This course provides students with a comprehensive exploration of all facets of creating an energy efficient, climate-specific natural structure. In this two-week intensive, we will engage in studio sessions, hands-on construction experience, lectures, slide shows, and site tours. In the studio, students will develop a comprehensive design of a project through the creation of drawings of elevations, sections, plans, and scale models. In the shop, students will build a variety of insulative wall systems, examining critical details such as doors and windows, wall to roof connections, air sealing, framing options, plastering, and much more. Topics include straw bale construction, fiber-clay infill and other natural wall systems, clay and lime plasters, natural roof options, alternative foundations, water and energy conservation systems, permaculture and building-site relationships, and social and cultural contexts. Emphasis will be paid to designing and detailing for success in cold, wet climates.

Course start time: Sunday, 5pm
Course end time: Friday, 5pm

  • Competency Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • AIA credits: 84 HSW Learning Units

Course Objectives:

  • Understanding the principles of natural building, and how a natural builder thinks.
  • Placing the current natural building movement within the history of structures, and understand ing the debates, questions, and visions that frame its future
  • Referencing both historical and construction practices in other cultures, as well as current construction trades, to adapt tools and practices from these diverse contexts, informed by natural builidng principles.
  • Understanding of design/build process, specifically as it relates to natural building principles.
  • Basic drafting, programming, and design development skills
  • Siting and site evaluation and awareness
  • Basic construction skills: safe and effective tool use and skills development for straw bale and other natural fiber wall systems
  • A thorough, applied understanding of current best practices regarding the theory and practice of cold climate detailing for natural wall systems
  • The ability to creatively problem-solve and apply natural building principles to many diverse building situations.
  • Daily participation in constructing a class project of sample wall systems in strawbale, woodchip clay, and light straw-clay.

Suggested Reading

  • Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton. The Natural Building Companion
  • Paul Lacinski and Michel Bergeron. Serious Straw Bale
  • edited by Bruce King. Design of Straw Bale Buildings: The State of the Art
  • Katy Bryce and Adam Weismann. Using Natural Finishes
  • Michael Smith et al. Art of Natural Building
  • Elizabeth, Adams. Alternative Construction
  • Jack Sobon. Timberframe Construction
  • Clark Snell. Building Green
  • Stafford Holmes and Michael Wingate. Building With Lime: A Practical Introduction
  • Bill Mollison with Reny Mia Sla. Introduction to Permaculture

Required/Recommended Tools

  • Notebook and pens/pencils
  • Drafting kit (provided with your materials fee)
  • Sturdy work gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Ear protection
  • Work boots or other sturdy closed-toe footwear
  • Dust mask/respirator (for working in shop environment)
  • Camera
  • Clothes to get dirty in (long sleeved shirts and long pants to protect from straw)
  • Measuring tape, utility knife, tool belt, hammer (optional - will be provided)

Course Schedule

Missa Aloisi, Ace McArleton, Jacob Deva Racusin, Cillian Barrett

Week 1



5PM: Tour

6PM: Welcome Dinner

7PM-9PM: Introduction activities – Image poems, what-do-you-know?


AM: What is Natural Building?/Introduce Design Practicum and Basic Design Concepts

PM: Anatomy of a Building I (Creative breaks)

Eve: Free


AM: Drafting 101/Introduce First Design Exercise

PM: Anatomy of a Building II (Creative breaks)

Eve: Studio - Design Exercise


9-10AM: Design Exercise Review

10-12PM: Introduction to Cube, tools, and materials

PM: Straw Bale 101

Eve: Presentation - Building Science FUN-damentals


AM: Construction - Wall Building

1-2:30PM: Construction - Wall Building

3-4:30PM: Presentation - Practical Detailing

4:30-5PM: Introduce design detail project

Eve: Studio - Begin design detailing project


AM: Construction - Wall Building

PM: Construction - Finish Wall Building

Eve: off/studio


AM: Field Trip – Valley Tours

PM: Field Trip – Central VT Tours

Eve: off

  -  DAY OFF

Week 2


AM: Construction – Plaster Prep

PM: Construction – Plaster Prep

Eve: Presentation – Social Justice, Ecology, and the Built Environment


AM: Construction – Plastering

PM: Construction – Plastering

Eve: Presentation – Plaster Theory


9-10:30AM: Design detailing project review

10:45-12PM: Final design project

PM: Studio – Final design project

Eve: Studio – Final design project


AM: Studio – Final design project

PM: Studio – Final design project

Eve: Studio – Final design project


9AM-9:30AM: Practicum Review

9:30-10:30AM: Final design preparation

10:30AM-12PM: Final design presentations

6PM: Graduation Dinner



Start Date: January 5, 2014
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