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

Introduction to Cob building – Kenya

Earthen Shelter in collaboration with the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) in Kenya

WHAT: A hands-on course appropriate for both first-time builders and for professionals in the building trade who are interested in natural materials. In this seven day cob workshop, the focus will be on the characteristics of the natural materials most commonly used in construction:  clay soil, sand, and fibers.

WHO CAN PARTICIPATE: The course is appropriate for both first-time builders and for professionals in the building trade who are interested in natural materials.

WHERE: Laikipia Permaculture Centre is a 1.6 hectare farm located on the Laikipia Plain, north of the Rift Valley in Central Kenya. Founded in 2012 by permaculture teacher Joseph Lentunyoi and Permaculture Research Institute Kenya, the project aims to illustrate how regenerative agricultural practices can improve local food security and community health while preserving and rehabilitating precious ecological resources impacted by overgrazing and other unsustainable use patterns. As a demonstration site for water harvesting and conservation strategies, soil fertility building, holistic pastoral management, natural building and many other sustainable practices, LPC is developing a model with far-reaching potential for Laikipia, Kenya and East Africa as a whole.

WHEN: January 18- 24, 2015

PROGRAMME HIGHLIGHTS: The course aims to be a part of the revival of natural building in Kenya; to help revitalize an ancient art and incorporate new techniques learned through past decades as natural building has gained traction internationally. Benefits to participants and the local community will include acquisition of the skills necessary to build climate-controlled, sustainable, non-toxic, affordable housing without acquiring substantial debt.  The artisanal and ancestral skills of natural building have largely been lost through the 20th century. Commercial materials and conventional building styles have benefited from industry biased-regulations and are now largely associated with status and prestige. This is the case in Kenya, a country that is integral to the history of natural building and that still contains communities reliant on natural housing.

In this seven day cob workshop, we focus on the characteristics of the natural materials most commonly used in construction:  clay soil, sand, and fibers.

(1) The main focus will be cob, which combines these readily-available materials to hand-sculpt beautiful walls, benches, ovens, and fireplaces.

(2) Various other building techniques that utilize the same materials, including adobe block, light straw-clay, wattle and daub, and plasters will also be touched on.

(3) Discussions will be held on how to find and choose appropriate soil for construction, how to create various mixes and plasters, how to incorporate timber and stone, and how to use earthen materials to build walls, sculpt niches, shelves, and furniture.

(4) As a complement to the hands-on portion of the course, slide shows and discussions of the science and theory of natural building will bring deeper understandings and answer any questions.  Subjects include building design and siting, passive solar design, foundations and drainage, earthen floors, appropriate roof design, and wiring and plumbing for natural structures.

APPLICATION: To apply, please register online with the PRI .

For details on the project go to: http://www.earthenshelter.com/workshops.html

Please contact the Natural Building Collective to send us more information about your natural building events.

 

Breaking news: Six day course at Khula Dhamma, near East London 25 – 31 October 2014

I have been contracted to facilitate a six day course at Khula Dhamma, near East London at the end of October. This is in addition to the accredited course that I’m hosting at Magic Mountains retreat, near Barrydale in the Western Cape at the start of October. Both courses will cover the same basic topics, but you will be working with somewhat different materials. So if you can’t join us for one, maybe you can join us for the other course… Cobworkshop-KDRC

 

 

 

Contact Khula Dhamma directly at kdrc@khuladhamma.org to book for the course there.

Reflections and observations on a recent visit to the former Transkei

I had the pleasure of recently visiting a really magical place, Mdumbi in the former Transkei. Mdumbi is about 30km north of Coffee Bay in the typical rolling green landscape. Travelling with fellow architects Carl Morkel and Wim Els at a slowish pace, either walking or watching from the car window, one is aware of a soft silence, endless, gentle rolling hills with the silhouette of small pastel huts and sometimes the ocean in the background. Grandmothers moving peacefully and slowly, a shout from one hillside to the next, fishermen just appearing as almost out of nowhere.

Figure 1: Typical Transkei landscape, round huts in pastel colours.

Figure 1: Typical Transkei landscape, round huts in pastel colours.

One would like to think of this place as the ultimate sustainable example of natural building. Huts have been made here forever with soil and clay, either with using the wattle and daub or with mud brick method. You could easily imagine that all buildings here are still made with the smallest possible footprint on the earth. There are tiny mud brick making “factories” all along the roadsides, with clay being excavated directly out of the hillside and the small holes being covered with grass growing over it fairly quickly. People are going about making the bricks, talking, mixing, moulding, laying the bricks out to dry.

