Front Range Bioneers Sessions: Urban Evolution–How Does Natural Building Fit Into City Living?, 11/7/14

By | November 12, 2014

Read on for notes from this informative presentation!


Front Range Bioneers, November 7-9, 2014

Urban Evolution—How does Natural Building fit into City Living?  Friday, 11/7, 4-5:15pm

Introduction by: Robin Eden

Facilitated by: Ben Waldman

Panelists: Mike Wird, Alisha Black-Mallon, Brian Fuentes, Ian Smith, Avery Ellis


Question to panel: What does natural building mean to you and how does it fit into your daily life?

Mike Wird: Practical and Social Implications: Utilizing materials available to you in the place where you reside, including solar, wind, soil, water, reducing toxic load. Social: organizing people around natural building projects, handling non-toxic building materials, and working together is transformational for people.

Alicia: PDC in Denver. Started Natural Genius, natural building with children. Teach kids how to use pattern language: focus on pattern #73 “adventure playground”. Kids designed their own playscape at Stapleton Urban Farm. Design build camps. Also a teacher.

Brian Fuentes: Grew up in Lakewood. Went to school for architecture. Participated in first straw bale house build at University of Oregon. Austria: 4 story apartments out of straw bale. Straw bale house in South Boulder. Works to build by energy and passive house standard, implement net zero buildings (40% of greenhouse gases caused by buildings).

Ian Smith: Structural engineer, graduated CU 12 years ago. Engineers Without Borders, worked in Haiti. Studied design of masonry arches, vaults, and domes in Auroville, India. Practical: using traditional, local materials in contemporary buildings. Social: Community building using local resources.

Avery Ellis: Ecological designer. Auroville, India semester. Working with CO government on greywater law. Efficiency, practicality, building structures appropriate to site (after observation). Energy of projects: example, geodesic dome build in Denver.


Question to panel: What do natural building projects in the URBAN setting look like?

Avery: re-using waste products to build homes. Materials that would otherwise go to landfill. Tires, bottles.

Brian: reclaimed is trend in architecture right now. Example, Etsy: reclaimed bar stools built by grad student. Use urban resources like Craigslist (especially for finish work). No more “plastic fantastic”. Reclaimed.

Alisha: DIY. Good starting point for people who feel powerless. “Palletfest” in Denver. “We’re the community we’ve all been looking for.” In next 15 years: rather than dumpster diving: design smart systems for reuse. Also change in laws that allow us to build out of re-purposed materials.

Mike: Systems. Natural building is already upon us as a necessity in urban environments. Resources (water, plumbing, electrical grid) are strained. Build closed loop systems. Like nature: no waste.

Brian: Systems already exist with LED lighting, solar panels, etc., for neighborhood blocks to support themselves. Codes need to change so we can do these things. Everyday question for natural builders, “Can we get it past the inspector?”

Avery: Greywater re-use so we don’t need to pass fresh water. Demand of local counties and cities that they maintain minimum standards when greywater law passes in 2015. Boulder owns watershed. Denver pumps all from Dillon Reservoir. Water re-use, “you’ve already paid for it, re-use 4-5 times.” Use homes as if living systems.


Question to Audience: Has anyone stomped cob before? (Quite a few raised their hands!)

Question to panel: How can money play a big factor in work?

Ben: Natural building is labor intensive.

Brian: labor is a good thing. We need jobs. Natural building parallel with food movement is really powerful. Stop importing materials and driving them across the country.

Alisha: mindshift is important. “free work” WE make no money, but it’s the best thing that’s happening in our lives. Real relationships develop from building. Not so much from having a beer together. Want to go build and use our bodies instead! Produced something together. Less recreation that we pay for, instead recreating together by creating together. Has enriched life in a real way. Community building. A lot of what we’re living with now can be easily dismantled. Value our life in other ways, move away from money.

Ian: you’ll probably hire local people, so it’s money that stays in your local economy. The more natural materials we use in the building, the more local they will be. “We’re not going to truck dirt from China”

Avery: if you took all the armies of the world and traded guns for shovels and tools, everyone in the world would have shelter–Michael Reynolds. Seven forms of capital. Community is one of them. We must explore other forms of capital.


Audience Question to Panel: Any sort of cost savings with using local natural materials?

Brian: beetle kill $0.63/sq ft. Supports local guys milling it in Granby. Tactile qualities of natural materials are huge selling point. It is more expensive than the cheapest thing you can build to code. However, natural materials are competitive when it comes to well-crafted homes.


Audience Question to Panel: What can an already built condo complex do to make use of our natural resources and retrofit?

Avery: Retrofits are mandatory. Solar greenhouse off the south side of a house. Food.

Brian: Retrofits in Germany. With minimal upgrades and insulation, you can meet passive standard. Much more efficient in a condo complex. Austrian house: wrap timber in bales.


Audience Question to Panel: Gridlock with all of the new department buildings in Boulder?

Brian: We’re in limbo land here where we don’t have the population density to support mass transport. We’re still car dependent.


Audience Question to Panel: How retrofit existing housing inventory?

Brian: 6th & Evergreen retrofit project straw bale. Upland retrofit. Not yet cost competitive. Fighting fossil fuels subsidies.

Ben: can choose earthen floors instead of hardwood. Themal mass. Clay plaster instead of latex paint.


Audience Question to Panel: How can we adapt natural building to accommodate that our society is changing much faster than the structures we live in?

Alisha: We’re not using new technologies, we’re using ancient technologies. If, we, for example, use the sun to heat our homes, we’d save so much in efficiency. There are not many people in our generation that have technological ancient wisdom.

Brian: being a designer is about asking, “what is quality”. Cities in Europe have functioned for thousands of years that are basic, but human-centric and walkable. Build with quality, integrity, using pattern language, in human scale environments.


Audience Question to Panel: Industrial hemp?

Mike: hempcrete.

Avery: complicated because we don’t have the robust hemp genetics here in Colorado, but it’s illegal to import the genetics.

Audience member who builds with hemp: Hemp has to come from Canada or Netherlands. Until we have a Colorado supply. Farmers have to grow it, but then someone has to process it. We have to drive the market so industrial hemp does not fail in Colorado. Working on binders. Expensive to get NHL from Netherlands. We’re 80 years behind, but it’s an exciting business to be in, and ripe for exploration.


Audience member comments:

We need to instill in our minds that we are the government.

Natural Disaster Resilience Competition: 1 billion dollar competition. One of the goals is institutionalizing the idea of resilience in our community. Grassroots community effort seated around this; community engagement. Bucky Fuller living building challenge has been expanded to living city challenge.

Reverting to ancient methods and materials. Synergistic intersection of natural building materials with modern technologies.

Ben: there is definitely a lot of crossover and yes, we do need help.

3-D printers for hempcrete. Look into the Maker Movement. Maker and Tech innovating intersecting.

Open Tech Collaborative in Denver.

Ben: Be more involved: code and education are huge issues. Natural City Builders Guild in Denver.

Leave a Reply