Q&A with Jill Hogan, a pioneer of natural building in South Africa

How did you first get involved in natural building? 

Jill Hogan at Cobbit's Cottage.

Jill Hogan at Cobbit’s Cottage.

In the early 90’s my life changed completely and I found my self alone. In wanting to be part of a community, I met Hurta Stuurman and did some work with her on her cob house at Hermanus/Stanford and knew that this is what I wanted to do. It combined my concept of Permaculture with creating an organic home for myself, while allowing me to use my knowledge of earth/clay.

Tell us about your journey.

In the 70’s I worked for a nursery. I had a pot plant business, but was exposed to organic veggie gardening and became more and  more interested. At the same time, I started doing pottery and assisted in teach children with learning disabilities now known as ADHD, and so was exposed to lateral thinking.

In the 80’s I went back to “school” and did a fine arts majoring in ceramics.

In 1992 I was introduced to Permaculture and did the design course with John Wilson from Fambidanzia, at Tlholego in Rustenberg, and I developed a true passion for sustainable development.

Someone was setting up an Eco Village in McGregor and I was drawn to become one of the original developers. But personality clashes among the original six members caused the project to collapse, sending me into McGregor itself where I bought a piece of land in the town. Continue reading

Transition Ethics: The Art of Compromise

This post first appeared on Numundo on 16 February 2016. We are re-posting it here with the permission of  Shayna Gladstone and author Scott Gallant.

To introduce the post, we’d like to share with you why we were so excited to read Scott’s post. Written by Scott Gallant from Rancho Mastatal Sustainability Education Center in Costa Rica, the post is based on his experience teaching the three permaculture ethics during the center’s Permaculture Design Courses, and the realization that a fourth ethic is required in order to facilitate a conversation about compromise.  They filled the gap with the Transition Ethic. Scott quotes Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein, authors of Practical Permaculture, who acknowledge that “the transition ethic says that no one is going from zero to sustainable overnight. Making the transition takes time.” He goes on to say that “We have to meet people where they are at.  We must understand their cultural context.” Continue reading

From the ground up ~ approaches to building a foundation for your natural building

Foundations for conventional building have, to a large extent, a one size fits all approach regardless of the type of ground you are building on i.e. a concrete and steel foundation that works equally well on all types of earth and varies only slightly in its design. It requires little thought and has been proven to be effective. The cement in concrete provides the compressive strength, and the steel tensile strength to resist cracking. It does however come at a cost to both your pocket and the environment.

When building with earth your foundation needs to be well considered as the integrity of your building rests here. Decisions you make about your foundation depend on the materials you have available, the type of ground you have to build on and what carbon footprint you want to leave. The goal should be to create foundations that are hard enough, move uniformly and resist cracking for the walls above it. Foundations will always have a higher Mpa value than the walls, however it does not need to be excessive. A 4 Mpa foundation is sufficient for a 1.6 Mpa mud-brick wall, which most types of foundations are suitable for. Furthermore, if after levelling the site the undisturbed earth is hard enough, foundations may well be unnecessary.

There are several strategies for foundations depending on the type of ground that you are building on. In this blog post, I discuss the four types of ground, (1) uniformly hard, (2) uniformly soft, (3) hard and soft, and (4) clay, their challenges and several strategies you may incorporate into your design. The discussion is quite technical in some areas so I recommend that you read my three-part series on understanding earth first. Continue reading

AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture + Innovation 2015/2016

Online entries for the 2015/2016 AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture + Innovation are now open and feature two new award categories. Alongside the two mainstays, Sustainable Architecture and Research in Sustainability, there are now two additional categories for Sustainable Products and Technology and Sustainable Social Programmes – making the Award South Africa’s premier platform for recognising excellence in sustainable practice and innovation.

Increasingly climate and social challenges are necessitating new solutions to persistent developmental challenges. The world needs visionaries that can imagine new answers and design new systems. This bi-annual Award recognises contributions that bring sustainable innovation to human living environments through an integrated approach to communities, planning, design, architecture, building practice, natural systems and technology.

Go to their webpage to find more detailed information on each of the categories, as well as the judging panel and closing dates, and to view past submissions and awarded projects. They have also created a seamless and accessible online entry platform should you have your own project, or be involved in one, that you believe qualifies for entry.

If you have any queries about the 2015/2016 AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture + Innovation, please email: briefing@sustainabledesign.co.za

First course of 2016

Poster 04_2016 sml

How to incorporate passive solar design in your building, using thermal mass and insulation.

DSC01797_edit 1

Passive solar design is the starting point of sustainable building. Once one understands the basic principles of using the abundant natural renewable resources at our disposal we become more creative in our approach to design, more in tune and observant, reconnecting us with the natural rhythms that surround and sustain us, if only we would pay attention. Sustainable buildings save money, reduce your carbon footprint and provide a healthy living environment, transforming buildings from consumers of energy to producers and forging buildings that meet our needs.

From a permaculture perspective, incorporating these aspects into the design of your home are excellent examples of several permaculture design principles. To mention the most obvious: Observing and interacting with your environment to make the most of the sun’s migration, catching and storing energy, using and valuing renewable resources and services, integrating functions and elements rather than segregating them and obtaining a yield from the planet’s most abundant energy source, the sun.

Passive Solar Design uses the energy provided by the sun and stored in the earth. First we need to look at how this energy is utilized by defining insulation and thermal mass and then look at the strategies of how to incorporate them into our designs.

Continue reading

Take charge of your power needs, Part 2: How to design your own off-grid solar energy system

Please note in order to make sense of this blog post you need to read Part 1: Solar energy as an alternative to centralized power systems.

How to design a solar system to meet your needs, Part 2

As we’re heading into winter South Africa’s continued loadshedding will have an even greater affect at home and work as people spend more time indoors requiring amongst other things more lighting as well as heating. We are blessed with abundant sunny days making solar very reliable without the need for a lot of backup storage in the form of batteries. If you are considering going off the grid, whether partially or fully, my previous post will give you a basic understanding of how solar energy works and the components of the system. In this post, I show you how to calculate your energy requirements, as well as choose an inverter, batteries and solar panels to suit your needs.

Continue reading