Instructor Spotlight: Jacob Deva Racusin, Natural Building Expert and Committed Educator

By Charlotte Leib, Community Outreach Intern

After courses at Yestermorrow, Jacob worked at a home business based out of a straw bale house at Ten Stones, an intentional community in Charlotte, Vermont, where he “fell in love with the look” of natural building, especially the “third dimension of the walls that could be used creatively and artistically.” It was this aesthetic appeal of natural building along with the “totally welcoming and open-source technology culture…and high-performing, climate-appropriate, and yet non-prescriptive way of building” that Jacob cites as key to his entry into natural building.

Just six years after taking courses at Yestermorrow, and building his own home in the process, Jacob had accrued formidable expertise in natural building and began teaching at Yestermorrow.

Fast forward to today: Jacob and fellow Yestermorrow instructor Ace McArleton run a thriving company, New Frameworks Natural Building. The two have recently published The Natural Building Companion, which has quickly become the seminal source for integrative design and construction. Despite an increasing demand for their work as natural builders and consultants, the dynamic design/build duo returns regularly to Yestermorrow to teach several courses in natural building, as well as a unique six-week Natural Building Certificate.

While students have always raved about Jacob and Ace’s expertise and accessible teaching styles, the building world is beginning to recognize their work and worth as well. Jacob and Yestermorrow instructor Ben Graham were brought on board as natural building consultants for an affordable straw bale senior housing project in Vermont that has made headlines on the Metropolis Magazine blog, among other online news outlets. The project was the first of its kind in the Northeast and is seeking certification from Efficiency Vermont as a Vermont Energy Star Home project. On the heels of the media coverage of this groundbreaking project, the International Code Council approved a building code appendix for straw bale construction in October, a move that has far-reaching implications for wider acceptance of this cost-effective and energy efficient building practice.

Jacob credits the success of this pioneering straw bale project to the project team’s commitment to material-driven decision making throughout the design/build process. “There was very appropriate technical design from the front end and the design was a truly integrated process, where major stakeholders throughout the construction phase— from engineers, to the building energy-folk, to the natural building construction people—were all brought in appropriately at the right time. That follow through in design was brought into construction to ensure that all of the [Energy Star] benchmarks were hit and that the detailing was appropriate.”

Such a collaborative work process is rare among building professionals, where the chasm between architects, engineers, and builders often runs deep. But for Jacob, the design/build process has been second nature, beginning with his first courses at Yestermorrow fourteen years ago. Jacob reflects, “Ben and I have a shared body of knowledge that allows us to tie the architectural and construction processes into a whole design/build process, and [in the affordable housing project] that was very successful. That’s one of the foundational elements of our practice.”

This January, Jacob and his longtime business partner Ace McArleton will take a break from their busy schedules to teach Natural Design/Build, a two-week primer covering all facets of creating an energy efficient, climate specific natural structure through sessions in both the studio and the shop. In March, Jacob will share with students his expertise in engineering cutting-edge structures in Fundamentals of Building Science. Then in May, the duo will return to teach our 6-week Natural Building Certificate. Any one of these courses can set you on the track toward a successful home-scale design/build project, and perhaps even a career path, as was the case for Jacob Deva Racusin fourteen years ago.

Thank you, Jacob, for your dedication to educating Yestermorrow students in natural building and building science, and for your commitment to merging your passions for fine craft, ecological stewardship, relationship to place, and social justice.