Design for Life: Green Building

All over the country, in growing numbers, ordinary people are building homes of earth, straw, bamboo, roundwood, stone and reeds in various combinations.

| March/April 2004

  • Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley’s idyllic cob cottage inspires strong emotional reactions.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Design for Life columnist Carol Venolia

Over the past 15 years, the green building movement has grown phenomenally. Characterized by minimally processed materials and responsiveness to site and climate, natural building strikes a deep chord in many people. All over the country, in growing numbers, ordinary people are building homes of earth, straw, bamboo, roundwood, stone and reeds in various combinations.

Why do we do it?

Beyond the obvious reasons for building with natural materials—local availability, low embodied energy, thick walls, thermal mass, insulation, low toxicity, sculptability—there’s something intangible that pulls people. “Ianto Evans tells a classic story,” says natural builder and educator Janine Björnson, “about an elderly woman who drove her Cadillac out to the cob cottage that he and Linda Evans built. When Ianto led her through the cottage, she sat down and wept. Since childhood, she’d dreamed of a nurturing, magical home like that. I’ve seen many people have similar reactions.”

Architect Paula Baker-Laporte, who creates homes of light straw-clay in New Mexico with Robert Laporte, has experienced the same phenomenon. “When our home was featured in Natural Home (March/April 2002), we got hundreds of emails saying, ‘I’ve dreamed about a house like this all my life, and I didn’t know it existed.’

“When people come into our house,” adds Paula, “the first thing they say is, ‘It feels so peaceful.’ There’s a feeling of solidness and grounding. And it’s not monotonous; you look at a square inch of a natural-plastered wall, and you’re seeing ten colors; you’re not looking at flat eggshell white. The imperfections and the variations of the wood, the mud plasters, the earthen floors, and the natural stones are visually stimulating.”­

Epiphanies in the mud



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