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

Natural building course October 2016, Swellendam

We are happy to announce the completion of another successful course at Wild Spirit Backpacker’s Lodge in April, 2016. The second CPD accredited natural building course will be held at Jakkalskloof farm, in Swellendam. Jakkalskloof is an organic mixed-use farm which also provides training in Biodynamic agriculture.

 

Natural Building Collective_Natural building course October 2016 Swellendam

For more information about these CPD accredited natural building courses simply drop us an email at: naturalbuildingcollective@gmail.com

To see what previous participants had to say, visit the Testimonials page; or visit the gallery for photos from our previous courses.

 

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

First course of 2016

Poster 04_2016 sml

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

Owner-builder journey ~ Franz Muhl: Energy flows where attention goes

In this edition of the Owner-builder journey, Franz Muhl writes about a mud brick addition to his Scarborough home.

Franz 1

Five years ago, Peter McIntosh gave me +- 900 sun-baked mud bricks, for an extension to my house. Franz 3With little start up money, a trickle of income, some plans on google sketch up, a pickaxe and, most importantly, plenty of time, I finally started the process a year ago.

 

At foundation level, with the skills that I had at the time, I used clay-fired bricks and a bitumen coat for damp-proofing. Franz 4In March, I headed off to Berg-en-dal for a crash course with Peter. He traded his skills and knowledge in natural building for mine in brewing beer. To take clay, sand, water and a bit of straw in the right proportions and work it into a material for building, was a big revelation for me. Continue reading

New directions in informal settlement upgrading and community-led sustainable building practices – The Freedom Square shack replacement project – Day 18 (Thursday 2 Oct’14)

I came to learn how to build a cob wall; instead I learned the story of my life before I even stepped onto the building site.

It was day 18 at the Freedom Square shack replacement building site in Bloemfontein, but my first day on the premises. The walls of Lientjie’s new house were already about three quarters completed. The first one and a half meters from the floor up was made of compounded tyres and solid cob packed firmly into and onto a reinforced metal grid. From this solid section of wall up toward the beams, the building team has started to experiment with decorative wall building techniques such as inserting colored glass bottles in patterns into the cob and carving edgings onto the walls. The total effect is of a mud wall inserted with an array of miniature skylights. It was still early morning and the sun spilled through the little skylights in mesmerizing colour.

So how does one build a cob wall? In an ideal world it would be with a rigorously tested cob mix of course. However, in this part of Freedom Square location life is hardly ideal. Here lives the abject economic disadvantaged and marginalized, those whose only option is to make do with what they have. Even the earth lacks succor and consists of 70% clay. The Qala Phelang Tala building team, as change agent and mentor, has therefore devised a method of ensuring an optimal cob mix, by mixing in a ratio of dry horse dung and fine sand.

By now each member of the regular building team has established their niche. While Ellen Maphalane and Tiisettso Chobokoane were making bottle bricks, Abraham Nkotywa was layering the wall with cob mix and finished bottle bricks. Mokoena Maphalane carried buckets of clay, horse dung, sand and water to the mixing area and all stomped the cob mix together. Tiisetso two year old niece, Pimelo, was following suit and industriously heaving water back and forth in her small porridge bowl. Anita was decorating the cob walls with her carvings while Oretile, the little boy from across the street, was avidly watching her every move. He was totally engrossed by Anita’s unique skill and the beautiful wall art that she was creating.

1.Tiisetso showing the Occupational Therapy students the finer art of refining details on the wall.

Tiisetso showing the Occupational Therapy students the finer art of refining details on the wall.

Each member of this seemingly ragamuffin building team has his/her own story of hardship and grief, adversity and woe. Abraham is 62 and has suffered from cancer, interspersed with periods of remission, throughout is life. His four children all passed away young, two as babies and two during toddlerhood. His wife also passed away of cancer. Two years ago, during a particularly robust bout of full blown cancer, he prepared himself for dying and bequeathed his house to his brother. Abraham survived the cancer, but found himself homeless upon finally being released from the hospital. He now lives in a tiny, battered shack at the back of his brother’s house, the house that once belonged to Abraham and that he had given to his brother. Abraham used to be a builder and his natural skill is evident in the perfect symmetry of the wall that he is busy building, his bare hands the only tools of his trade.

Mokoena is only 28, but was born with a heart defect. He suffered a stroke at 26 and is now partially impaired on the left side of his body. Mokoena, physically supported by his mother, Ellen, walks 5km every morning from their shack on the other side of Freedom Square location to the building site. For Mokoena life has gained new meaning since he started participating in the building activities. He spent his childhood on the periphery of normal youthful activity. As a result of his weak heart, he could never participate in games and sports with his friends and school mates. Now he is in the thick of things, actively contributing hard labour toward building a house for a fellow community member, while at the same time learning the skills that will enable him to one day built his own house for himself and his mother.

Waldo and Hugo joining building activities in the school holidays; here Mokoena and Abram show them the 'seretse jive' (mud dance).

Waldo and Hugo joining building activities in the school holidays; here Mokoena and Abram show them the ‘seretse jive’ (mud dance).

Abraham and Mokoena both came to be a part of the Qala Phelang Tala building mentorship programme as a result of being out-patients at the University of the Free State’s Occupational Therapy clinic in Rocklands location. Their presence is testimony to the effort and dedication of Heidi Morgan and Bronwyn Kemp to reintroduce their patients back into their communities as fully functional members, able to contribute towards and participate in living a full life.

As for the humble story of my life – well, I was standing in the doorway of Lientjie’s existing shack dwelling and hesitantly introduced myself to the three adolescents inside. They courteously reciprocated and introduced themselves as   Thembeke (18), Lonkululeko (16) and Kenneth (15) and invited me in. We chatted tentatively for a while and I asked about the beads they were wearing. It turns out that they are a trio of aspiring sangomas. The calling from the ancestors runs in their family and each one of their lives is currently a conundrum of figuring out how to heed their calling, appease the ancestors, while still having a normal adolescent life and attend to school and studies. After about an hour or so Kenneth produced a small, vibrantly patterned bag and benevolently offered to throw the bones for me. I cautiously obliged. He asked me to blow three times into the bag. A short ritual ensued of shaking the bag, repeating my name and singing softly. He emptied the little bag on the floor in front of me.

The Freedom Square Shack Replacement crew on site, day 18.

The Freedom Square Shack Replacement crew on site, day 18.

I could not help but be transfixed by the contents that now lay scattered at my feet. Among the bones, shells, beads and trinkets lay four large steel nails. The first thing I noticed was that they all lay with their sharp ends facing away from me. I remember thinking: “that must be a good thing!”. According to my trio of hosts, this was indeed the case. It meant that there are no people in my life who actively wished me harm. As for the rest of the story told by the bones – all I am prepared to say is that it cut disconcertingly close to the bone. However, I somehow doubt that I will consent to having the bones thrown for me again. The prospect of those nails potentially facing me with their sharp ends next time is too dreadful to contemplate. Quit while ahead, me thinks…

Contributed by Amanda de Gouveia on behalf of QPT. Photos courtesy of QPT. Please visit their Facebook page for more photos of the day.

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Amanda de GouveiaAmanda de Gouveia has been a research assistant at the Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State since 2010, where she has mostly been involved in research projects on social development and local economic development. This has refined a unique repertoire of research skills, both qualitative and quantitative. She has also Masters degree in Research Psychology.