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What Happened?

What happened to the vernacular tradition of sheltermaking?


November 21, 2007 Posted by | Living Architecture | Leave a comment

Samhain Sheltermaker

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UN issues ‘final wake-up call’ on population and environment

By James Kanter International Herald Tribune Thursday, October 25, 2007

The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage on the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report issued Thursday by the United Nations.

Climate change, the rate of extinction of species and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the threats putting humanity at risk, the UN Environment Program said in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.

“The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns,” Achim Steiner, the executive director of the program, said in a telephone interview. Efficient use of resources and reducing waste now are “among the greatest challenges at the beginning of 21st century,” he said.

The program described its report, which is prepared by 388 experts and scientists, as the broadest and deepest of those that the UN issues on the environment and called it “the final wake-up call to the international community.”

Over the past two decades the world population has increased by almost 34 percent to 6.7 billion from 5 billion; similarly, the financial wealth of the planet has soared by about a third. But the land available to each person on earth had shrunk by 2005 to 2.02 hectares, or 5 acres, from 7.91 hectares in 1900 and was projected to drop to 1.63 hectares for each person by 2050, the report said.

The result of that population growth combined with unsustainable consumption has resulted in an increasingly stressed planet where natural disasters and environmental degradation endanger millions of humans, as well as plant and animal species, the report said.

Steiner said that demand for resources was close to 22 hectares per person, a figure that would have to be cut to between 15 and 16 hectares per person to stay within existing, sustainable limits.

Persistent problems identified by the report include a rapid rise of so-called dead zones, where marine life no longer can be supported because of depletion of oxygen caused by pollutants like fertilizers. Also included is the resurgence of diseases linked with environmental degradation.

The report is being published two decades after a commission headed by the former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland warned that the survival of humanity was at stake from unsustainable development.

Steiner said many of the problems identified by the Brundtland Commission were even more acute because not enough had been done to stop environmental degradation as flows of goods, services, people, technologies and workers had expanded, even to isolated populations.

He did, however, identify some reasons for hope that pointed toward better environmental stewardship.

He said West European governments had taken effective measures to reduce air pollutants, and he praised efforts in parts of Brazil to roll back deforestation in the Amazon. He said an international treaty to tackle the hole in the earth’s ozone layer had led to the phasing-out of release of 95 percent of ozone-damaging chemicals.

Steiner said more intelligent management of scarce resources including fishing grounds, land and water was needed to sustain a still larger global population, which he said was expected to stabilize at between 8 billion and 10 billion people.

“Life would be easier if we didn’t have the kind of population growth rates that we have at the moment,” Steiner said. “But to force people to stop having children would be a simplistic answer. The more realistic, ethical and practical issue is to accelerate human well-being and make more rational use of the resources we have on this planet.”

Steiner said environmental tipping points, at which degradation can lead to abrupt, accelerating or potentially irreversible changes, would increasingly occur in locations like particular rivers or forests, where populations would lack the ability to repair damage because the gravity of a problem would be far beyond their physical or economic means.

Looking ahead, Steiner said parts of Africa could reach environmental tipping points if changing rainfall patterns stemming from climate change turned semi-arid zones into arid zones, and made agriculture that sustained millions of people much harder.

Steiner said other tipping points triggered by climate change could occur in areas like India and China if Himalayan glaciers shrank so much that they no longer supplied adequate amounts of water to populations in those countries.

He also warned of a global collapse of all species being fished by 2050, if fishing around the world continued at its present pace.

The report said 250 percent more fish are being caught than the oceans can produce in a sustainable manner, and that the number of fish stocks classed as collapsed had roughly doubled to 30 percent globally over the past 20 years.

The report said that current changes in biodiversity were the fastest in human history, with species becoming extinct a hundred times as fast as the rate in the fossil record. It said 12 percent of birds were threatened with extinction; for mammals the figure was 23 percent and for amphibians it was more than 30 percent.

“Scientists now refer to a sixth major extinction crisis that’s under way,” Steiner said.

The first mass extinction, about 440 million years ago, and the four succeeding extinctions were the result of physical shocks to the planet like volcanic eruptions and plate tectonic shifts.

The report said that annual emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels have risen by about one-third since 1987 and that the threat from climate change now was so urgent that only very large cuts in greenhouse gases of 60 to 80 percent could stop irreversible change.

The effects of global warming, like the melting ice in the Arctic are “accelerating at a pace that goes beyond the scenarios and models we’ve been using,” Steiner said.

Climate change, however, was an issue that gained huge momentum over the past year, with governments, industries and citizens increasingly seeking solutions to the problem, Steiner said. The recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to former Vice President Al Gore was a sign of widespread scientific consensus that climate change is under way, he said.

Steiner called for an accelerated effort on a far wider range of environmental issues to build the same sense of urgency as shown on climate change over the past year to address the worsening situations of biodiversity, land degradation, fisheries and freshwater.

Many biologists and climate scientists have concluded that human activities have become a dominant influence on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. But there is still a range of views on whether this could result in a catastrophic unraveling of natural resources as the human population heads toward nine billion by midcentury, or more of a steady diminution in diversity.

Grand Shrine at Ise reborn every 20 years in the sacred wood

On the east side of the Kii Penninsula, near the forests of Kumano, lies Ise Jingu, known popularly by the honorific O-Ise-san. Unique to this shrine, situated in a solemn sacred forest, is the ceremony that takes place every 20 years to rebuild the wooden sanctum in a new location. Historically, the ritual began in the sacred woods with the cutting of trees to be used as lumber for the new shrine. Read More

Fanatic Sought

400 year old walled garden in north Tipperary (24 miles Cloughjordan) containing 20 year old permaculture, of apple, pear, plum, hazel, cherry, walnut, mulberry, and a mongolian style yurt with small wood stove, and access to own piped well water supply, seeks a fanatic – or preferably a couple – with basic building skills, to work on property maintenance for one day per week and gradual conversion of outbuildings to low energy use accommodation, for the use of themselves and othersinterested in tectospirituality.
tectospirituality : the expression of spiritual values through the
medium of carpentry and the construction of harmonious living space.

