Natural Healing: Earthlodge Indigenous Homes

| May/June 2002

Where we live—or more importantly, what we live in—may impact our state of wellness as significantly as the food we eat and the supplements we swallow. Doug Beall, an architect living in Erie, Colorado, is armed with a vision to design and build indigenous Earthlodge homes that will strengthen family ties and reconnect our souls to nature—not to mention they’re eco-friendly, too.

The centralized room, deemed “the great room,” houses the kitchen area, living room, and dining space and is the most public area in the house. Its focal point is the fire pit, which was originally used by Native Americans for heating and cooking. Beall’s modernized version is a carved-out carpeted space in the floor where his family congregates for everything from daily discussions to birthday celebrations. Beall also says it’s where most visitors gravitate during gatherings. There’s even a skylight directly overhead. “My version connects my family to changes in the weather, light of day, paths of the sun, and phases of the moon,” explains Beall.

By virtue of having this very definite center of the home, Beall and his family spend more quality time together. “This design fosters more interactive time between all of us,” says Beall. “We’re much more involved in each others’ lives since we can explore what everyone is doing.” And Beall’s kids seem to thrive in this environment. Even though each has a private bedroom, they spend a majority of their time in the great room with their parents. “Even their friends love our home . . .I think we’re the most popular location for a slumber party,” jokes the Colorado architect. “It’s fun to have such different space,” he says. “I think kids enjoy not always having things be predictable and rectangular.”

The entry to Beall’s Earthlodge faces east, so his family can greet the sun each morning as it rises over the plains. Directly opposite the entryway, and facing due west, are plenty of large windows to watch the sunset each evening over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Surrounding the pit area are four large wooden posts with a different color painted on each one to symbolize the four seasons. “The skylight represents the spirits and heavens and below is the connection to the roots and Mother Earth,” he says.

Beall’s passion for indigenous Earthlodges began when he was pursuing his master’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley. “I was intrigued by this ecologically prudent concept of using available building materials in order to reduce the amount of energy in transporting them,” he says. “It also supports the local craftsmen and local labor forces.” He submitted his plans for an Earthlodge home to the Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Architects and was recognized with an award for Creative and Visionary Projects. Although his plans were displayed at the Denver Museum of Art and received local press coverage, according to Beall, “no one wanted to be the guinea pig” when it came to being the first to build his proposed dwelling. “So in 1996, I knew the only way I was going to do it was to build it myself,” he remembers.

Throughout the building process, Beall favored native building materials. Although he aimed to keep imported materials to a minimum, when that was not possible, he imported only very efficient materials, such as engineered wood products. He also incorporated plants native to the region into his landscape. His lawn is buffalo grass, a native grass that, once established, needs no supplemental water. Drought-tolerant pines, scrub oaks, yuccas, and cacti were chosen for their ability to withstand semi-arid desert conditions.

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