One of the most significant contributions that I was able to make at the recent Natural Building Colloquium in New Mexico occurred in conjunction with a presentation about what Builders Without Borders is doing in Nepal to help with reconstruction efforts there. This presentation was done by three individuals, all shown in the photo below.
On the left is Martin Hammer, the current director of Builders Without Borders; in the middle is a young architect who recently returned from Nepal having initiated a multi-story urban residential unit using confined masonry within reinforced concrete; on the right is Parshu Dahal, who is a Nepali slated to receive assistance from the Builders Without Borders organization.
This organization has primarily been focused on the use of straw bales for reconstructing Haiti, Pakistan, and now Nepal, so the presentation reflected that orientation. Various presses for creating straw bales were described and the pros and cons of this approach were discussed.
I wanted to show them what I knew about the extensive use of earthbags for rebuilding in Nepal, but there wasn’t time at the first presentation. Fortunately, there was a Design Charette for rebuilding Nepal scheduled for later in the week and I arranged to make a presentation about earthbags there.
Before the Colloquium I had prepared an extensive review of earthbag building around the world as a slide show to share with participants. At the end of this show I had collected many images and facts that detailed what has transpired in Nepal, emphasizing the fact that none of the existing earthbag structures had suffered much damage from the quake, even though most buildings around them had collapsed. Folks were generally not aware of this, so it immediately got their attention.
Afterward, I had a chance to talk to Parshu, the Nepali aid recipient, and he told me how impressed he was with the whole concept of earthbag building. I gave him my book about Earthbag Architecture so he could find out more about it. The next day he told me he definitely wanted to build with earthbags. He felt that not only would it be safer than the traditional stone and mortar, but that it would be cheaper and easier to do and to acquire the needed materials.
Also in the audience of the Design Charette was Randolph Langenbach, an architect specializing in historic preservation who recently returned from filming in Nepal with a crew from NOVA. He also was impressed with earthbags as a technique for rebuilding in Nepal, and he had some specific suggestions for improving these. I am continuing to correspond with Randolph and expect to report in more detail about this soon.
On the whole, I think that my presentation was able to make an impression on the Builders Without Borders organization that will change the way they continue with their work.