The materials for building – timber and stone – will be provided and sourced as far as possible from the farm itself. Replacement timber trees will be planted for future renovation. No wages, no lease, no rent, no rights, but the opportunity to spend 1,2, or 3 days per week immersed in living partially ‘off the grid’ small plot for gardening – optional. Not suitable for small children or dogs because of animals (sheep, lambs, bull etc.) on (organic) farm. This deal would suit a couple of people making a gradual transition to low input living, without their precipitously abandoning their current life or current means of making an income. Preference given to a couple with some prior experience of rural irish life.

Contact : Gillies – 086 / 3532581

Deeply Connecting to the Land

by Australian Geomancer Alanna Moore.
So you have some land and want to know the best building spot? I am often asked to help people decide. As well as an appreciation of sustainable design, from a grounding in permaculture, I use fairly esoteric methods of assessing a place, such as dowsing and meditation. I like to deeply connect to the Earth and Nature, for I am geomancer. Geomancy is a way of looking at landscape that assesses the subtle forces at work, its mythological elements, plus the historical dimensions of place. All up it refers to the overall feng shui (Earth harmony) of place, but its origins are universal, not just Chinese. Geomancers divine the energies of place and determine whether they bring detrimental or beneficial affects. In animist cultures intensely energetic sites are afforded highly sacred status and are never interfered with by people, except briefly, on ritual business.

Extinct paradigms in the modern world? Not really. In Perthshire, Scotland, a land developer’s plans in 2006 were thwarted by locals insisting that a large stone that he wanted removed was the sacrosanct home of the fairies. Scottish geomancer and author David Cowan was interviewed for television at the site, after which he left an offering, putting a one pound coin inside a ‘cup and ring mark’ (ancient petroglyph), he told me. Other people, then, also started to leave offerings, he told me. The developer had to go back to the drawing board and design around it. Folkloric associations with the land there obviously have highest priority.

In other parts of the UK, crop failure has been connected, in the peoples’ minds, to the removal or destruction of local standing stones that had been carefully placed millennia ago for various sacred purposes. Permaculture is about designing sustainable systems using the inherent qualities of energy at sites. Geomancy can provide a spiritual component to permaculture design, helping us determine the ideal placement of design elements, in order to maintain or enhance good fengshui. So the two systems are perfectly complementary for a holistic approach to Earth care.

But how to gain an appreciation of the geomancy of place? Discover your locality. Check out your local region. Go slowly, cars are too fast and disconnect us. Walk the land. Find out the local history and discover where one can visit indigenous peoples’ special sites. Develop a relationship with these places. If we visit the sacred sites with our senses and our hearts wide open, we can learn amazing things! One can absorb the Earth wisdom first hand, directly, at sacred sites. Especially at initiation grounds, such as in eastern Australia where they are often marked by circular earthworks called ‘bora rings’. We can also visit sites where horrible things have happened and send some healing, loving thoughts to the place. Saying “sorry” to the land is long overdue in many cases! And it all helps. Walking the land in an open and respectful manner is also recommended at the very beginning of the permaculture design process. Where does the place feel special, or particularly energetic? These sites must be treated with care! Ideally never to be built upon or disturbed. And before major upheavals, such as earthworks, are begun, the respectful way is to give plenty of warning to the place about what is about to happen, well ahead of, and up to, the event. The same applies to tree cutting and branch lopping. Nature is intelligent, so talk to it! I have been respectfully developing my own land and there have been some beautiful results and that is another story, as they say.

Mankind has been ‘at war with topography’ (as John Pilger described the Vietnam war) for too long. I think that we owe it to the Earth to take a gentle, caring approach to our custodianship of Her. And that can start in our backyard! Creating a personal sacred site might be what is needed. The ancient Greeks would devote one wild untamed corner of their gardens to nature. This temenos/ wilderness patch can be a great way of helping to conserve nature’s biodiversity, but is usually kept out of bounds. Perhaps a circular oak grove? Or an artistic outdoor altar that could be a focus for the peaceful pursuit of creativity.

A spiritual longing for harmony with nature has been building in the last few years. Its symbols are starting to pop up in unexpected places – labyrinths of stone in local council precincts, Aboriginal art captivating the world, and books about the fairies and Green Man (epitomising deep connection to wild nature) now proliferating. The fairies themselves seem to want to be acknowledged again! Perhaps this is because mankind in the 21st century has inherited a spiritual desert, with orthodox religions giving justification for domination over nature. The denigration of indigenous wisdom worldwide paved the way for the cold hearted commodification of the planet, where a beautiful tree or rock outcrop becomes just another ‘resource’ to be plundered.

European traditions of the genius loci /spirits of place and the intelligences of nature are no different to Aboriginal paradigms, and apparently share a common spiritual heritage from earliest times. Aboriginal people have lamented the loss of their traditions and cycles of ceremony as the reason for the decline of flora and fauna species. We can ask them to inform us about the land. If there are none to consult with, then we can pick up the threads and sing to the land ourselves, honour it and protect it from harm. There is the potential for a brighter future in Australian land management, where a new, deep connection to land can evolve, while the hurts of the past are acknowledged and eventually healed.

Many people today are living on the land in co-creative relationships with nature and it brings them great wealth, in terms of joy and land productivity. Sacred sites are calling out to people, to anyone who will listen. The landscape devas crave positive relationship with us, yearn for our voices singing and bodies dancing. We all have the power to create a heaven on this Earth. We have the tools, the know-how. The universe isn’t just ‘nuts and bolts’ and it is our spirits that propel us forward, while we’re thinking with our hearts. By listening to the quiet voices in the rocks and plants, with a spirit of generosity, we can help to restore Earth harmony lost, and honour and enjoy it where it is still tangibly present.

