Columbia University’s Natural Materials Lab

Lola Ben-Alon sloshes water into a tray of dirt and plunges her fingers into the muck. She smears it between her hands to see if it cakes on her skin, then mashes it into a sticky lump. “You need to know how much clay is in the soil,” she says. “That’s the first criterion for … Read more

Couple Builds a Permitted Hempcrete House in California

Concerned about indoor air quality, Neil Decker and Stella Michaels wanted their home to be chemical-free, so they decided to build it out of hempcrete (hemp, lime, and sand). The couple didn’t think they could afford to live in California but found a rundown property in Gold Rush old country on the Western Slope of … Read more

Rwandan Company Champions Earthen Technologies

CLEZOL is a Rwandan construction company that specialized in rammed earth and compressed stabilized earth blocks. The company was created by three Rwandan civil engineers who worked on the construction project of Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture, before they came up with the idea to create their own company. “As the world is focusing on … Read more

Why Patagonia’s Founder Built a Home Out of Straw

Architect Dylan Johnson with his longtime friend and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard designed and built a straw bale home in the suburbs of Ventura, California. The straw is leftover from wheat, rice, or barley crops as the main structural element or insulation in a building. “There’s an enormous amount of money to be made with … Read more

Alternative Building in Senegal

Childhood friends Mariama Djambony Badji and Papa Mafall Diop were both fascinated by buildings and how they are constructed, and they dreamed of starting a company together. “I initially wanted to study architecture, but then I studied civil engineering, like Mafall,” Badjj explained. “Despite going to different universities, we always stayed in touch,” Badjj explained. … Read more

A Revival of Natural Building in Ladakh

In Ladakh and elsewhere in India, the built environment is dominated by structures that required unsustainable construction methods and non-renewable materials. Meanwhile, older traditional buildings are usually marginalized and neglected. A primary feature of this shift involves the use of concrete, “the most destructive material on Earth”, rather than locally-sourced wood, straw, and earthen materials … Read more