The Maloca: Types of Natural Building

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an introductory post about natural building, explaining briefly about what it is. As mentioned in that post, I have been very fortunate to have had multiple opportunities of traveling to multiple countries to learn more about natural building. One trip took me to Re-Green in Greece where I stayed, learned, and laughed with some of the most amazing people who I’ve ever met. While there I also had the marvelous opportunity to teach yoga in the stunning Maloca, which is the magnificent meeting room at Re-Green. The Maloca, is a round structure that was built by hand using multiple natural building techniques and it derives its name from the Amazon where a maloca is a long house used for communal meetings.

Not only is the Maloca a place of beauty and a space used for yoga, but it is also an exhibition of multiple natural building techniques. Each wall is built using a different technique and as is common in natural built structures, each wall has its own truth window. Truth windows are cute little peeks into what’s underneath the plaster. It’s a way for owners and builders to display the technique used to build the space. Generally there are small shutters or doors that you open to find Plexiglas which shows what lies behind and between the interior and exterior walls. The Maloca has exactly this on each unique wall, but without a door or shutter, it’s simply the Plexiglass displaying what’s really there.

One wall shows straw bale, another rammed earth, there’s earthen bags, and straw clay, plus cord wood,  and adobe brick. That is six examples of natural building in one 100 sq meter beauty of a building. The quite literal icing on the cake is the masterfully constructed reciprocal roof, pictured as the feature image and below (it’s so beautiful I had to show it twice.)

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To break down those techniques a little more here is an outline of each of the six techniques displayed in each of the Maloca’s truth windows.

Straw Bails

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Straw bales

Straw Bail houses and buildings are becoming somewhat more known in the U.S. and the rest of the globe. They are as they sound, houses built of straw bales – Three Little Pigs style, I’m sure one of them made a house out of straw! Well these walls won’t be blown down by a nasty wolf nor a nasty north wind. As you may have guessed, the walls are thick, as thick as a straw bail as a matter of fact! Now of course there’s more to it than stacking bails on top of each other into the shape of a house. To finish the walls earthen plaster (mud) is applied to the exterior and interior. This keeps the critters out.

Straw Clay

Straw clay is likewise made from straw, but this time the bails are deconstructed and the straw is blended right into the mud-clay mix, either by hand, taking handfuls of loose straw and drenching it in the mud mix, or by mixing it with machinery. A structure must be built first in order to hold the straw-dipped material inside. The wood is put together so that there is a hollow space in the middle where the straw clay will be packed, and it must be packed tightly or hollow spaces will be left, where those same nasty critters could burrow in through the tiniest of holes in the external wall; trust me, you don’t want squirrel pee soaking in to your living room wall! Pack it tight!

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Straw clay

Rammed Earth

A rammed earth wall is a show piece of a natural home. Rammed earth is layers of soil and clay rammed down hard so that it becomes sturdy and permanent. Did you ever go to a state fair and fill a glass jar or vase with different colors of sand through a funnel to make an elementary master piece? Well, that’s pretty much what rammed earth looks like. Layers of earth-tones on top of each other. These walls take a lot of time and brawny muscles, so an entire house is not likely to have all of its walls made like this, but an island in a kitchen or a wall near a fire-place could be examples of ways to use rammed earth as show pieces. Structural and beautiful all in one.

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Central, under the window, is rammed earth, shame that it’s not a closer shot as you miss the beauty. To the left is clay brick.

Clay Bricks

Clay bricks are commonly known in the U.S. as adobe. These types of buildings are, or were, prevalent in the south-western United States. These are bricks made from clay that are molded or formed and then dried in the sun. they then are mortared together to form walls. Unlike hobbit-house straw bale houses, which are more organic in shape and can look like they’ve come straight out of Middle-Earth; adobe walls tend to be straighter and more uniform. Adobe is also good for building more complicated forms such as arches.