This article was written for and first published by the Permaculture Association of South Australia in July 2006.

Alanna Moore will be presenting one day dowsing and geomancy workshops in Ireland on the following dates (some of which are yet to be confirmed, so check for the unfolding details):
* May 11th ‘Dowsing and Healing’ workshop, Navaho Healing Centre near Belfast
* June 7th, ‘Stone Age Farming’ workshop, The Burren, Co. Clare
* June 15th ‘Divining Earth Harmony’ workshop, Navaho Healing Centre near Belfast
* July 12-13th ‘Stone Age Farming’ workshop weekend at The Organic Centre, Co. Leitrim, with Sunday being a dowsing field trip.
* Sunday July 20th ‘The Sacred Garden’ workshop at Carraig Dulra, Wicklow.

In many countries, cement is crucial for growth but an enemy of green

By Elisabeth Rosenthal International Herald Tribune Sunday, October 21, 2007

In booming economies from Asia to Eastern Europe, cement is the glue of progress. The material that binds the ingredients of concrete together, cement is essential for constructing buildings and laying roads in much of the world.

Some 80 percent of cement is made in and used by emerging economies; China alone makes and uses 45 percent of global output. Production is doubling every four years in places like Ukraine.

But making cement creates pollution, in the form of carbon dioxide emissions, and the greenest of technologies can reduce that by only 20 percent.

Cement plants already account for 5 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.

Compounding the problem, cement has no viable recycling potential, as the abandoned buildings that line roads from Tunisia to Mongolia demonstrate. Each new road, each new building, needs new cement.

“The big news about cement is that it is the single biggest material source of carbon emissions in the world, and the demand is going up,” said Julian Allwood, a professor of engineering at Cambridge University.

“If demand doubles and the best you can do is to reduce emissions by 30 percent, then emissions still rise very quickly.”

Worse yet, green incentives may be allowing the industry to pollute even more. The European Union subsidizes Western companies that buy outmoded cement plants in poor countries and refit them with green technology.

The emissions per ton of cement produced do go down. But the amount of cement produced often goes way up, as does the pollution generated.

Many of the world’s producers acknowledge the conundrum. “The cement industry is at the center of the climate change debate, but the world needs construction material for schools hospitals and homes,” said Olivier Luneau, head of sustainability at Lafarge, the Paris-based global cement giant.

“Because of our initiatives, emissions are growing slower than they would without the interventions.”

Cement manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in programs like the Sustainable Cement Initiative, yet many engineers like Allwood see “sustainable cement” as something of a contradiction in terms, like vegetarian meatballs.

Lafarge, a leader in introducing green technology to its field, has improved efficiency to reduce its emissions from 763 pounds, or 347 kilograms, of CO2 per ton of cement in 1990 to 655 in 2006. Its goal is to get to 610 by 2010, but it expects it will be difficult to get much below that number.

Lafarge, which bought 17 cement plants in China in 2005 and has holdings throughout eastern Europe and Russia, acknowledges that its emissions are growing year by year.

“Total emissions are growing because the demand is growing so fast and continues to grow and you can’t cap that,” Luneau said. “Our core business is cement, so there is a limit to what we can change.”

Cement is certainly a good investment these days.

“The construction market is booming in Eastern Europe, so cement factories are booming,” said Lennard De Klerk, director of Global Carbon, a Budapest firm that arranges investments in Ukraine, Russia and Bulgaria. “All the big cement companies, like Lafarge and Heidelberg Cement, have bought existing facilities there that generally use fairly outdated technology and that waste a lot of energy.”

Carbon trading schemes – green incentives created by the European Union and the Kyoto Protocol – encourage such purchases. But they also allow manufacturers to increase overall cement production, both in the developing world and at home.

The European Union effectively limits production of European cement makers in their home countries by capping their allowed yearly emissions. In places like Ukraine, meanwhile, there are no limits, so cement production can increase there without regulatory caps.

Moreover, European companies get allowances known as carbon credits to pollute more for use at home by undertaking green cleanup projects elsewhere. So buying an old Soviet factory and investing in converting it to green technology can bring multiple paybacks.

“They can invest in Ukraine and Russia, clean up, and earn carbon credits – the investment is much more attractive than it used to be,” said De Klerk, whose company brokers such “carbon” investments. Factoring the value of the carbon credits into the cost of refitting a factory in Ukraine, the predicted rate of return rises from 8.8 per cent to close to 12 per cent, he said.

Once outmoded plants are refitted with “clean technology,” their emission per ton of cement produced does decline. The Podilsky plant in Ukraine is being refitted with greener kilns – financed by the Irish cement manufacturer CRH to earn carbon credits – and energy consumption per ton of production is forecast to drop 53 percent.

But even that sharp drop may not be enough to stop the inexorable growth in cement emissions in the aggregate, or compensate for the new lease on life that refitting provides old factories that otherwise might have shut their doors. Production went up over 10 percent in Ukraine in 2005 and again in 2006. At Heidelberg Cement’s Doncement plant in Ukraine, output soared 55 percent in the first nine months of last year.

Old factories that for years were running at half capacity are now churning out cement as never before, propelled by booming economies and foreign investment.

And cement, which used to be produced and used locally, is increasingly shipped long distances. On the Internet, cement brokers are now selling relatively cheap Ukrainian cement to all corners of the world. Demand is particularly high in the Middle East.

Unlike many industries, cement has a basic chemical problem: The chemical reaction that creates cement releases large amounts of CO2 in and of itself. Sixty percent of emissions caused by making cement are from this chemical process alone, Luneau said.

