Learn while travelling: A month of natural building in Morocco.

So, what have we been doing in the past 3 months in Morocco?

Our first stop, after staying with a friend in Tangier, and meeting our eternal love Abdelouahed Tchin, was Assilah Eco-Village to do natural building for a month. Natural building, what’s that? Don’t worry, we had no clue what we were getting into either. Basically, it’s about re-learning and re-appropriating essential knowledge we seem to forget more and more: how to build in the most sustainable and efficient way, with our own hands and land. I know, seems too easy.

View of the house from outside. The ground was landscaped in 3 sections, using the slope of the land to maximize space.

Actually, natural building is not only healthier, greener and insanely cheaper/actually affordable (game changer right?), it is also more durable and climate appropriate, when done right. For Morocco, a large part of Africa, and many countries around the world, that converts in mud bricks and cob building. In short, mud bricks have a high thermal mass, which allows the house to regulate its own temperature, absorbing the heat from the sun during the day and releasing it inside when the night gets cold. Not convinced yet? Take a look.

Living room, featuring glass bottles for light and heat. Who said convenient couldn’t be beautiful?

Lindsey’s house is, by far, the most beautiful home I’ve seen in my life. It might sound cliché, but the essence of natural building is also about building in the best way possible to live there. It’s about considering light, window placement, rounding corners not to lose space and heat, orienting the building so that the light fills respective areas at the right time of day.

Kitchen (yeah, that’s a tree serving as pillar and storing space)

It’s all these details that made Lindsey’s house the most comfortable and ‘’I want to live here’’ place. It was not a soulless, cold, square building, it felt like a home.

What did we do there? We learned, a lot. We carved and carried mud bricks (those things are HEAVY), a lot.

Carving the mud bricks, with Brahim, the local paid worker laying them.

We mixed soil, water and straw to make ‘’cement’’. Most of all, we witnessed it. We even got to lay a few bricks! When we arrived, there was nothing more than the foundation. By the time we left, 3 walls were completed (including rounding the edges and carving the mud bricks to expose the wood pillars, one of the many interior design tricks Lindsey taught us).

After finishing laying the bricks, we had to coat the wall with the same mixture, in a more liquid form. Brahim was nice enough to let us join!

How does it work? It’s actually mind-blowingly simple.

  • 1. Shovel some soil in a container, wheelbarrow, tarp.
  • 2. Pour some water in it. Mix. (Develop some serious forearm muscles in the process).
  • 3. Sprinkle some dry straw on it. (Adds strength to the bricks or ‘’cement’’ and prevents it from breaking). Mix.

Obviously, you can find more detailed explanations and recipes, but it’s only about getting the right consistency. Depending on the purpose of your cob mix, you might use different ratios (yes, you can do so many things with these 3 simple ingredients).

Light straw building is achieved by decreasing the amount of soil and adding much more water (hence the state of our arms and clothes), which is a fast drying technique we used when we ran out of mud bricks.

The challenge here is definitely the planning. Natural building requires you to think ahead, as you create your own material and need to consider an essential factor; drying time. To ensure the solidity and durability of the building, you will need to respect the drying schedule. This applies not only when you make the bricks, but also when you lay them, not going over a certain amount of courses of bricks per day, for example. Although we were not involved in this part, choosing a location is probably the most important part in natural building, as you consider water sources, rain flow, sun light, quality of the soil, access to wood, history of the land (you do not want to build your house with contaminated soil). You should also make sure the soil contains a decent ratio of clay, if you want to build with cob.

I won’t bore you with a list of all the tasks and projects that won’t mean anything for someone who wasn’t there. What I will tell you is how amazing and empowering this experience was. Did you ever think about building your own house? Did you ever think about doing it yourself, with wood, straw, soil, clay and donkey poop? This opened my eyes to a new perspective, a new aspect of life, so essential and central I can’t believe I didn’t think about it before; building our own homes. Wouldn’t it change the world if we all knew, not only how to grow our own food, but how to build our own houses, almost completely for free?

Natural building is centered on self-efficiency and self-sustainability. Using appropriate materials and building techniques not only increases the comfort of the house, but also decreases the need for added external energy, such as heating, air-conditioning and even lighting. Not only can it provide energy independence and reduce our strain on the environment, but natural building can also decrease the weight of economics in denying people of a basic human right: the right to have shelter. The best part is there are a million natural building techniques, for all climates. It makes so much sense I can’t believe we’re not all talking about this.

This is what the world needs. Everyone should learn how to naturally build their own house, with the material from the land, in the most efficient, both economically and for natural resources, and sustainable way.

3 thoughts on “Learn while travelling: A month of natural building in Morocco.

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