Events and Newsletters -
Winter 2004 - Issue 20
Clay. Straw. and Sandhill Cranes; Natural Building Exchange 2003
“Today I held clay in my hands for the first time,” said Lyudmila Zaytseva. “It was like holding my first child.” The listening crowd erupted into cheers and applause. Lyudmila was one of five people from Russia who were part of SEN’s Natural Building Exchange held this fall in the Southwest. This exchange was funded by the Trust for Mutual Understanding and other donors and it was organized and led by SEN staffers Susan Cutting and Alyson Ewald.
Though new to natural building, Lyudmila and her colleagues at the “Fund for a 21st Century Altai” are planning to construct the Altai’s first strawbale building. She and environmental photojournalist Tatyana Artamonova were the Fund’s delegates to the US. Viktor Fedyanin, a participant in SEN’s solar exchange in Siberia last year and head of the “Center for Unconventional Energy and Energy Efficiency” in Barnaul was also part of this exhange. Joining them from Novosibirsk was Igor Ogorodnikov, perhaps Russia’s best-known proponent of natural building, who is already in the process of building three “eco-homes” in Siberia with his organization “Ecodom.” Igor’s wife, Valentina, accompanied the delegation at her own expense. We were also able to host Sergei Shafarenko, an environmental activist working in the Kazakhstan part of the Altai region.
Lyudmila Zaitseva and Igor Ogorodnikov, pleased with their plastering work!
Holding clay in their hands for the first time was only the beginning. At this conference, held in Kingston, New Mexico, our group was introduced to a broad range of natural building techniques. They attended talks on topics such as passive solar construction, cob houses, global eco-housing traditions, creating community infrastructure, bamboo artistry, and photovoltaics in the developing world. We saw and participated in demonstrations of earthbag construction, plastering, strawbale ceiling insulation, pallet trusses, cob ovens, the water cycle, fire and stoves, tamped earth floors, wastewater systems, and tree planting. Our Russian delegates gave slide presentations of their own as well, explaining where they were from and what projects they were working on. At the end of Igor’s show, the crowd decided they wanted to fly his mason here to build Russian masonry stoves in US natural homes!
Amid all these inspiring workshops, exchange participants met with numerous American builders and advocates of eco-construction, many of whom were enthusiastic about further collaboration. Everyone was excited about the possibility of helping to bring strawbale technology to Siberia, a climate where bales would be a very sensible and widely accessible building material. In fact, as a result of this exchange, we have more ideas for next year’s exchanges than we can fit into one summer.
Exchange Group. Back row: Alyson Ewald, Sonny Rodriguez, Victor Fedyanin,
Lyudmila Zaitseva, Tatyana Artamonova, Valentina Ogorodnikov, Susan Cutting.
Front row: Paul Koppana, Igor Ogorodnikov
After the Colloquium, we brought Tatyana, Lyudmila, Viktor, Igor, and Valentina north to Crestone, Colorado. There, all together, we built an entire strawbale shed from foundation to top plate, including laying the bales and plastering the walls. There’s no substitute for direct hands-on experience, and here the Russians got a real feel for what it means to build with bales—mud and all. At the end of each day, after washing off, we visited houses covering a wide spectrum of strawbale construction techniques, and talked with specialists on bales, plasters, floors, and general building.
As with any exchange, there were many magical moments that no amount of planning can guarantee: seeing a flock of sandhill cranes as they paused in Colorado on their long migration, passing the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, visiting the ancient cliff dwellings of indigenous tribes in Frijoles Canyon, and enjoying saunas, cold rivers, and hot springs.
Before saying good-bye, we brought our Russian guests to one more place: Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, in Rutledge, Missouri. There they could see how members of this rural intentional community live—in natural buildings, with electricity from the sun and wind, and with cars running on biodiesel fuel. Igor, who is working to build a Siberian ecovillage, was particularly intrigued by Dancing Rabbit, and Tatyana filmed the whole experience in order to create a TV program about it back home.
As soon as they were back home, the emails started flying—the Russians reaching out to continue the connections they’d made, and the Americans responding with enthusiasm and encouragement. We’re looking forward to bringing these activists and leaders together again next year—in Siberia this time.