On the 4th of July, Carlene and I visited with our friends Steven Ablondi and Cindy Burns who had just returned from South Africa where they are working to establish a permaculture settlement. They are doing some spectacular things with water management and also doing some experimental building. We were really impressed with the look they were able to achieve with rammed earth. Their mixture augmented with 3% cement yielded surfaces that looked much like sedimentary walls of sandstone. It was a really attractive treatment. And during the presentation I was really struck by the notion that natural building is really a form of architecture that is accessible to all.
Their team also built a small cob building with the help of six young women from the village. Everyone had great fun in the mud and they ended up with a structure in the process. While the buildings were impressive, the social implications in post-apartheid South Africa are probably more important. For one, the buildings demonstrate that attractive buildings can be made out of local materials and that people of means are willing to live the structures. These two factors could induce the local villagers to forgo less economically sustainable cinder block construction and undertake building with local, natural materials once again.
What's more, everyone in the settlement was invited to the celebration and open house held at the end of construction. Thus a combination of natural building and permaculture acted as the catalyst for the first fully integrated social gathering in the area.