July/August 2002 NW Newsmakers
The Natural Building Convergence
A report by Micheal Sunanda
natural (or sustainable) building movement is growing in Portland and
many communities are working quietly together. As an outgrowth of the
Natural Building Colloquium, which focused on introducing alternative
buildings into an urban context, City Repair, an urban activist collective
in SE Portland, organized the Natural Building Convergence. With the
help of vast volunteer efforts, these gatherings took place over 10
days in May, inspiring hundreds of us. Folks came from many Northwest
communities to attend dynamic workshops, lectures, and hands-on cooperative-building-projects
that were held daily at various locations. "Back to earth"
is a new trend now taking root in our neighborhoods. Dozens of enthusiastic
folks volunteered and cooperated, and work is still on-going on a number
of building structures in SE Portland. Go visit them! You will find
some of them below on the list of NBC public projects done and in progress.
These buildings, erected with loving energy, incorporate local earthy
and recycled materials and homemade designs.
NBC workshops included: Straw bale, COB and wood building, Rocket
(simple efficient) stoves, cooperative block planning, Peru slide-show,
harvesting and using rainwater, alternative-energy, solar-power, gardening,
seeds, organic "Permaculture" homestead-designs, alternative
transport, and other hands-on projects of inexpensive, cooperative and
healthy community-building. They sparked our interest and motivated
new directions for natural creative learning and living, in harmony
The most popular focus at NBC was/is COB building with clay-dirt,
sand, straw, water and recycled-paper. Each COB structure is unique,
with teams of organic-fanatics getting dirty; it is sweaty exercise,
learning skills and methods with hand-made mud-pies, up to the sky.
COB is adobe-like slow-drying clay made into earthy sculpture that evolves
and dries while erecting. It's even sculpted during construction. I
enjoyed doing a barefoot co-op COB mudance, smushing it together with
new friends at SE Peoples Food Store. The open flowing and hairy COB
building-teams worked with a creative spirit of fun, learning together,
raising natural structures on sunny days that may take weeks and months
to dry rock-hard.
The feeling of open sharing, trust and cooperation was growing at
the NBC events day and night, connecting us. The evening presentations
were attended by hundreds of local home builders into alternative energy
and natural and healthy living. Yummy healthy natural food lunches and
dinners were provided by City Repair. Before each meal we circled-up
to bless the food, make announcements and sing. Practical information,
great food and good hugs connected us. The positive energy of this eco-community
created new and deeper friendships that will grow over the years, as
will our expanding ecotopian visions for buildings we design, create,
use and recycle.
Go and see the ongoing cooperative NBC/SE Uplift projects at inner
SE Portland sites. Maybe you want to help out?! It's funky fun!
For more information go to www.cityrepair.org/nbc
or contact Daniel Lerch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SE 33rd Avenue & Yamhill Street - Sunnyside Piazza, Phase II A
winding cob wall, incorporating a solar-powered cob and stone fountain,
and an information kiosk continue an intersection improvement process
that began with a giant sunflower painted by neighbors on the street
SE 35th Avenue & Main Street - Southeast Uplift Information Station
This cob kiosk and curved benches will frame a new welcoming plaza in
front of the offices of Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Program.
SE 37th Avenue & Taylor Street - Memorial Lifehouse This sculptural
cob memorial, topped by a beautiful solar-powered stained-glass lantern
and green roof, will be a contemplative space dedicated to the memory
of a bicyclist who lost his life at this intersection three years ago.
This project is part of an ongoing effort by many neighbors to promote
pedestrian and bicycle safety.