For the past 13 years I have been on a journey to learn about natural building, and today I’d like to share a little bit of that with you. My name is Hassan, and my journey began when I was only 2 years out of high school. I had already fallen in love with the process of revealing the magnificence that lays dormant in a piece of wood, and my feet were on the path of making beautiful things for humans to use every day, but I had yet to come across the joys of working with clay, sand, and straw. I was living on a CSA farm (community supported agriculture) in northern California, that had a small eco-village component to it. I was residing in a quaint “cob pod” structure. One day, someone came to do some plaster repair. I watched as they chipped some of the material off of the wall, re-hydrated it and mixed it back into a wet and workable consistency. They then put that same material back onto the once cracked and dinged-up wall to create a smooth and fresh surface. I was thrilled that with a little know-how, any homeowner could patch and repair their dwelling without an expensive trip to the store for toxic chemicals.
Since that day I have practiced, studied, experimented and honed my skills and awarenesses of what it takes to create just about any structure. For me, there is so much joy to be had in creating a home with raw, natural materials, and still so much more to learn and experience.
I mixed up my first batch of earthen plaster, with some new friends on the south island of New Zealand, using clay we dug from the ground, sand collected from a cut in the hillside for a driveway, and straw from the neighbor’s field. With our materials, a tarp, and our bare feet, we mashed it all together with water until it felt sticky and strong. We then shaped it out onto the wall to sculpt spirals and flowing designs. It was such a fun day.
I led my first workshop by accident while at an ecovillage on Vancouver island. I was there for the summer for an internship program, and a bunch of new folks arrived to get a weekend-long intensive training. The other interns and myself were so excited to get to participate in some high level learning segments of their weekend. I was most looking forward to the section on self-supporting reciprocal roofs, and as the time for that was approaching we sensed that something wasn’t right. It turned out that the “expert” who was supposed to have lots of experience hadn’t ever actually made one. He started presenting the material, the theoretical stuff, and I quickly realized that this so-called expert hadn’t the foggiest idea of what he was talking about. After I asked a few questions, the energy of the group seemed to have shifted, and the “teaching” role was now sitting in my lap. We followed the real flow and, as a group, we built a beautiful 13-pole reciprocal roof. That night I felt proud and a bit overwhelmed by the role that I felt coming into my life.
The journey continued, and a few years back I learned about a new technique for stacking straw bales. After reading books, working with different builders, and thinking “well, yeah, I get the techniques and practices”, a completely different approach to stacking bales had now arrived in front of me on the learning path. I feel much more connected to the reality that there will always be more to learn, and I will always welcome those teachings as they come.
In the spring of 2012, I moved to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage for community, and for the continuance of my natural building learning process. I knew that the village here wanted to grow in population, and that there are no county building code restrictions. To me, this meant that I could follow my excitement and build in many different ways, and do so in an environment that would likely have new home buyers arriving each year. So far, this has worked out wonderfully. Dancing Rabbit has been an incredible place for me to further my experience, follow my design curiosity, and make many friends along the way.
Hassan is the lead instructor of the Natural Building Workshops. Since 2012, he has built three natural buildings at Dancing Rabbit, added artful and eccentric frills to many others, and taught at every opportunity. With an ideal to inspire and empower, he shares his knowledge, experience and passion for natural building with students of all kinds.