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.

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