Archive for January, 2007


the road away from hell

January 19, 2007

Casemeau requested more pics from my earth buliding course so here’s some from the places we visitedmedium_earth_house.JPG

the microwave plate window from the previous post is in the centre of this pic. The rest of the house is yet to be built but since there is no need to wait for plasterers and painters they haved moved in right away.


earth floor with pretend tile pattern, from a very flash house. I was only allowed to take photos of the floor, nothing else.


a glass blower on a rammed earth wall.


rammed earth house – a bit dark I thought, mind you it was so wet that day I couldn’t tell where the sun was


A potter’s house/work/shop/teaching facility under a Karaka tree


looking down a stairwell, the walls have a limewash on them. The bottom steps are earth.


Under construction, a combination of rammed earth and in-situ adobe. The small windows in the far corner are large bottles with marbles in the bottom. New Zealand is a major earthquake zone (like California) so a lot of timber and steel structural support is required by council. This can be avoided if you make the walls thicker (like the Great Wall of China)


The class gathers round the mobile desk. Note the twisted roof. Also note that the post and rooves are put up first so that the rest of the building can continue shaded from the summer sun and the unseasonal showers we’ve been having.

This is the house that has the finished bedroom with the microwave plate window (out of shot) The owners, who had no previous building experience were building the house. They had also saved costs by shifting an old house bus on site to live in while the main house was under construction.


the straight line is the road to hell

January 18, 2007


Last week I participated in an earthbuilding course in Whangarei (pronounced Fahngaray). Other than being our northern most city it’s not considered to be very signifcant – turns out however that it has been at the forefront of a revival in earthbuilding in this country.

The 3 main tutors for the course have all been heavily involved in this revival and in getting a set of ‘building standards’ recognised by the building authorities. What this means is that councils can’t just turn people away on a whim (like they used to do) if you apply for building consent for an earth house. Apparently New Zealand is the only country in the world created a set of standards for earth building.

Of course not everyone applies for building consent with earth houses since they’re very easy to build in out of the way places where council inspectors rarely visit, but that’s another story.

What is most intriguing about the standards is that the earth builders devised them so that the houses could be built  by ‘normal’ people. The result is that you can test your ‘standard’ earth brick by dropping it onto a hard surface from waist height and seeing how much is chipped off it’s corner. This approach caused a great deal of bewilderment amongst government beauracrats but the earthbuilders fought hard and managed to convince them that expensive laboratories and scientists weren’t required.

The thing with earth building is that every patch of earth is diffferent and could, in theory, mean laboratory compression tests would be required for every building job. This fact also meant that the course was more about learning to experiment and less about following specific procedures – an approach that is becoming increasingly rare in the industry (where I used to work) and in society as a whole.

As for the course itself, it was thoroughly enjoyable. I was reminded how much fun it is to work with a group of people and also how something like this is great for building a sense of community – something any village or tribe initiater should never forget.

The other great thing about the course is that there were painting, clay-working and sculpting courses being run at the same site which made for an excellent atmosphere, in fact I now think having a sculpter chipping away at a block of stone should be an essential aspect of any building site.

*The title ‘the straight line is the road to hell’ was a kind of catch phrase during the course. The picture above is of a house we visited, it was half constructed but the bedroom where I took this picture was finished. What you can see embedded in the wall are some blue bottles, a microwave dish and a paua (pronounced paawah) shell.


Spirits Bay

January 6, 2007


This is Spirits Bay where we’ve just been for about 4 days. It’s at the absolute northern tip of New Zealand and very isolated. The most substantial building was the toilet block near our camp site. It’s the sort of place where you quickly forget what day of the week it is.


We lived on a mixture of food we bought with us and the fish that my friend Doug was catching by surfcasting off the beach. It’s a shame we had to come back to civilisation, in a country of beautiful beaches this place stands out as being exceptionally beautiful – and one of the few unspoilt areas of the north island.