First Experiments In Natural Building

Reader Contribution by Michael Beck
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For Eric, Loren and I (co-founders of, this is the story that began our journey into natural building. We had been living on a beautiful piece of land on the edge of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon in 2011, living out-of-doors with a group of friends when we suddenly realized: Winter is Coming! Instead of moving back into a house in the city, we made the life-changing decision to build our own home, learning everything from books and the internet as we were doing. This was our first ever natural build project – we want to hear about your first project. Post them in the comments below or on Facebook page.

Here is yet another possible building project presented to you which requires no formal training, very little money, and techniques/methods that anyone can use. This blog intends to inspire you to take on a natural building project like this one. Don’t have fear if this is your first time working with these techniques and materials — this was our first ever natural building experience, one that has taken us to strange, wonderful places.

Inspired by Michael Reynold’s documentary, “Garbage Warriors,” we decided to build our winter shelter with rammed-earth tires for our walls. We didn’t do much planning before or during the build process, but instead relied more on intuition, making decisions as we encountered the specific stage of building. Every night, we sat around the campfire drinking beers and talking about how the day went, what the next steps in the building process are, materials we need, dreams we have, etc. One of these intuitive decisions was to place a large log along the tire wall horizontal to the door frame. This decision, perhaps my favorite of the whole build, allowed us to have a loft for sleeping and playing in!

For the roof, we decided upon a reciprocal one, an increasingly popular method of building a roof frame. It is very simple to construct, very aesthetically pleasing and can be built with nothing else than wood (no nails, rope, etc!). Reciprocal structures can even be placed directly on the ground for a quick, temporary shelter.

In reflection, the experience of building this roof was especially important for me as it has shown me how quick of a learning curve you can have as a novice natural builder. We used metal lathe to support second-hand cloth that we dipped in concrete/earth slurry to waterproof our roof. This was two years ago – I couldn’t imagine putting concrete on my roof today. It doesn’t breathe, is toxic and a huge contributor to global CO2 emissions and ugly. However, this wasn’t necessarily a mistake but rather a lack of experience.

This is one of the beautiful things about experimenting with natural building; if you make a mistake, it is relatively inexpensive and, in my opinion, one of the most valuable tools in learning. Rising up to the challenge of realizing and accepting your mistake and then trying again is a great tool for developing resilience and personal growth.

We sourced as many materials as possible from the local community. The best resource for building supplies were Re-use stores. These were huge warehouses that collected all of the “waste” materials from demolished buildings. These are then sold in an informal bartering manner. We bought a lot of beautiful granite for less than 100 dollars for our floor. This type of re-use project is something that should exist all over the world. As far as I know, these only exist in the United States.

In addition to buying materials, we sourced flagstone from the nearby mountains, sustainably harvested wood for the bond beam/roof and made a lot of cob with earth that came out of the hole we dug. Miraculously, we found a beautiful cast-iron wood stove on the land, which became our heating source over the winter.

During the building process, we had two or three people working full time (around 30 hours per week). However, we had many people visit from all over the world. Some of these visitors are now our best friends…they never left and we have lived together since. It is an understatement to say that carrying out a natural build project is not just about the building – so much more happens in this process. Friends for life are made, love connections are manifested, many memories are created, tears are shed. In short, natural building brings people out of their comfort zone and a sense of communal bonding is upheld, one of the most powerful senses of being that humans can experience.

In our case with our first build project, Jim and Maarja (also co-founders of visited from across the ocean and later on, around the campfire, the concept of this global project came to be. What a journey it has been and there’s no stopping now – who knows what will happen when you join or host a natural build project? Guaranteed, experiences and people will enter into your life that you will think fondly on years later.

Want to bring your community closer and build something great like this? Create a build project listing, named “[Insert your name here]´s Mothership” on and find some assistance.

Want to get some experience building with natural and sustainable materials? Check out all the build projects ( that people have posted. Remember, as Llyod Kahn (author of Shelter) says, “If you’re unsure what to do, just start.”

Michael Beck is a co-founder of and has been gaining experience living in community, practicing permaculture, improving his natural building skills and focusing on trust and honest, open communication. He has dreams to one day soon have a piece of land to design and build on, starting a community with his close friends and family.

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