Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NBCO 2009 Highlights 2

Wood brigade from Georgie Donais on Vimeo.

A few more highlights:

Open Space
: Colloquium means "to talk together", and we natural builders had a lot to talk about. To make sure everyone got a chance during the afternoon sessions to have the conversations they were craving, James applied a process called Open Space. Anyone who had a topic they wanted to cover/presentation to make/question to ask, wrote it down on paper and posted it on a board. Then we were all invited to come read the postings, and put a dot beside the events that we wanted to attend. Then, all events were arranged by venue according to the number of dots; lot of dots meant a bigger venue, fewer meant a more intimate space. I've never seen a process work so smoothly or include everyone so readily. Very impressive.

The Law of Two Feet: Directly related to Open Space, this law states that, if you are no longer getting out of a presentation/lecture/conversation that which you would like, then it is your prerogative to (respectfully) remove yourself – with your two feet – and take yourself where you would rather be. No insult implied nor inferred. This reminder to take responsibility for our own fulfillment at the colloquium made sure that attendees were enjoying themselves, finding challenges that were appropriate and interesting to them, and avoided a whole load of potential bellyaching by participants that wished for something different than what they were getting but imagined they were obligated to stick it out.

Silks: I struck up a friendship with a couple of attendees who also study aerial silks, and they were only too happy to join me in silking most afternoons. They've been taking classes for much longer than I and so had much to teach me. I had a couple of moves for them too, but mostly they just kicked my butt. Four years older than my own kids, and also unschooled, they were a blast to hang around with and learn from.

Conversations: At one point, organizer and natural builder James asked us, "How many people's most memorable conversations here at the colloquium so far have involved just one or two people?" Many of us raised our hands. Indeed, casual conversation during unprogrammed time is where much of the down-and-dirty sharing of information happens. It's also a chance to connect in with old friends who, like me, have been attending these events for years and count on moments like these to maintain those friendships.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NBCO 2009 Highlights

Music at Camp Latgawa from Georgie Donais on Vimeo.

A few of the many highlights of NBCO 2009:

Fleming College: I never get to see Chris Magwood and Jen Feigen except in the far reaches of the US, even though they are practically neighbours (well, at least spiritually; I think it would be a five hour drive from where I am to where they are, but at least we're in the same province). They presented on the Sustainable Building Program that they run out of Fleming College at or around Peterborough, Ontario. They have so far built something like five public buildings using every natural building technique I have ever heard of and even inventing several while they're at it. Their website is well worth a look, and you can also check out the pictures I took of the building they created in 2008, the Madoc Performing Arts Centre.

Natural building tip
: Looking for a place to relieve yourself on your natural building job site? Consider designating one of those straw bales as the "pee bale". Apparently, it will never smell no matter how much it's peed on. Just make sure that its purpose is clearly indicated; you wouldn't want that particular bale making it into the wall.

Authentic living: In front of the fire in the mess hall, Bill Copperthwaite fielded questions about woodworking techniques, yurt-building and simple living. He also had plenty to say about education and, though he was not familiar with some of the terms that we unschoolers/life learners use, he was plenty familiar with the concepts. He also spoke about the evolution of his carving style, going from mallet and chisel to, eventually, a crooked knife with a toggle on it. And he demonstrated his technique throughout the talk, getting pretty far into creating a bowl by the end of the afternoon.

Code writing in Portland: There are a couple of kick-ass things going on in Portland in relation to building codes and natural building. Joshua Klyber presented on an organization called Recode that is working with the city of Portland to to help it support building practices that are sustainable but not necessarily, at the moment, legal. He is also a member of a city committee called the Alternative Technique Advisory Committee which "reviews sustainable technologies against building code requirements, to help applicants utilize innovative products and construction methods", which includes natural building.

Earthen floors: Sukita Crimmel talked about her experiences as a professional earthen floor installer. Her gorgeous work has been featured in both residential and commercial applications and range in size from a couple hundred square feet, to a couple thousand. Sukita shared with us images of her many successes as well as one or two learning experiences, including a floor where grains in the straw sprouted to such an extent that the room looked like a spring field planted to wheat. That one was a do-over.

The Elegant Collapse: The subtitle to Rob Boleman's presentation was "toward a complete bottom-to-top restructuring of human civilization". These types of presentations can be so depressing, but Rob gave us lots of hope amid the assertion that there isn't much time left for us to carry on the way we are. And then I hopped in a truck to take me to the plane that dropped me off by my car which I drove the rest of the way home. No cognitive dissonance there.

