Natural Building Colloquium


The Context:
Natural Building
The Building Codes
Societal Impact Matrix
Return of The Village
Habitat For Humanity
Earthmother Dwelling
Intuitive Design
Curves of Breath & Clay
Feng Shui

The Art:
Overview of Techniques
Nature, Earth & Magic
Hybrid House
Barefoot Architecture
History of Cob
Cob Q & A
Natural Composites
Compressed Earth Blocks
Adobe Oven
Earthen Floor
Honey House
German Clay Building
Straw-bale Dome
Earthen Plaster & Aliz
Natural Paints

Solar Distiller
Solar Water Heater
Composting Toilets
Watson Wick
Solar Ovens



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Earthmother Dwelling: Listening to the Elements, Exploring Inner Freedom

"...being surrounded by beauty allows one to put aside at least some of the burden of his or her defenses against the world and to feel inwardly free. What relief! What therapy. Unlike composition, harmony and so on, beauty rules. It is something the artist must struggle to achieve. And anyone who undertakes this struggle, with all the single-minded dedication it demands, is an artist. This love force shines from the finished product. It has nothing to do with fashion or style, and little to do with latent ability. It comes from the gift of love, and an environment so filled has a powerful healing effect, for love is the greatest healer, needing only understanding to complete it..." — Christopher Day

I spent most of my impressionable years in Afghanistan and India, where I was surrounded by indigenous architecture. It was during this time, I suspect, that I developed subconsciously the passion for honesty, modesty and harmony.

When I studied architecture, I explored how the city in its origin embodied myths that connected it to the world, with everyone's lives being grounded by this connection. I worked with the premise that, notwithstanding progress and modern mobility, a significant aspect of our being remains biological. In his writings on the biological basis of psychoanalysis, Peter Fuller shows how myths arise from the same substratum as dreams, and that they play a significant role in how we engage with the world. These myths are neither fiction nor flights of fantasy, but the concrete manifestations of this mythopoetic dimension of our being.

Looking young and consuming the ever-new may be rituals of an age of mechanical reproduction, but life holds more. Rejecting process movement or mechanical imagery as the basis for architecture, my work has been an exploration of the ground of being, where it interacts with the structure and "feel" of the city. I have attempted to show how the city, through its buildings, might form spatial realms suffused with character and mood where lives could be fruitfully enacted.

Throughout my studies I had a passion for what I call "primitive" (or "indigenous") architecture. By primitive I don't mean backward, but quite the opposite — to be primus means to be the first. To be at the beginning. It is good for the mind to go back to the beginning, because the start of any established human activity is its most wonderful moment. This view can teach us the fundamental principles of each invention, thereby showing the possibility of taking another path.

Most "primitive" anonymous buildings were constructed in response to such conditions as climate, orientation, and the easy availability of building materials. As the building material dictated the form of the dwelling, the builders were sensitive to it. They worked with their materials, not against them as in so much of today's architecture.

During the summer of 1996, I finally embarked on my long awaited journey (after working for several years in London practices) to discover indigenous materials and techniques. One of my earliest and most exciting discoveries was the arch. Here was a form that occurs all around us in nature. The arch allows us to be free of the need to use wood, and materials such as concrete and steel, which are high in embodied energy. All naturally occurring structures use the arch form as their structural element. It is all around us.

I first learned about Earth Architecture from the Iranian-born visionary architect, Nader Khalili, during an internship at his school of art and architecture, Cal Earth. The Islamic influence wasn't new, due to my prior years spent in Afghanistan, but the materials and techniques were. However, my passion for the arch has nothing to do with the dome or vault, or any type of symmetrical Islamic architecture. It has to do with nature. I didn't want to necessarily imitate nature. I wanted to feel the freedom that nature appears to possess. I had experienced so many constraints in the world I came from; I wanted to escape it. I wanted to become free. I wanted to explore my strength, to understand and celebrate the possibilities of the earth in my hands.

As I worked with this totally fluid material, I felt its lack of constraints, its freedom. I wanted it to lead me. I wanted to allow the earth that freedom. I didn't want to make it do something which imitated another material. I wanted to set it free, to listen to it. I believe that all buildings should be designed and built with this sensitivity. To me it has become one of the most important factors in the design process. In fact, designing and building are to me like sculpting. When a sculptor carves into the rock he listens to the rock telling him what it should become. Creating a dwelling is the same to me; it's about understanding the material, the needs of the inhabitant, the climate, being in harmony with the environment and, most of all, feeling passion during the process.

At the moment, my ideal house is one which lives in such harmony with its environment — a house that is difficult to notice, like an animal that blends in to its surroundings. So many houses appear like warts on our landscape. When you drive through the countryside, how much nicer it would be if you couldn't see the houses, if they harmoniously blended in, like the houses in Afghanistan that climb the hillsides and are made of the same earth as the hillside. Only at night, when the lights come on, do you see the extent of development.

In my Earthmother Dwelling that I built at Cal-Earth, these are some of the things that I aimed to achieve. The Earthmother Dwelling was built in a close dialogue with the essence of the site. Listening to the elements, letting the earth tell me what it wanted to become. Being free from the architectural icons of traditional cultures. Listening openly to my inner voices, letting them guide me to achieve coherence and happiness.

Paulina Wojciechowska is an architect specializing in natural/ecological/organic projects in developing countries. Byfleet, Surrey, England


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