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Earth First

Transtition Towns Kaitaia’s February film was ‘First Earth‘, which could as easily be called ‘Earth First’ – putting earth first as a healthy, economical, and attractive building option that has met the needs of many human communities since building began.

Between one third and half of all humans currently live in earth-built homes – and these buildings are in turn outnumbered by earth-built temples, storehouses, barns, walls and monuments. The film introduced early 2000’s North American earth-building converts and their creative, curvilinear homes in rural settings, but the most stunning footage was of the cluster of 500 Yemen earthen skyscrapers, and the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, a multi-storeyed ‘village’ of family homes that has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years.

Earth building is almost of necessity a group affair, and a chance to express and reinforce people’s connections and commitments to each other – many hands make light work. Earth building is, for the vast majority of earth builders, a skill learned from childhood and developed in the context of a shared cultural aesthetic. Earth building methods reflect both what resources are at hand, and the cultural priorities and expression of the builders. Built of the surrounding earth, earth buildings are a natural fit for their particular environment, whether they are a Pueblo constructed of raw earth, a Yemen skyscraper of sun-dried tile-bricks, an Indian village hall of rammed earth, or a cluster of African round-houses of wattle and daub. Most climates mean regular re-plastering by hand to retain buildings’ structural integrity in the face of the elements – a great social activity and a chance to add some special effects…So, if not a house, what about building that new chook shed or dog kennel in earth, just for starters?

Film review by Gill Minogue

Feeling inspired?

The EcoCentre has two earth building related workshops coming up. The Limeplastering workshop with Stephen Moller of Limewave on Saturday 24th February is almost full, but we’re taking expressions of interest in a repeat of the course later in the year. A wattle & daub style building workshop using bamboo and other local materials such as manuka and kanuka with mud/clay is being planned with Grant Stephens to take place once he’s finished his contract in the Gisbourne area where he’s working alongside council workers, architects, engineers, builders etc to come up with some workable building code standards for earth buildings. If you’d like to be informed of the dates and details when these are confirmed do get in touch with us. There is already a high level of interest and we could well be looking at running the course more than once.

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