The remainder is produced from the fuels used in production, which may be mitigated by the use of greener technology. So to “go green,” cement makers try to cut the fuel side of the equation.

When they buy plants in the developing world they often turn from a water-intensive system to a more energy efficient “dry” system. Ten percent of the fuel used by Lafarge is biomass and alternative fuels.

One industry project called the Cement Sustainability Initiative suggests that concrete should be mixed using smaller portions of cement to reduce emissions, and that cement buildings be given better insulation so that they are more energy efficient. But there is less incentive for cement manufacturers to take on fundamental changes in how to make buildings and roads.

Western cement manufacturers emphasize that the emissions problem cannot be solved until China and India and other booming economies realize that they must limit emissions as well. “Trying to solve emissions in the EU or G-8 will not solve the problem unless emerging economies and their cement production are included,” Luneau said.

Yurts & Tipis

Looking for a handmade yurt, tipi or marquee? Check out this site, it offers the real thing.

Next Sheltermaker – Midwinter

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Sheltermaker, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Conversation With Gillies

Gillies Macbain is a contemporary philisopher and critic of the absurd. He contributed this piece in response to the Autumn Equinox Sheltermaker. Replies in red.


Your mailings from Sheltermaker suggest that you are always at risk of a tipping point – from architectural research with a spiritual content – to spiritual research with an architectural content . . .

Perceptive as usual Gillies. The tipping may well be permanent, stranding me in the latter mode. I seem to have paid off some karmic debt which is freeing me up. Loosed of these shackles I am scrambling to package my ‘architectural research with a spiritual content’ to provide some form of revenue stream so that I might concentrate on ‘spiritual research with an architectural content’. Presently this latter fascination is focussed on the balance achieved between gravity and levity. All of this is aided by a love relationship with an Australian geomancer ….

Going in to Thurles I now pass ten new houses – each one of which would have done duty as ‘the big house’ in the pre-motorised, pre-European Union, pre-financial services Ireland. I literally do not know how these houses are built, or paid for, except that they all express – by their orientation to the road – their dependence upon the road, not dependence upon the land. Thurles is 12 kms from here.

You are looking at the Irish Unconscious in all its (concrete) glory. It looks like the Irish are destined to live out their Anglo-inspired coldness rather than cluster around the hearth radiating their natural warmth. It is likely too that famine of some sort will be required to unravel this picture.

Some are quite good, in that they begin to have what I call ‘cultural content’ even though they are all constructed of stuff that came on the back of lorries from the builders’ suppliers in town. All of them are late twentieth century houses. No need to insulate them – if they anticipated any difficulty in obtaining heating oil, they would not be
built here in any case, because they are commute-dependent. They are not really ‘here’ at all but an attenuated suburbia that covers almost the entire country. Some of them are built because parts of Tipperary will soon be connected to Dublin, Cork, and Limerick by motorways. This same motorised society finds Leitrim ‘accessible.’ (current ad.)

If people spent any more time than they do in these piles we will have to build at least 10 more psychiatric hospitals!

You are exploring a direction of architecture that is ‘right hemisphere.’

Is that something to do with my brain?

At the extreme of this spectrum lies the hippies’ camp. It is convivial, playful, ramshackle, home made, idiosyncratic, personal, radical, communal, theoretically responsible to the earth, while risking being escapist and a holiday-from-reality culture.

Ahhh, that old chestnut! But, as usual, you are right to the point. The balance needs to shift from reaction to action. The hippy lore is too much about reaction leaving too many places for people to cry off that agenda while they cling to (or even defend) their lifestyles. This is where the psychology of change needs to be given space. There is too much emphasis on doing and not enough on being. We have to enter the inner dimension into all equations rather than leaving it out as is currently the case. This leaves the scientific heads scrambling for purchase while they programme their WMD’s just in case. This is where my Sheltermaking Theatre enters the picture. I am tired of the endless questions and of having to lug proof around in a briefcase. I want to crack things open, parade fear onstage, rattle the bones of complacency and disappear into the Green Room while the audience lick their wounds.

At the opposite extreme lies a culture where the commuters complain about the traffic – unaware that they are the traffic, and complain about having to have two jobs and childcare just to pay the high price of housing – unaware that their strategies are the causes of the high price of housing. I would not live happily in one of these houses, but it would be churlish to deny that they give great satisfaction to the people who build them, and express their status and aspirations as they are at the present, not as they should be in some imagined future.

Back to the psychology! But how pitiful a picture it is! This is why caution is required as the demolition crews move in. Deflationary action is going to leave a lot of people reflecting on the emptiness they have bought and nurtured. Better to stand back as the edifice of illusion comes tumbling down. These houses might well be the original dominoes of the theorists. ‘Sub-prime’ may well enter the lexicon of history as the fabled location of Archimede’s fulcrum.

It is not much help to society as a whole if certain elements opt to retire to a retreat that suits their (possibly untypical) temperament, and complain that everyone else should now join them there. The aspirations of the mainstream and those who live in the present culture of mortgaging the future have to be acknowledged.

Who says that is not productive or limits one’s right to complain? Such complaint will certainly not be inviting to the huddled masses! If ‘the aspirations of those who live in the present culture of mortgaging the future have to be acknowledged’ then one simply is freed of an enormous workload. Acknowledging their rootedness in illusion leaves the weight squarely on their shoulders. It has ever been thus. We make our own pain – technology has simply improved our success rate.

Nevertheless, when society as a whole makes a change of direction – there will inevitably be outlying members of society whom the new turn of direction puts ‘out front’ and no longer ‘off centre.’

When the sheepdogs of sustainability manage to turn the herd we may well find ourselves at the forefront of the stampede. Thank you for the warning! I will exercise caution as I proceed!

