A friend in the UK has expressed an interest in building her own house, and we were talking about our shared ambitions to not live in the standard middle-class type of dwelling that most people in our culture take for granted as "normal". I have been a member of various internet groups that talk about "natural" or "sustainable" building techniques that are starting to grow in popularity around the western world.
They take their inspiration mainly from ancient, pre-industrial techniques that were used nearly everywhere in Europe for thousands of years. Most significantly, they were used by the people who wanted to live in the dwelling. In other words, it used to be normal for people to build and maintain their own housing. The idea that the only way to own a home is to buy one ready-built, the suburban model, seems to be a product of Modernia that really took off after WWII and the great suburbanization of our populations. Which is itself an outgrowth of the post-Industrial Revolution thing of packing everyone together into cities so they can take a "job" working for someone else. It is, in other words, the final defeat of the old Catholic feudal/agricultural model, and one that I believe is perhaps the single most morally, socially and physically destructive development of human history.
Back in the day, and not too long ago, it was considered unremarkable for people to acquire a piece of property and build a house on it. My grandparents did it. Back when Vancouver Island was a remote backwater hardly anyone wanted to live on, they bought a 1/4 acre for $2000, high up on a cliff above the sea, with a fantastic view of the Nanoose inlet off the south side of the property. They built a small but beautiful two-bedroom house and a garden, mainly on the flat part in the front of the property, and a rock garden and container vegetable garden on the little bits of flat at the back of the house. They lived there until my grandfather's death, and it is still to this little pocket of paradise that my subconscious goes when I am anxious about the world or about life.
My friend agrees that the mass-produced, cookie-cutter, suburbanised direction our societies' domestic architecture has taken since the War has been gravely damaging. The idea of getting "on the housing ladder," that is, "buying" a "starter-home" by locking yourself into a titanic morgtage for the rest of your life is a thought that fills me with horror. Because the reality is simply not what we are being told. You do not become a "homeowner" this way; you become a mortgage-slave to a bank, who are the ones who really own your home and rule your life. This seems to me to be like voluntarily enslaving yourself to an evil macro-culture that is bent on the destruction of everything I love and hold dear. When my friend told me that she and her husband were considering "just getting on the housing ladder" I felt depressed and a little suffocated at the thought.
One of the "hippie" things my mother instilled in me that really stuck was a horror of debt. I would rather have a ball and chain attached to my ankle than be in serious debt, either with credit cards or student loans or a mortgage. When I was a kid, my mother got a bill from Visa that had attached interest at a rate of 22%. My mother, being ahh... somewhat less reserved than I... wrote a very elegant letter to Visa along with the cheque that said that if we were in biblical times, the entire pack of them would be stoned to death for the capital crime of usury. Along with this, she included the tiny little pieces of plastic that were all that was left of her Visa card.
But I want my own home, and am starting to want it more and more each year. My friend feels the same, and she is currently living in a beautiful old house that, through various happy accidents, she and her husband live in rent-free. But this situation could be taken out from under them at any moment, and she doesn't like the idea of pouring money down the bottomless rent-hole either. She said, however, that she was open to the idea of building, and I said I was looking closely at this new "natural building" trend that seems to be going around the world among people who also don't want to opt into the evils of the modern macro-culture. I said I would poke around and find some information for her.
Here is a video interview of one of the guys who started this movement, Ianto Evans, a Welshman who feels as we do about it all. "Any kind of loan for something you can't afford is asking for trouble. If you're already in that situation, get out of it. And if you're not, for heaven sake, don't get into it."
I've already posted this video, but it's worth looking at again:
"As an architect who spent five years years in school and at the end of it couldn't build a house, had you told me this fifteen years ago, I would never have believed you, I would never have believed that you could learn to build your own house in a ten-day workshop. But the proof is there by the dozens of people who have now gone out and done that. Once you don't have to be paying a mortgage on your home, then maybe you don't need to have two cars for each of you to get to work... and then maybe you don't need so much income. And then maybe you can keep your kids at home and grow a big garden. And do thngs together as a family..."
There seem to be generally three categories: straw bale, "cob" and, less often, "cordwood". Personally, I am most attracted to "cob,"
which seems to be a reiteration of the ancient wattle and daub technique.
There are a lot of groups in Britain and elsewhere that help people learn how to do this and, as with all these alternative living movements, the internet is the best way to find them and get in touch with them.
Here is the website of Cob Cottage Company, that gives people workshops in Oregon.
Here is the iLoveCob website where there are a lot of quite inspirational photos of the extremely charming houses that are possible to build using this technique.
Here is This Cob House which has more of this stuff.
Here is the blog of This Cob House.
Here's one in the UK, The Natural Building Centre
And this is the little cottage a guy in the UK built for ₤150. This is is his blog: Michael Buck
From what I have seen, there is a movement in the same alternative building community, to turn back to other traditional building work, like the use of whole-timber for framing, found timber, recycled and salvaged materials.
And I really see no reason at all why all of these could not be combined to create a home like this:
I will mention only one more thing. I take the occasional look at the boards at the local realtors' offices and there are regular postings of agricultural properties. One of them was 7000 square meters, up on the lower slopes of the Norcia valley, and was selling for €22,000.
I'm just sayin...