Facing code officials in Oakland, CA: Massey Burke shared with us her adventures in renovating an old stick frame home using natural building methods, and how she is working with code officials to make it happen. Seems like it's a combination of friendly persistence and obvious competence on the part of Massey and her friends, combined with some genuine curiosity on the part of the attending officials. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that her group is also building a collection of little nat-bild sleeping pods in the backyard at the time; not strictly code- and zoning-sanctioned.

Building a strawbale accessory dwelling in Portland, OR: Oh, the things you can do in Portland. Lydia Doleman and her crew have been building a small strawbale home in behind another house adjacent to hers in her Foster/Powell neighbourhood. Conforming to the look of the main house, the accessory dwelling is designed in the same Arts & Crafts style, and is sided instead of plastered. It is a full-on strawbale building, with earthen interior plaster, earthen floors, straw/clay dividing walls, recycled wood ceilings, and whatever other alternative building technique they could squeeze into this little place. Code officials come and go, finding very little to comment on, showing mostly curiosity and an interest in helping get this project done. As in the California project mentioned above, there is a little building referred to as a "napping facility" in Lydia's backyard that could attract unwanted official attention but, magically, does not.

Contrast these experiences with the ongoing tug of war in Toronto over granny suites as evidenced in this piece written by Rohan Walters, a Toronto architect who is doing his part in moving our city towards a more sustainable and more humane future.

NBCO 2009

I was very pleased to be able to attend the natural building colloquium held outside of Medford, Oregon this fall. A peer-only gathering, it was attended by working professionals in the field of natural building who congregated to share information and new developments in the field, as well as to give and get support to and from colleagues who have become old friends over the years.

Camp Latgawa hosted this gathering, having also been the site of several colloquiums in previous years and boasting the earthen building projects to show for it. Our hosts, Eva and Greg, welcomed us to the camp with open arms and delicious meals, and in return we were to do some new building and fix up some previous projects that required maintenance. However, outside of the three hours a day set aside for building, our main task was to talk to each other and most days were spent discussing, strategizing, laughing, conversating and even, occasionally, crying.

I'll talk about the highlights later, but meanwhile, here are descriptions of the various projects as pictured above.

SITE 1: Rumford fireplace
We were to create an outdoor fireplace and sitting area in a clearing near the river. This project was led by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley and Leslie Jackson. After thoroughly examining all the possibilities for fireplace placement, we got to work on the fireplace, creating it out of old bricks, river rocks and cob. The fireplace will eventually have a removable cap over it to protect it between uses. Project status: completed, except for the cap.

SITE 2: Children's play area
The task here was to remove the children's sandbox (used only by cats), fix up the bench, repair the roof and re-do the pole shelter-thingy. Legions of people worked on this one, but I think the leads were Joshua Klyber, Massey Burke, Sukita Crimmel and Tony Novelli, among others (corrections welcome). Status: dragon bench removed, other bench repaired and replastered, roof fixed. Still to do: wattle infill on the pole shelter-thingy.

SITE 3: Rumford insert for dining hall fireplace
Kiko Denzer noted the inefficiency of the the deep and wide fireplace in the dining hall, and took on the task to create a proof-of-concept Rumford insert. Using forms, window screen, gypsum and earthen plaster, he created a fire-resistant form which he assembled inside the fireplace and then plastered. The value of his work became clear immediately as the fire crackled merrily in front of the new fireback, radiating substantial amounts of heat into the room for probably the first time ever.

SITE 4: Bamboo roof
Darrel De Boer headed up the creation of a bamboo roof intended to shelter the Rumford fireplace. In the end, the roof was, although beautiful, entirely too large for the purpose, so it will find a home at House Alive instead. Status: Deconstructed and on its way to its new home.

SITE 5: Traffic re-directing
Camp Latgawa is a car-free space, so visitors park their vehicles at the entrance and bring their stuff in using convenient little carts. Greg and Eva wanted this set up to be made even more apparent to people driving in, and wanted them to be clearly directed to the parking lot. The crew made changes to the road itself with a clever combination of big rocks and hempcrete, and added a big yellow arrow to direct traffic. It also shored a spot of crumbling road with a rock retaining wall. Status: Looks like it's done.