Natural Building at Ulinawi

After the primitive skills course, I went back to my parents place for a while and slept a lot for a couple of days and continued working on refining the skills that I’d learned and did a lot of reading.  I started to get antsy after a while and I’d been wanting to get some good hands on experience with natural building for a while so I went to the internet to search for some opportunities.  I found a good amount of work trade positions doing natural building work at various places around the country and contacted several of them.  The first one that I heard back from asked me for a bunch of information including a resume and references and answers to a bunch of questions and then the next one that I heard back from just said to come, so I went there.  The place was called Ulinawi and was loosely affiliated with the Sequatchi Valley Institute (a teaching and demonstration site for natural building).  Ulinawi is a small start up community with aspirations of developing an intentional community on about 20 acres in the mountains of Tennessee near Chattanooga.  It was started by a guy named Bradley Bewilder and his partner/wife with their 5 year old son.  Another couple was involved early on with the community, but some interpersonal differences and such led to the other folks leaving.  So right now, its Bradley, his family, a young woman around age 23, and another guy around age 30.  They are all pretty nice folks and they are doing some good stuff down there.  The lifestyle is pretty laid back, but they also work pretty hard when they are motivated.  They seemed to have a lot of anarchistic ideals, a lot of which I found to make a lot of sense, but I also disagreed with them on some stuff, which is totally fine.  Bradley went to a college in california and studied natural building so he is very knowledgeable, not just because of the college that he went to, but also a lot of independent study, experience, and hard work.  I got to know the people there a little bit in the little over a week and a half that I was there and it seemed like they were struggling a little bit so I was glad that I was able to help out for a while.  The building that I helped work on was to be Bradley and family’s house.  It combined a number of different natural building techniques and the work that had been done on the house so far was very good.  It had a rubble trench foundation and two floors of living space.  The first floor was earth bag construction in a circular shape.  The second floor was timber framed with a metal shed roof.  The walls on the second story were a neat combination of woven bamboo covered with cob.  The bamboo made a solid frame for the cob to adhere to making for much less work and a less massive wall.  The high end of the roof faced south and there were lots of windows on that side to take advantage of passive solar heat gain in the winter.  The overhang was sufficient enough to not have much solar heat gain in the summer.  The north side of the house was to have very few windows and the east and west had what seemed to be a good amount of windows for good cross ventilation.  Most of the work that I did was building the walls on the second story with the bamboo and cob.  I learned how to screen clay, mix and apply cob and I learned a good deal about timber framing and some other natural building theory.  The rest of the place was set up very well.  The family was living in a yome, which is kinda like a yurt, until the permanent home is finished.  They had an outdoor kitchen, a big army tent for storage and multiple other purposes and some other storage areas were set up under cover of tarps.  All the water for the place came from a small creek that they ran pipe from to gravity feed to a cistern and to the rest of their buildings.  They had all the water they needed and then some and it was excellent water.  The creek ran through part of their property and a neighbors property so they knew where the water was coming from and knew that it was very clean.  They had outdoor composting toilets, a simple and effective solar hot water system, two outdoor showers, two tubs for bathing and/or cooling off in, about 30 laying hens, 5 or 6 goats, a good sized garden, and a teepee that the other two people lived in. Overall, I had a pretty good time at Ulinawi and I would have stayed a little bit longer, but an opportunity for me to visit a place that I’d been wanted to visit for a while came up so I jumped on it.  Even though I had a lot of differing beliefs from the people at Ulinawi, I think we got along pretty well and were able to learn from each other.  I want to sent out a big thank you to the folks at Ulinawi since I know that Bradley is gonna read this.  I hope you enjoyed the Ulinawi expose.  Next stop: The Possibility Alliance in Laplata, MO


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