In the 1990s I helped to stage an annual rare breeds and home produce show – ‘the rats’ harvest festival.’ I learned from this that the things that appeal to me appeal to a segment of society that includes a proportion of ‘hippies’, drop
outs, foreigners, migrants from the city, idealists, and people that I would call ‘out on a limb’ or ‘without parameters.’

To a guy in a suit, these few characters would be noticeable. Just as people say that ‘the Irish have red hair’ – meaning that the Irish, who are overwhelmingly brown and dark brown, have a small but noticeable proportion of redheads.

I began to dislike being identified with this segment, not because I tired of my own friends – but because it erected an artificial barrier between the ideas which interested me, and the people – the neighbours – whom I lived among day to day.

Some time ago I saw that to retreat from society as a whole could after all be a valid tactic, but a temporary one. I saw it by analogy with polytunnel seedlings. the separate and benign environment was good for raising seedlings – but sooner or later the new plants – however exotic – would need to be hardened off and planted out.

This goes to the heart of what I might call the Inside Out Syndrome. We are all striving for belonging – this clogs the M50 every day! When you become totally Your Self belonging takes on a different face. This is the paradigm shift, the shaking loose, the pit of fear. We are all alone! There is no uniform, group, coven, herd or football team that can dispel this truth. Outsiders we are all. Denial of this secretes a natural adhesive that bonds tighter than steel.

So, back to the spiritual content of architecture. People are often baffled and defeated by the sheer variety of personal
spiritual mindset, and its formal and communal religious expression. A glance at a 400 page book – ‘the encyclopedia of new religions’ – will show that there are more philosophies out there than most of us have so far taken into account.

It would be an unrealisable project to blend all of these sects into a single spiritual community, or a single political structure. Somehow they have to be left to follow the paths of evolution and shoot the rapids of natural selection on their own . . .

And that perhaps is the concept that will come to be incorporated into all of our mindsets. Historical circumstances will oblige us to divest ourselves of the illusion of control. Even the ‘greens’ are part of this self delusion – though they express this control as ‘stewardship.’

The essential principle of any spiritual mindset will be the surrender of control to ‘nature.’ Nature is always in balance. Any idea that the balance of nature is in danger of being upset, is part of that same illusion of control. Each religion or philosophy needs to make humble recognition of the subordination of the rational control-orientated mind within nature.

Individual upbringing and personal preference leads us to depict nature as ‘god’, ‘gods and spirits’, ‘creation’, the cosmos, providence, or whatever. If there is any unity to be found, it has to be at a slightly deeper level from which religious and philosophical ideas emerge.

In seeking for a more harmonious and spiritual architecture, we must resist the retrograde approach of trying to buy the spiritual content as an added on extra – something that we select out of a catalogue. Everything made expresses, usually unconsciously, the spiritual mindset of the maker. So you do not buy spiritually expressive architecture or technology, so much as ‘be’ spiritually expressive, upon which all else follows.

Yes, ou literally have to ‘live your architecture’ allowing it to emerge from inside you.

My great fear of current ‘ecovillage’ architecture (theoretical because I have not personally visited any, except Coolbawn Quay holiday village), is that it has even now not discarded –

* the paradigm of mortgaging the future.

* the ‘growth’ paradigm that everything will increase in value over time.

* the idea that essential change can be concentrated in a favoured locality. (Remember Ennis – the winning entry for ‘Ireland’s information town ?’)

* the idea that you can propose a coming breakdown of industrial society – but do not need to specify security fencing for priveledged enclaves.

The great difficulty in formulating an architecture that responds to post-industrial practical and spiritual needs, is this: that we are so thoroughly embedded in the ‘growthist’ paradigm. We start to build cycle lanes and we meanwhile add fifty per cent more to the total number of cars and volume of traffic. We are not who we pretend
we are.

The idea that we might seek to know who we are is an extremely radical idea!

The coming architectural revolution may, at one level, be this simple – two families living in one house. That reduces mortgage bills and heating bills by half, likewise carbon emissions. No investment is required. And in hard times people share old cars before they invest in a new Toyota Prius.

Unemployment solves childcare and commuting bottlenecks. Tesco in town survives and lLidl on the by-pass fades away, because people are not buying the wife a shopping car. Borrowers are squeezed, savers are the winners but hold on to their savings even more tightly.

So the spiritual qualities admired, become – resilience, self reliance, resourcefulness, humility, stability (in the old monastic sense of staying put) and the values of family, community, and give-and-take.

I would see the next building boom as possibly being in inner city and town centre conversion. Modification to small economical units, terraced, close, rented dwellings in pedestrianised zones with retail units interspersed. More Italian mediaeval hill town than American commuter suburb. Likewise conversion of rural one-off housing to 2/3 units served by communal transport. the school bus network idea expanded to cater for commuting. working hours staggered, but also synchronised for people from a particular geographical location.

The perfect autonomous and earth friendly house will exist, on its sheltered and wooded site, but it will remain an ideal – not the typical dwelling of the early twenty first century.

Ideals will be the first victims of the catalcysm!

We have begun to reach the extreme of the ‘growthist’ industrial boom society, where the pursuit of individual satisfaction is about to compromise its own context, the current configuration of the natural world. Nature will still be in balance if we persist – but she will begin to narrow the niche in which we do what we do.

A little known example of great relevance to us is the early history of Iceland, in the 800s, where Scandinavian emigrants and pioneers moved into an intact but fragile ecosystem, and utilised its few woodlands to destruction and near extinction.

It was an accelerated version of a process that occurred in Ireland from 7000 BC to 1600 AD.

The Icelanders henceforth had to import large timbers from Norway and ceased to be the builders of their own ships. Likewise a recent excavated viking ship in Denmark proved to have been built of Irish timber.

No spiritual change came over the Icelanders. they put pressure on their ecosystem, and nature pushed back. When you have exhausted your resources you become beholden to those who have not. If any change came on the Icelandic mindset – it could have been a trend to greater humility in the face of natural balance.