Cord Wood 20160420_090612

Imagine a big tree that’s been timbered and the logger starts to cut the tree like slices of bread creating great big circular remnants of the tree. Now imagine that those pieces of the tree are inserted into a wall, that’s what cord wood looks like, although of course the cord wood isn’t just inserted into the wall, it is inlaid slowly as the wall is built. Cord wood structures are quaint and very reminiscent of the nature from which the wood has been derived. One thing to know about building with pieces of a tree is that wood moves, breathes, and contracts with the weather, so gaps may form if the malleability of the wood is not kept in mind while building. You can see an example of a cord wood wall behind the gang of us after a morning yoga class at Re-Green, a superb backdrop for any photo.

Earth Bags

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Earth bags just behind this gal doing a handstand.

Earth bags are large bags filled with soil then piled on top of each other to build a wall. This is a form of natural building that is quick and relatively easy, although of course, some building knowledge is required. The gags are filled with earth that contains some amount of clay or another substance such as volcanic rock. This is a good technique to use if your build site does not contain much clay, as less is needed. Of course the major elephant in the room is the bag which the earth fills. The bags are as most bags are in our modern world – plastic. Now you know how I detest plastic bags, so I would not choose to build with earth bags if I could build anoterh way, but I understand that using earth bags is the lesser of the two evils when the alternative is to use conventional building supplies that have more chemicals and are likely not produced localy.

 

And there you have it, the techniques used to build the sacred space that is the Maloca at Re-Green, Greece. There is a lot more to say about each and all of these styles of natural building. For now I’ll let you day-dream over your little hobbit house, a great day dream to have as winter surrounds us. Just picture sitting by the wood stove, wrapped in a blanket (or not, these houses are energy efficient, but the blanket helps the vision of coziness I’m going for here,) sipping tea, reading a book with your dog at your feet inside the natural house that you built with your own hands. What a dream, and it’s a dream that becomes more and more realistic the more you learn about natural building. I can almost guarantee that once you get your hands in the dirt, you’ll be back for more, just as I was.

I hope that these photos of the Maloca have directed your day-dream in the right direction. Keep following this blog for more information on natural building and other things natural and yoga.

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Natural Building an Introduction

My path to a more sustainable lifestyle has brought me to a very interesting and enjoyable place, to a whole morning and afternoon spent splattering and spreading a wet mix of clay, sand, water, and little strands of straw onto a wall. A morning of hands-on-learning in the field of natural building. Playing in the mud may sound odd, but this sort of building technique is ingenious – and it’s old. It is is a style of natural building, possibly dating from as early as the 13th century in England with other types of natural building originating all around the world, because if you think about it – in the past we all used to have to build our own structures to live in, so clearly in every corner of the world there lies an historic tradition, passed down generation to generation, as to how to build a house to live in.

Nowadays, however, it is quite rare that a family builds their entire house from the ground up. In modern times it is more normal to hire a company, or rather a plethora of companies to build components of the building where you will spend most of your time. Separate contractors are hired to plan and design the home, dig and lay the foundation, and do everything in between until the very last sheet of drywall is nailed into place. Then decoration begins which is also commonly hired out to an interior designer. Modern homes are often beautiful structures made for convenience and luxury living, but they often lack authenticity. What they don’t lack however, is quite a lot of toxicity in the materials used for building and decorating. Not to mention price tags that will make anyone’s jaw drop. Natural building can offer an alternative to conventional building; you can learn to build an entire house, a second structure, or spruce up the interior with natural modifications to existing rooms in your home.

Learning to build or modify an existing structure using natural building techniques is a great way to make your house your unique home while at the same time saving you, your loved ones, and your furry friends from exposure to toxic chemicals. Natural building uses as often as possible, materials that come straight from the earth. Some common materials used are straw bales, bare tree limbs, and good old clay and mud. Examples are the structures that still exist in Wales and England today. They’re called cob and they’re being reinvigorated and recreated in countries all over the world by normal, everyday people just like you and I.

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A cob building in construction, by a totally normal dude.

