The bliss of the unfettered can be difficult to encounter in this age of material abundance. This realization has given rise to my explorations into the architecture of simple living.
As a student of environmental science and the fine arts at Colorado College, I designed and built this housebike. I spent a semester pedaling it around campus and the parks and plazas of the town of Colorado Springs, sleeping wherever I landed by nightfall. It was a performance intended to inspire inquiry into normalcy and pomp. Why do we as a society revere people like Jesus and Yoda who renounce materiality and live among the orchards and swamps yet culturally codify the 3,000 square foot house with a two car garage and a perfectly manicured chem-lawn?
Can a building be compostable, certifiably organic? Can selective thinning of a woodland provide building materials while regenerating a forest ecosystem? How local can materials be sourced for a building's construction? These are the questions we explored in building this strawbale, rammed earth, timber-framed art studio.
To live like a bird, cradled in the branches of a great oak is an otherworldly experience. To become neighbors with all manner of canopy life, winged, epiphytic and slithering satisfies some deep genetic urge. And then there are the views; we built this treehouse on a 300 acre rice farm that was converted to a wetland through the winter and made a home for an astonishing array of migratory waterfowl. The treehouse was built as a sanctuary for birdwatchers, students and ornithologists. It features a woodstove, rainwater fed plumbing and toilet, solar powered lighting, a Watson Wick style effluent biofilter and is largely constructed from recycled materials.
Habitat for humans vs habitat for cars. Up to two thirds of the footprint of some of our cities are dedicated exclusively to automobiles. This statistic marks a new low in the history of human infrastructure. It felt good to take this automobile garage and flood it with natural light, plant gardens around its perimeter and make the photographer who used it for his office and studio a happy man. It was built with Forest Stewardship Council wood products and is surrounded by a greywater fed permaculture garden.
Merritt College's Landscape Horticulture Department is the first community college in the country to develop a two year permaculture certificate program. I am proud to have been recruited to help develop the curriculum for this program. Christopher Shein spearheaded the conversion of a derelict hillside into a lush food forest. We built this kitchen so students could learn to cook the great variety of food plants harvested. It features a living roof made with a soy based waterproof membrane, urbanite retaining walls, locally sourced and milled countertops, earthen plaster and a greywater irrigation system.
One mans trash is another mans treasure. This tiny home was built almost entirely from scavenged materials. Its framed with pallets stuffed with discarded futon batting. Total cost - $250. It was my home on a vacant lot in West Oakland where I founded a small nature center and organic garden.
The vacant lot was crowded with heaps of trash, so of course we built a structure out of garbage. We began by creating gabion cages pinned with bamboo struts. Next we filled the cages with tons of garbage from the lot. We topped that off with rammed sitesoil and sealed the whole shebang with an earthen plaster. The floor is poured earth also from site soil. The windows and studs were salvaged. The self supporting reciprocal roof beams are made from local bamboo. The roofing, the only purchased material, is made from an ultraviolet resistant polyethylene greenhouse film.
Burning agricultural waste straw was outlawed for air quality reasons. This of course left a massive surplus of strawbales which gave birth to a movement of people building strawbale homes. Undoubtedly the funnest and warmest of the natural building techniques. Stacking bales, walls go up fast; its sort of like legos for grownups. Alex Bertulis, the architect and my father, spared no effort in creating this family compound; features include solar hydronic water heating, photovoltaic panel energy system, compost toilet, greywater irrigated landscape and living roofs. My father, two sisters, brother and I created this together.
This is my country refuge. It is made mostly from reclaimed materials. I designed it to store the suns heat in the earth mass floor so it stays warm at night. It is off the grid.