A spiritual approach to life, to philosophy, to religion, – and thus to architecture – may be as simple as this: the concept of balance has to pervade all levels of thinking and understanding. Balance of what is under our control, and even the wider context that is not under our control, also to be seen in terms of balance.

That is the great virtue. The great fault is that of ‘moral partition.’ People struggle to achieve balance and earth friendliness in an area which is like a mental ‘gated community.’ Al Gore flies to meet the next storm of applause at the next global conference, but the plane that he flies in is granted a priveledged exclusion from the concepts that he is retailing. he has indulged in a moral partition. He is no better than George Bush patting his dog while children
die in far off Iraq.

So there are two rules for architecture with spiritual content –

1. A spiritual life cannot help but build a spiritual architecture – so first cultivate a spiritual life.

2. To pervade all that you do your spiritual life must recognise no limits, but must accept the the earth is one, and see that everything that is within it affects and is affected by everything else. There is no partition.

3. Nature and her ecosystems are always in balance. A humble acceptance and respect for her power allows us to build an architecture that tries not to perpetrate more mindless destruction of the kind which can only work to our own detriment.


Gillies Macbain
also readable at :

October 14, 2007 Posted by | Sheltermaker | Leave a comment

Autumn Equinox Sheltermaker

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SPRING COURSES IN SUSTAINABLE HOUSE DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION The Living Architecture Centre has been invited to Australia to present some of its ideas there and to gather information on what is happening down under. As a result the scheduled Spring Courses have been postponed. Revised dates will be posted on the website and noted in subsequent Sheltermakers. To kick off the Australian gig, which commences in mid-December, an article outlining the Course methodology will appear in the Owner-Builder magazine.


BALANCE Here we are at the equinox, a balance point before we slide into the winter. What a strange summer it has been! My own story I have documented in the EconoSpace Project section of the blog. Aspects of living architecture which even I was blind to! Strong confirmation though of the balance we must find between outer expression and inner demand.

It seems to me that such balancing is at the core of the sustainability agenda. If conscious efforts are not made to incorporate inner demand into the quest for a sustainable way of life we are just fooling ourselves. The current state of imbalance is easy enough to see – an emphasis on expensive ‘green’ products which will transform our lives and save the planet but no mention of how we might connect to life on a deeper level. I think that the planet can look after itself without our help. As to the claim of transforming us – this is an arrogance that would be laughable if it were not so tragic. The imbalance created by such emphasis on the physical creates a yawning hole that only we can fill by looking inward and forging a counterweight from our deeper selves.


The current credit squeeze in the financial markets is a good indicator of how out of balance things have become. Interestingly it is defaulting within the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage sector in the US that is causing this wobble – people unable to make their repayments because interest rates have risen. Normally we think the consequences of such defaulting result in people (merely!) losing their homes, which is true. However, because banks and mortgage companies sell on their loans to financial institutions higher up the economic chain, defaulting at the lower level reverberates upwards. Imagine it like this – the global economy is really a pyramid scheme constantly seeking new ‘players’ to form the ever-widening bottom strata of the edifice. This is why eastern European states, China and India have become so important within the global marketplace – they provide billions of potential mortgagees and debtors to support the gargantuan credit structure that is part and parcel of the industrialised world. All of this is literally fueled by petrochemicals which are due to become increasingly expensive due to their scarcity. This is a wholly physical construct with no place for deeper meaning.

The more I look at this and the more I listen to predictions of gloom the more I think that life has never really been much different. The struggle for balance has always been there and will continue to be there. This is characteristic of physical embodiment. It is up to us to find our own equilibrium and that is all we can do. There is no need to wait for things to get worse – or to improve! We merely have to activate the counterweight of our inner strength and employ this on our behalf in order to create true balance within our lives.

A GLIMPSE OF GAUDI Some footage I shot a while ago in Barcelona

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THE GUGGENHEIM: Revamping the vision of Frank Lloyd Wright
By Robin Pogrebin The New York Times
Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Visitors wandering through the Richard Pousette-Dart exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum seem oblivious to the scaffolding and hard hats in their midst. But for the people behind the scenes, the work unfolding within the museum’s curved white walls is as engrossing as the art displayed on them.

For the last three years a team of engineers, conservators and architects has been studying the guts of the Guggenheim, mapping out a thorough but respectful renovation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling building on Fifth Avenue, completed in 1959. Although it was clearly in serious need of renewal, with cracks in its facade, a decaying sidewalk and outdated mechanical systems, experts wanted to make a comprehensive diagnosis before determining the best course of treatment.

Now they have a plan — already in action — and the end is in sight. The work is expected to be completed by summer 2008. “It’s taken us three years to get to the point where we’re actually intervening,” said Pamela Jerome of Wasa Studio, the preservation architect on the project.

And on a recent walk through the museum, which will remain open throughout the renovation, the specialists involved talked about what they had discovered and strategies they have devised. Jerome has faced major renovation challenges before, including the sagging cantilevers and damaged stucco of Fallingwater, the residence designed by Wright in rural Mill Run, Pennsylvania

But the Guggenheim’s structural complexities, she said, made this project more daunting. In addition to repairing the facade, the $29 million renovation involves upgrading the cooling systems and updating the elevators and bathrooms.

Perhaps the team’s most crucial realization was that workers in the 1950s had failed to provide continuous horizontal steel reinforcement in the walls on the sixth ramp, as they had on the lower ramp walls. The sixth is twice the height of the lower ones and leans outward at a different angle, the museum says.

The original building lacked insulation. In a 1992 project devised by the architect Charles Gwathmey, insulation was finally installed, improving the situation. But some gaps were left on the apron slab, where the floor meets the wall, creating condensation problems that are now being addressed. Strips of carbon fiber are being installed in the concrete walls to create a seamless, protective exterior envelope.