Examples of natural building that I have seen and wondered over have ranged from cob ovens, whole cob-hobbit-like houses, to the most stunning and thoughtfully/naturally built yoga studio I have ever seen. The ovens and houses I have seen in places like the U.S. and Greece. Houses I’ve seen were in Canada, Greece, Czech Republic (featured image,) and the U.S. And the yoga studio, majestically called the Maloca, is situated on a cliff side surrounded by mountains at the awe-inspiring Re-Green. (A detailed write up featuring the Maloca to come in the future.)

Natural built structures can be described as adorable, fairy-like, hobbit homes and the like. Unlike conventional homes lined up row after row in the same color with the same basic shapes, natural buildings are unique and organic. They get formed slowly, thoughtfully, and beautifully. After seeing natural homes around the world I wonder why anyone would want to live in a square, white box when they could live in a warm, cozy, hand-built house.

There is a lot to be said and shown regarding natural building. Just like yoga, it’s hard to give a brief introduction because both natural building and yoga have such depth, history, styles, and detail about them. For that reason I’m going to cut this intro short and end it here. Look for more posts with descriptions and inspirations of natural building in the future.

For now if you’d like to see more fairy-like natural building, simply type in “natural building” in google search and click on the Images – so many beautiful, hand-built, non-toxic structures to admire out there on the interwebs! Or satisfy yourself with the pics provided in this post.

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Straw bale house in construction, Ohio, USA.

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Admiring the rain on the garden of the largest cob house I’ve ever seen in Canada.

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A cob, tadalakt finished cob oven, in use! Re-green, Greece

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Natural Building techniques to make a beautiful facade on an ashram in the Czech Republic. 

 

Mother Earth News Fair, PA

After a short road trip to D.C. and a few stops at farms in Pennsylvania, my boyfriend and I made it to our weekend destination of Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, Pennyslvania for the Mother Earth News Fair. It was a weekend of speakers and vendors, all with the intention of spreading sustainability ideas and practices.

From Friday early afternoon through late afternoon on Sunday, it was speaker after speaker on topics ranging from managing worm farms to how to make DIY skin care and everything in between. Searching through the schedule and circling my top picks every morning felt like being back in college looking through the course catalog choosing my subject of study. Sitting in the hour long lectures taking notes was also reminiscent of being back in school, and I am such a book-wormy student, writing down page after page of notes. There certainly was a lot to learn throughout the weekend. I listened to talks on diet, gardening, business, natural building, mushrooms, permaculture, and livestock.

The fair was just what I needed and came at the right time. My return the U.S. has been a little difficult after five months of travel around the world visiting homesteads and learning how people live as sustainability as possible.I have had great opportunities learning about plants, animals, food, and wellness systems all in beautiful locations with equally beautiful people. Returning home has been great to see my friends and family, but I have been missing the alternative lifestyles that I witnessed while traveling, so finding out about the Mother Earth News Fair couldn’t have come at a better time.

Really good things are happening in this country as hard as it is to keep in mind during this outrageous election time. It’s not just the election, there are other things that have been hard for me to adjust to upon my return to this country. Any repatriation is probably difficult no matter which country you call home, but I think many would agree that now is an absolutely crazy time to come back to land of the “free.” Attending an event full of hope and innovation was just what I needed. I may be a long ways away from having my own yoga-rescue-dog-homestead paradise, but it’s never too early to start planning.

The only down falls of the fair were the food and a lack of yoga. I expected to find grass fed beef burgers and fresh produce, it would have only made sense, but instead the food was that of the ski resort. Overpriced and packaged in plastic. We opted to picnic the last two days and skip the unhealthy resort food. I know yoga isn’t a given at a sustainability fair, but I think it can be woven into anything. It’s so holistic and universal; maybe they need a yoga teacher for next year? Regardless, I hope to be returning year after year to the Mother Earth News Fair.

