‘The Art of Natural Building’ was one of my very favourite books when I first got my hands on a copy back in … . Here was the distilled learning of the natural building movement thus far, a beautiful exploration of the wide range of natural building methods, from strawbale to cob, from hemp/lime to earth bag, written about in such a way that you could go off and get started on them the next day.
The passion for hand sculpting houses, for building as a way to bring people together, and for the sheer delight of building something really bloody beautiful in a world of the bland, regular and uniform, blazed through its pages. My original copy has muddy thumbprints on its pages, and it deeply inspired many of the things I then went on to build.
Now ‘The Art of Natural Building’ is back, in an expanded second edition that shows how far natural building has progressed since the first edition. This is a movement that’s not afraid to try stuff out, to document its experiments. If you get to the end of this book and don’t think that concrete blocks and PVC windows are inferior to what you could be building, then I’d be surprised. You’ll fall in love. I love this so much I wrote an endorsement for it … here’s what it said:
“The first edition of The Art of Natural Building blew me away. Part practical manual, part radical manifesto for a reimagining of construction, part rich immersion in a global movement rooted in craftsmanship, beauty and place. Every home in these pages is a work of heart. As Naomi Klein put it recently, “there are no non-radical solutions left”. This book is packed with radical solutions, yet solutions which build community, bring beauty (yes, I’ll use that word again) into our lives, and leave us happier, healthier and more skilled. I love it. I’m sure you will too”.
The thing missing from the book, missing because it’s missing from the whole movement, is what it looks like when this approach scales up to a whole development. Most of the things in here are one-off projects by passionate self-builders. It’s missing because no-one has done it yet, although buildings like University of East Anglia’s new Enterprise Centre are showing what might be possible, with its thatched walls made from local reed and timber. It’s something, inspired by that original copy of this book, that I’d like to be able to write up for the third edition. The potential of natural building to regenerate local economies is something we have only just started to scratch the surface of. If you are interested in local economies, beautiful buildings, people with warm hearts and muddy hands discovering that shelter-making is something that we can all do, then you will find this fascinating and delightful.