As the work proceeds, the walls’ interiors are exposed, as they must have been when the building was under construction. “It’s the first time we’re seeing what Frank Lloyd Wright saw,” said Glenn Boornazian, president of Integrated Conservation Resources, who is the principal conservator on the project.

Wright is never far from anyone’s mind. Paramount goals are to make the work almost imperceptible and to adhere to the building’s original form to the greatest extent possible.

“From a preservation point of view, you don’t want to change the external appearance,” said Robert Silman, president of Robert Silman Associates, the project’s structural engineers.

When it came to the windows and skylights, then, the specialists wanted to improve them without replacing them. The windows, though, are not double-glazed and don’t provide adequate insulation. So the architects decided to replicate their form but substitute new glass with advanced thermal qualities that has been tested for water and air infiltration. (They have not yet undergone tests for pigeon-proofing, Jerome said).

Similarly the conservators tried to find repair materials — concrete patching compounds, acrylic crack fillers, expandable surface coatings — that “would be physically and aesthetically compatible,” Boornazian said. After identifying about 20 manufacturers that deal with concrete restoration, they narrowed the list to six and then subjected their materials to rigorous weather testing.

“Just as Frank Lloyd Wright was on the cutting edge of using materials, he forced us to think of solutions in unusual ways,” Boornazian said.

Wright was among the first to use gunite — sprayed concrete — on a large architectural scale, which allowed him to create his smooth unbroken curves, Boornazian said. To give the Guggenheim’s surface a monolithic appearance, he added, Wright left out expansion joints, which would have created visual vertical breaks.

Wright’s professional reputation has emerged intact, experts involved in the project say. The building’s flaws lay in its execution, not its conception. Exposed to high winds and extreme variations in temperature, the walls have continually expanded and contracted. They will still be flexible but will become more resilient, with concealed control joints that allow the gunite to expand and contract without cracking.

As part of its preparatory research the team studied the Guggenheim’s archives, including photographs taken during construction; written documentation of the building process; correspondence between Wright and the contractor; and original architectural and shop drawings.

The building was then stripped of as many as 11 layers of paint, and experts conducted a 17-month survey of thousands of cracks of varying magnitude in the facade. Using impact-echo technology, in which sound waves are sent into the concrete and the rebound is measured, the engineers located voids within the walls.

To map the geometry of the museum and determine its load-bearing capacity, the engineers relied on laser measuring, a fairly tricky matter given the building’s spiral and its sloping walls. “We think it’s the largest laser model ever constructed,” Silman said. “It took up the whole memory on the computer.”

They also submitted their findings to two peer review panels of experts in architectural restoration, materials conservation, structural engineering as well as an environmental envelope specialist.

“We all believe, when we finish, this building will be better than new,” said Marc Steglitz, the museum’s chief operating officer. “And we’ll get another 50 years out of it.”

Next Sheltermaker – Samhain

September 20, 2007 Posted by | Sheltermaker | Leave a comment


Is personal space like the womb? Is this what we seek when we craft spaces in which to be? This is an interesting idea which I have mused on before. The womb is the first space we know and expulsion from it signals the commencement of our lives which ultimately lead to a reconnection with the Mother. This life-death cycle is supported by architecture which shelters us when we are alive allowing us to consciously be. Erecting the HeadSpace has allowed me to touch on this mystery and to observe others succumb to its allure …


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August 25, 2007 Posted by | Living Architecture, The EconoSpace Project | Leave a comment

My Current HeadSpace

I’m in free fall. Once the shift began there was no going back. Embracing the change that this offered has opened up a whole new perspective. It is now clear the resistance to creating the Art Studio is rooted in me and that I really need to move on in my life embracing the future rather than being burdened by aspects of my past. This has allowed new love to flow into my life and given fresh direction to my ambitions. This is the core of the living architecture idea – living your architecture according to inner direction. I am still catching up with what this means for me, enjoying the sensation of the free fall and speculating on where it will lead.

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August 21, 2007 Posted by | Living Architecture, The EconoSpace Project | Leave a comment

Lughnasadh Sheltermaker

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I am at a most interesting place, literally living my own architecture. This is fascinating and a bit of a roller coaster. The EconoSpace Project has raised so many personal issues that I am stunned and fascinated at the same time. The resistance to progress has been so strong that it is demanding a complete reassessment of the original objective of creating an Art Studio to house Sharo’s paintings. This has left me poised at the intersection of past and future time, rooted in the now.


The EconoSpace Project Update, which you will see posted on the right of your screen, will bring you up to speed on recent developments. Basically the project has been refusing to move from the workshop onto the site! There were obvious physical reasons for this – the weather, difficult ground conditions, a hassle obtaining stone and so on. However underlying these rather obvious resistances something else was lurking. This, I now realise, is something in me and exploring this is has plunged me deeper into the mystery of sheltermaking. Essentially this has to do with living the future rather than living the past. This is the source of inspiration from which we gain emotional sustenance. We give this form when we make buildings in which to live our lives.

Living our lives to accord with inner direction carries us beyond rationale. The mind rails against such folly regularly issuing threats of impending catastrophe. When we bring such confusion to the building process we imprison ourselves in rigid structures blocking out the light of inspiration. This is why construction is such a macho activity and requires such immense firepower for its realisation. If we build sensitively we cannot but connect to inner direction.

This is exactly what is happening to me. It is becoming clear that putting energy into Sharo’s paintings is not part of my now. This is the source of the resistance to realising the Art Studio. If I accept this wholeheartedly – and I do – a whole new vista open up. This is where I am poised, a most interesting place to be. I cannot but laugh at the irony of all of this. I have been developing and teaching these ideas for almost 20 years in an itinerant sort of way. It is only now that I have ‘settled’ that I am fully impacted by them! This is as fascinating as it is amusing.


