have access to such resources—and sometimes those who just know better—keep sticking with the same methods that have proven effective since the dawn of human existence.
The benefits to building a mud home are many. First, it’s efficient. Instead of building a structure that requires active heating and cooling, you can build one that will absorb and release solar energy in a methodical way or which integrates rocket mass heating as a solution in colder climates, allowing the house to breathe easily across all four seasons.
Second, a naturally built home is completely customizable. Ever looked at photos of cob homes? With almost everyone I’ve ever talked to about this subject, these photos trigger some sort of nesting part of the brain which craves connection to the home through personal decoration. Building your home from the ground up allows you to express your creativity in consideration of the ways in which you and your family/community will use the space.
Third, there is the issue of cost. Many, but not all, of the places that still rely on natural building techniques are not the world’s wealthiest regions. They use these materials because they have to be resourceful, and they know that the buildings their parents and grandparents constructed will work in their environment. Many people who have access to more modern resources still choose to build with mud because it’s, well, dirt cheap and will keep them unchained from the American dream’s promise of lifelong debt.
Fourth, mud building is educational and community-building. In the last hundred years, most of the west has lost a lot of common knowledge about how to adapt to our environment instead of the reverse. By encouraging a reversion to natural building, we’re also encouraging our community’s excavation of other long-dormant intentional human behaviors like farming and prophylactic natural medicine.
Along with the fourth part, natural building is a blast. Any group project provides an opportunity to forge lifelong friendships while exploring possibilities together. Building a house is an especially large challenge, which means that the rewards are that much greater.
One of my personal dreams in life is to build my own home. In order to do that in the future, I need to get started on my education in the present. Back when I was deciding my next moves in Italy, I used the site helpx.net to connect with the Nar Ciftlig Organik Farm in Kerpe, Turkey. They were offering a free volunteer opportunity to learn about mud building, and I jumped at the chance to spend my time learning this new skill. Over the course of seven six-day work weeks, I exchanged big ideas about the future with some incredible people whom I now refer to as my Turkish family, ate the best farm-to-table food of my life, and sang my heart out and danced my butt off while mixing clay, sand, gravel, straw, and water to make the adobe cocktail that would soon become 1200+ bricks and, later, a grain storage facility.
Many people were involved in the creation of the facility. Sadly, the schedule for building had to be pushed back a couple of weeks, and I was unable to stay and be a part of that process. The collage represents most of the people who got their hands dirty to complete this project. It is not a comprehensive collage, but it is a fair representation of the diversity of people who put their hearts into this labor of love (save for some Turkish children and adults, a few Aussies, a Frenchman, and a Taiwanese woman).
The primary coordinator of the project was Shaul Shaham (second column and row). A world traveler for 10 years now, Shaul spent a couple months learning how to build with mud when he was living in a kibbutz in Israel once he had finished his compulsory military service. The kibbutz changed the course of his life and the direction of his travels thereafter. This was his first solo building project. And a successful one it was, as you can see in this video and the photo above (credit to Alisa from Germany).
For more information on the possibilities of natural building, I highly recommend you give this video a fair watch.