Crestone Eagle, November 2003:
The Natural Building Colloquium—2003
story & photos by Kelly Hart
2003 Natural Building Colloquium was recently held at the
Black Range Lodge in Kingston, NM, on the foothills of the
Gila Mountains. It was a full week of connecting with old
friends, making dozens of new acquaintances, learning more
about a wide range of natural building techniques, teaching
some about what I know, eating consistently gourmet vegetarian
fair, soaking in a wood-fired hot tub, playing music and enjoying
the lovely fall weather.
With about 150 people attending, this event nearly doubled
the size of the previous one 3 years ago. Most of the attendees
were from the western U.S., but there were also 24 from the
eastern U.S. and others from Canada, England, Denmark, Russia,
Israel, Nicaragua, and Chile. I was delighted to find so many
folks who are committed to making positive environmental changes
through their building choices.
Each morning we gathered in a big circle to introduce new
people and get our bearings for the day’s activities.
There was always more to experience than any person could
do, so we had tough choices to make. I will tell you about
just a few of the events that I found especially significant.
Perhaps the most important work is being done by a few individuals
who are committed to bringing natural building techniques
into the mainstream through incorporating them into established
building codes. Outstanding in this arena is David Eisenberg
of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology (www.dcat.net).
David now has a regular column in Building Safety magazine,
which is distributed to almost all of the building officials
throughout the United States. He told us that he once addressed
a huge audience of these officials at one of their conferences
and told them that when people come to them seeking permission
to build with sustainable materials and techniques, they should
listen carefully and try to help them, because what they want
is to preserve the world for all of our children! He is very
well received by the building officials because he respects
the caring that lies behind their concern for safety.
Among the original champions of strawbale building are Matts
Myhrman and Judy Knox, who not only presented a wonderful
slide show about their work but also conducted a workshop
on building a temporary emergency shelter with straw. The
building went up in just one day, complete with roof and door.
The next day Matts demonstrated the use of a simple spray
gun that can handle a wide range of natural plasters.
I met Doni Kiffmeyer and Kaki Hunter, fellow earthbag enthusiasts
from Moab, Utah. They embarked on a simple earthbag root cellar
project on the first day and continued on with this through
the week. Doni and Kaki have been working with bags for about
as long as I and have evolved some unique ways of doing things.
I would periodically wander by “the hole” where
the bag project was happening to see the progress and was
a bit surprised by how slowly it went. After a week’s
work with quite a bit of participation, the cellar was only
about half done. I think the degree of precision they required
slowed up the process considerably. My recent experience in
building the earthbag “glorieta” progressed perhaps
8 times faster!
Another week-long project that was successfully completed
was the painting of the interior walls of a large meeting
hall with a lovely coat of natural clay paint, or aliz. Four
women experienced in this helped the workshop participants
mix and apply the aliz. Carol Crews, 1 of the 4, painted a
large Om sign in the middle of one of the walls.
Michael Melendres, who has a nursery in Los Lunas, NM, spoke
about how to grow healthy soil. He is a walking encyclopedia
about anything to do with plants, and he drew a large crowd
for his presentations. He shared the observation that the
path of the major infestation of ips beetles in northern New
Mexico corresponds almost perfectly to the smoke plume of
the Los Alamos fire. He conjectured that there was something
toxic enough in that smoke to stress the trees beyond what
the drought has done.
Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley of the Cob Cottage Company in
Oregon returned from 3 years ago to lead more cobbers into
the mud and straw that was applied to the repair of the great
Phoenix, a sculpted oven and bench. This landmark of the Black
Range Lodge is completely exposed to the elements and had
suffered much erosion since its last repair. Several new cobbers
were slathered in mud before the Phoenix arose again from
decay. Architectural visionary Sun Ray Kelly inspired these
new sculptors to wild excesses of expression.
Ianto also explained how to build one of his “rocket
stoves,” which can heat up an interior bench very quickly
to make a cozy warm place to snuggle on a cold winter’s
night. Ianto and Linda presented their ever-popular slide
show on how man should imitate nature in architectural design.
I have seen this show several times and am always inspired;
it speaks directly to the right side of the brain with imagery
and verse. They were planning to present this show in Crestone
a few days later, but Ianto’s mother in Wales fell ill,
and Ianto abruptly flew off to be with her.
I offered a simple demonstration of how to make papercrete
with a little electric barrel mixer, and we applied this as
a plaster over an old cob wall. I had never done this before,
but it seemed to be adhering quite nicely. I also showed slides
of my earthbag/papercrete house and few other projects I have
been involved with in Crestone.
One of the wonderful surprises of the Colloquium was the
presence of a group of Russians from Siberia. They represented
several organizations dedicated to environmental or cultural
preservation and wanted to have some hands-on experience with
natural building techniques. Accompanying them were two young
American women who acted as very adept interpreters, and who
also organized bringing the Russians here. They both work
with the Sacred Earth Network, which was established in 1985
and has been especially involved with the protection of parks
and indigenous groups and the introduction of renewable ener-gy
systems and sustainable living systems in the Altai region
of Siberia. At first this Network tried to get the Siberians
on-line, and now they are trying to get them off-grid.
Crestone strawbale builder Paul Koppana of SkyHawk Construction
has coordinated a strawbale workshop here with these same
Siberians. Paul is involved with the Builders Without Borders
organization and is interested in expanding natural building
concepts internationally. A grant from the Trust for Mutual
Understanding provided funds to bring this group both to the
Colloquium and to Crestone for further strawbale training.
Back in Siberia, the Russians plan to implement their knowledge
through various demonstration projects to showcase sustainable
technologies. Igor has already begun building two passive
solar houses; Tanya and Ludya want to build a public demonstration
building in the Altai; and Victor is finishing a five story
building that features various aspects of renewable energy.
The Natural Building Colloquia have been important events
in bringing together the diverse community of people interested
in sustainable living. As a forum for sharing information
about building technologies and embracing the entire spectrum
of these concepts, these gatherings help forge a unity in
our desire to fashion a more wholesome-built environment.
The next Colloquium is being planned for the East Coast; check
the News page: www.greenhomebuilding .com for more details
as they emerge.
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