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The Magic at Re-Green, Greece

This has been a summer of travel for me. After leaving Korea back in February I started travelling, meeting people, and learning through experiences in countries such as India, Greece, Poland, Czechia, and now Canada. I’ve been able to do so through a network called Help-X which you can read more about right here. One of my favorite stops in all of my travels and all of my Help-X past experiences has, by far, been at Re-Green in Greece.

Now before I get started and carried away, typing out hundreds of words on the wonders that I found at Re-Green, I’d better reign in my thoughts right here and right now. To make things easy on both of us, I’ll narrow down my thoughts to just four simple bullet points. And before I do so, let me also explain that I hope that this write-up can stand as a review for those considering trying to volunteer through a work exchange network there, or those who may attend one of their many workshops (including yoga and PDC.) More than a review, maybe it will open your eyes and mind to some cool new ideas that they’re doing over there. If nothing else, may Re-Green inspire you on your path to sustainability, whichever route it is you are taking to get there.

Why Re-Green is Magical

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  • Their View on Life – The people over at Re-Green have called their homestead-retreat center/little-piece-of-paradise Re-Green for a reason. The name stands for a conscious lifestyle that is about living a sustainably by doing more than recycling and buying energy-efficient light bulbs. To Re-Green is to work with each other and nature in order to live harmoniously with the surrounding environment, which is exactly what they strive to do at their home.  You can read  more on their website about what Re-Green stands for. A real life example of Re-greening that they have there is turning an old trunk into a solar oven to bake your potatoes in for dinner. It was so cool.

 

  • The People – From the first time that Ben and I were picked up on a cold cloudy day  in April by a big white, windowless van (I know that sounds more scary than magical, but it turned out just fine in the end – don’t let the media scare you out of having adventures!) The friendly people in the van were of course the owners and stewards of  Re-Green. It’s not always that you meet new people and instantly click, but that’s what happened. During the weeks that we stayed there were a handful of other volunteers from all over Europe and they too we jived with straight away. Lots of late nights sharing stories and laughing. It was easy and obvious why so many new friends were made there, it was because people were drawn there who believe in a philosophy of bettering the world by enhancing nature.

 

  • Surrounded by Beauty – Stunning mountain peeks surround the valley that the retreat center nestles in and almost every day I found myself wondering how I’d ended up at such a majestic place on earth. Looking closer to the ground you’ll see wildflowers and abundant gardens blossoming all around. Cuteness overload with puppies, ducklings, and little baby chicks added to the happiness.  On clear days you can see down to the Gulf of Corinth; the view of the sea from the middle compost toilet is especially lovely. At night-time the stars take over and during rain or cold, it’s the natural buildings that inspire.

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  • Experiences Not Things – Going to a retreat center that hosts events from yoga, to learning about detoxing herbs, to preserving the gardens gifts, means that you are bound to learn loads. Sharing ideas and ways with other volunteers and guest teachers will also translate to learning and as a volunteer the learning will be hands on and practical. If working on your vacation sounds like torture then check out their events on Facebook and visit as a guest. The rooms alone are reason enough to spend a weekend there, they are housed in an old, stone farm house with so much attention to detail in the remodel (they’ve been Re-Greened you might say!) While I was there I was in heaven doing yoga, teaching yoga, learning about vegetation, hiking, natural building, cuddling dogs, reading books, pulling weeds, and the list could go on.

 

This post is not so much a review as it is a gush of a place that I absolutely fell in love with. They had me at their description of their purpose and I hoped, and prayed, and crossed my fingers back in January 2016 when I applied for my boyfriend and I to volunteer there that they would take us, and then I jumped for joy when I got an email that they would. Our six weeks there were so absolutely astounding that we never wanted to leave. Maybe one day we’ll do as so many others who have visited there have done – move our lives there. Previous volunteers have fallen in love with the place and the people so much so that they bought land to become part of the Re-Green community. Moving to the mountains of Greece may just be a day dream of mine for now, but I can still day dream. If you likewise find yourself daydreaming about living life in a  real-life-sustainable-fantasy-land, then make it a reality and get yourself to Re-Green.