Leslie Jackson
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Natural Building

east-west house

Natural Building

Natural Building is the art of cooperating with the environment to build dwellings. Materials used are locally available, usually of organic nature, such as sand, rocks and clay, but since garbage has become part of the earth, it's a natural element. Urbanite, which is broken up poured cement is a natural building material, used often for foundations and stem walls. Natural Buildings are cool in the summer and cozy in the winter because they are built with an understanding of weather, the sun's patterns and they tend to be small, efficient, leaving more room outside to play.

I learned natural building from Ianto Evans of the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. He designed the building at left, called the East-West House. It was built over several workshops at the school in Coquille, Oregon.

If you came to this site to find out more about natural building, please send me email. I'll talk your ear off, send you to workshops, sell you books, show you pictures, send you to beautiful inspiring sites and perhaps we will build or design something together for you. As an urban dweller, I would like to inspire my fellow urbanites to stay in the city, enjoy its culture and wealth of resources and talents, and if you need that cottage retreat in the country, build an illegal one in your backyard! I can help.

Are you in the San Francisco Bay Area and looking for resources for natural building? For urban stuff, I'd love to tell you about these friends of mine who run a natural building school and custom building service called Vertical Clay. They live in a run-down fixer-upper on a dog-patch street in a city just north of Oakland called El Sobrante. They are remodeling a back-yard cottage with light straw clay as an insulator--and got code approval from their county!

Here are a few random urban specific links for inspiration:

  • The Natural Building Network will set you up with workshops workers and pros in your region. Membership is $50, but if you are having trouble uncovering the resources where you are, this may help!
  • Permaculture goes hand-in-hand with, well, everyting, as it's a way of living in the worls that accounts for It All. I think of it as a fancy word for common sense or science. There are great teachers all over the place. Regenerative Design Institute have a beautiful site on the coast of West Marin and teach various workshops.
  • The Merritt College Horticulture Department rocks the native plants and have great instructors and resources.

Are you interested in pursuing a career in natural building? Here a response to an inquiry I got from a really nice person called Trevor.

"Thanks for taking the time to write, sounds like you are well on your way if you have built your own stove for bike touring! What part of the world are you in? There are natural builders all over the place, and many pros take on apprentices. That's an arrangement I can highly recommend if you find some folks that you like, and situations in which you can learn by doing.
I assume you have taken some workshops. Natural Building Colloquiums are also really great. We don't have enough of those, but you meet everyone in the region.
As a professional builder, the kinds of work you may find would be under the table, or in the alternative economies of barter, etc. There isn't much in the way of contracting for a natural builder, so if you want to be a full-time builder you might consider getting a conventional contractor's license. You'd be able to work your alternative building designs into your clients' requests, as well as legally hire a crew, get the health insurance, make a Real Wage for yourself. You'd also have more of a voice in the Codes/Building Dept, in which you might want to introduce some natural building techniques to conventional building....That's one route.
The route I took after being part of a crew that built a few straw bale houses, and after sub-contractioing to remodel cob houses, and then doing a lot of plastering, which I love, was small publishing. Now the book Rocket Mass Heaters almost fully supports my music habit! I also make a little money teaching workshops in NB in performing music, and advising and sub-contracting on plastering.
Teaching natural building is a really popular way to go about it, and there are lots of teachers out there. Tell me what region you are in, and what your tendencies are towards. Timberframe, solar power, cob, masonry stoves, plastering, water, or other directions, and perhaps I can introduce you to people in your area.
All the best to you in your endeavors. You are on an exciting path at an exciting time!"

This page was last modified on Tuesday, August 28, 2012.