This installment is coming from Kyle Isacksen, House Alive natural building teacher and the director of the nonprofit Be the Change Project. Kyle’s been building and teaching with Conrad since 2010 and has worked with many of you at the House Alive homestead over the years. He’ll be leading our three, 10-day workshops for the 2022 season.
Hi, everyone. Conrad and I thought it was high time to reach out to the House Alive community to share the latest news. This update includes a bit about our 2022 workshops, shows off a few pictures of student builds, and offers a primer on VersaTerra - our philosophy of earthen building. Hope you enjoy it and hope to see you in the mud someday soon.
We’re holding three VersaTerra 10-day workshops at three amazing locations. At each one we’ll teach all the essential elements of earthen building through the construction of a garden wall and cob oven.
The first is at my own Be the Change Project in Reno, NV. Be the Change is an urban homestead and learning space on a half acre within the city of Reno. Since 2011 we’ve been transforming a run down house into a verdant permaculture oasis and natural building hub.
Our second offering is at Rosewater Ranch 30 minutes from Reno where we held a successful 35-day complete cabin build last spring. Rosewater is a 145 acre ranch and budding community focused on regenerative small scale agriculture including animal husbandry, mushrooms, and cheesemaking.
Our last 10-day will be at Long Ranch in the northwest corner of NV in Surprise Valley. Long Ranch is another small community and off-grid cattle ranch set in a remote high desert oasis with gardens, fruit trees, and 83° water flowing throughout. We’ll do our best to not let the big skies and majestic views of the Warner Mountains distract us from our work.
Recent Builds by Students
It’s always a special thrill for us to see former students put what they’ve learned through our workshops into a new creation of their own out in the world. Here’s some of their work:
And here’s a short video sent to me from Paula of her tiny cob temple in Auburn, California. Paula is a ceramics artist who attended our “One Day Cob House” event way back in 2013.
Send us a pic or two and a little about how your build went: what did you learn, did you teach, was it fun/hard/rewarding…One of our goals is to develop a robust network of natural builders who can help each other while transforming our culture of building and how we relate to space.
Another area of focus for us through the years has been to train the next generation of natural building teachers. While speaking with a prospective student on the phone last week I started sharing about our 2022 teaching squad. I realized how proud I was of how we’ve been able to grow teachers from our workshops. For example, Jonathan, Kathleen, Alix, Lindsay, Katy and I will all be teaching together in 2022. Jonathan and Kathleen started with the same VersaTerra workshop in 2017 and have continued to build and teach with us including in India and Mexico. Alix and Lindsay took last year’s 35-day course and will be joining us at our workshops as apprentice teachers in 2022. And, Katy and I lived and learned at House Alive for 6 months in 2010 and have been teaching ever since.
What is VersaTerra?
VersaTerra is a holistic design, building and living philosophy, celebrating clay-soil as its primary building material. Clay-soil is:
plentiful, inexpensive or free, durable, easy to maintain and modify, and endlessly reusable
non-toxic, breathable, soft, beautiful, and displays superior performance in a wide variety of climates
sculptural by nature, inviting to work with needing only simple tools and methods, and easily combines with other natural and human made materials.
By focusing on these specific qualities of clay-soil, we can make the design, building and living process a conduit for community revitalization and personal transformation, while creating housing with dignity for the people of this world.
To read more, go here.
Conrad has been updating his book, “House of Earth” which will include new pictures and some new content. He’s also started a book on design which he hopes to finish by next fall. I’ve been writing, too, and am close to completing a DIY cob oven book and continue to contribute articles or blogs to Mother Earth News magazine (look for a wood stove water heater piece in the next print edition and a blog on natural building workshops online).