Figure 2: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world

Figure 2: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world

Figure 3: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world

Figure 3: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world

 

Deep-rooted traditions, foreign to outside observers, is visible in the very nature of the buildings, with huts in ruins not because of a lack of maintenance but out of respect for the inhabitant that has passed to another life, with contemporary car tyres forming the crown of the round roof and sharp pieces of glass embedded in them, not for adornment or ornament, but to keep the evil owl away.

The “evil” that has crept into this landscape dispels the romantic idea that all here is inherently sustainable. The landscape is pock marked with entire hill sides being bull dozed to mine sand and left un-rehabilitated. Thermally poor performing materials with a high environmental cost, such as concrete block have become the status symbol for affluence. Understanding of all the reasons behind these changes, which are many, is the topic for another discussion, but the low maintenance of a concrete block building cannot be left out of the picture.

The “charm” of the degradable, organic buildings is thwarted by the very aspect that makes them charming. If just left, they can degrade. Easily. The national “eradicate mud schools” agenda is by now well known. It is a multibillion-rand programme. This year alone the delivery delays on this programme have apparently cost 7 billion rand. (Legal Resources Centre, 2014) The mud school has developed a very bad name. And it is only through involvement and education that this will change.

Figure 4: Wattle and daub degrading

Figure 4: Wattle and daub degrading

The reasons for the mud schools have a bad name is given one blogger as “having no toilets, having no electricity, having not water, coughing in a dusty classroom where the roof is caving in”…………..this from http://realisingrights.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/we-do-not-have-toilets/ Also read this http://mg.co.za/article/2013-03-08-00-forgotten-schools-of-the-eastern-cape-left-to-rot and this http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Politics/Mud-schools-gone-by-2015-minister-20130226.

Why do these school buildings perform so badly? Traditional Transkei buildings require constant maintenance, since most of them lack the two really important protection criteria that natural buildings need to survive. A proper hat and boots. In trying to convince role players that it is not necessarily the “mud” that is the problem in these schools, Lesley Freedman and Andy Horn recently met and then sent a letter to Equal Education to introduce ideas around proper “mud” building standards that will not only improve the schools but also houses in the surrounding villages.

This brings me back to our reason for visiting the Transkei. We went there to take part in discussions regarding the development of a wonderful initiative, Mdumbi Green Destinations. This is a project envisioned by Mdumbi Backpackers in association with the Mankosi community. The Mankosi community will develop a community owned tourist facility where, amongst other sustainable aspects, the buildings will be made with natural, local materials. The local community will be integrated in the design, development and building process and will, apart from getting ownership and employment during and after the process, they will learn about using their local materials in an effective way that makes it last longer (and of course food production and other environmental sustainable things, but we are concentrating on this blog on natural building).

Spin offs of the initiative is that the Mdumbi Backpacker community has learned some valuable lessons and skills about natural building in the long process (read years) towards the project becoming a reality. And some of them learned these skills at Berg-en-Dal.

Through the Transcape “arm” of Mdumbi backpackers that focuses directly on assisting the community, an Eco Centre has been opened. Already here mud brick making, proper building methods (and food gardening) is taught to the local community. What is interesting that we observed when visiting the Eco Centre is that it was predominantly young men and women that took part in the mud brick making workshops, where at the “factories” next to the road it was mostly older women working.

Figure 5: Me at the Eco Centre mud brick training facility

Figure 5: Me at the Eco Centre mud brick training facility

Figure 6: One (wo)man mould_I like the size of this for when you work alone

Figure 6: One (wo)man mould_I like the size of this for when you work alone

Figure 7_Local stone_great to use for “boots” of the building

Figure 7_Local stone_great to use for “boots” of the building

 

Figure 8: Volunteers house at the Eco Centre – putting in proper floor

Figure 8: Volunteers house at the Eco Centre – putting in proper floor

So, I am really looking forward to being involved in this great project and will keep you updated……………..

 

Figure 9: Sunrise and fishermen at Mdumbi Point

Figure 9: Sunrise and fishermen at Mdumbi Point

 

Photo credits

Figure 1-8: Carl Morkel

Figure 9: Hermie Delport-Voulgarelis

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