My immediate attention is now focussed on the installation of the HeadSpace at the Dock Arts Centre in Carrick on Shannon in lovely Leitrim. This will be erected on Friday next August 17th. It will be up until the following Sunday. A new series of Courses in Sustainable House Design & Construction will begin on September 1st. which will keep me busy. I have also begun work on my Sheltermaking Theatre presentation which addresses the emotional issues surrounding the living architecture process. I will also be continuing work on the EconoSpace Project in its new guise as vehicle for my unfolding life.

So, stay tuned folks. I will be recording developments in the Architecture LIVE section of my website.

Next Sheltermaker – Autumn Equinox

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August 11, 2007 Posted by | Living Architecture, Sheltermaker, The EconoSpace Project | Leave a comment

EconoSpace Project Update

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but ….

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August 2, 2007 Posted by | Living Architecture, The EconoSpace Project | Leave a comment

The Sheltermaking Theatre



Everything is shifting under my feet. Not in a bad way but nonetheless challenging. The EconoSpace Project clearly has a mind of its own. Despite our best efforts, the objective of getting it out of the ground is elusive. This has gotten me thinking, why is it so difficult?

There is no clear answer to this question. I can think of many reasons, including the ‘local wetting’ I wrote about previously. There is also the fact that Thomas has returned to Belfast to resume his amateur boxer training and contemplate his future. Liz has also gone on to do her own thing.


However, no matter which way I look at this all answers fail to satisfy. I’m beginning to consider that it is me that is holding things up, that somewhere in myself I’m putting a block on things. Another possibility is that I’m actually meant to be doing something else. I have been trundling from Design to Construction like an old dog on the hard road, not really thinking if this was the proper route to my objective – wherever that is! So, I decided to lay down by the roadside and reconsider everything. This was blissful – taking time to relax and dream. This led to an interesting place.

I’m calling the process ‘backtracking’. It’s not really about retracing my steps or about where I am going but seems to be more concerned with consciousness! This is familiar territory and brings to mind the comment of a student of an early Be Your Own Architect Course who said ‘I was teaching philosophy not architecture’. I am still catching up with that throwaway line.

Anyway, as fate or destiny would have it, as soon as I begin to dream everything appeared differently. I quickly put together a presentation which neatly fitted into an old idea – The Sheltermaking Theatre. This is a device to enable us to see the invisible – things like time, gravity, space and feelings. These are inexorably linked to architecture and to our selves as human beings. It is from this invisible matrix that we emerge.

Phew! This is not what teaching architecture is meant to be about! Yet, on some level, it is exactly what it is about. It is what living architecture actually means – that we can use buildings to connect to a a deeper reality, discovering in the process who we are. This I have known intuitively for quite some time but I could never explain it in a way that made sense in the context of how architecture is normally spoken of – in terms of passive solar energy, sheepwool insulation, hemplime, heat pumps, double glazing or whatever.

In many ways things that we know inside ourselves but which are repressed or remain unconscious are more shocking when we accept them than new information. That is how I feel at the moment. A mixture of impatience, excitement and trepidation. Add to that the fact that a film crew from TG4, the Irish language TV station, is coming to film the EconoSpace Project next week! I have appraised them of developments but I’m not certain they properly understood. Anyway I’ll adhere to my new mantra ‘it’s all theatre’ and things are bound to be all right on the day. Then there is the HeadSpace to get ready for display at The Dock, the local arts centre. This is pure theatre!

So there it is folks. My soul bared. My face presented to a new horizon. The wheels in motion. Destiny at play.


August 1, 2007 Posted by | Living Architecture, The EconoSpace Project, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Global Warming, Local Wetting

Perhaps in this part of the world, the Irish nortwest, the effects of climate change should be referred to a ‘local wetting’ rather than global warming. Generally the ground is waterlogged and wellies and raingear are the height of fashion. The local farmers are already concerned about winter fodder for their animals. The normal harvest cycle has been thrown into disarray by regular downpours which are more like monsoon rains rather than our usual local showers. Also, there is a definite autumnal vibration in the air though when the sun does manage to break through it is fierce and insistent.


All of this is hampering progress on the EconoSpace Project. While the peter posts and floor beams lie waiting under cover the foundation strips are looking a little too low to the ground for comfort. Even with a good 350mm clearance to the underside of the suspended floor my instinct is to push the building higher by at least another 150mm. This means importing another load of stone to build up the foundation strips by that amount. As luck or providence would have it my stone supplier is on holidays and we will have to wait at least ten days to obtain the necessary supplies. This pause is providing a useful space which I am occupying with reflection and observation. The reflection is encouraging me to winterise – to prepare the EconoSpace Office/Workshop for the onslaught of wind and rain ahead. This is supported by observation of what is happening in the UK as I write – severe rainfall and consequent flooding.

My neighbour Tommy paid a visit the other day to examine my alternative energy system and pointed out, from his knowledge of this field, that the location of the art studio ‘floods’, something which he had mentioned to me in passing before. This was not as alarming as it might first appear – he simply meant that there was a tendency for rainwater to gather at that location and for it to pond because it could not soak away due to the deep substrate of clay which characterises this area. I had become aware of this independently and had constructed a pond to encourage drainage, siphoning the collected water to the nearby stream. My feeling now though is that was common in the past will be overshadowed by future events. This will probably come in the form of wind and rain which will fall in unseasonable amounts and quite possibly cause some flooding in this area.

So, I am going to take heed of this caution and build up my foundation strips by a good six to eight inches more. This will allow a clear 600mm or two feet to the underside of the suspended insulated floor. Having to wait for the stone delivery to put this plan in action and wrestling with the incessant rain is naturally slowing everything down. I am of a mind to put everything on hold until the spring and then push forward. This is hard where I have set myself a ‘goal’ even though this was arbitrary and probably a little ambitious in the first place. This is a good example of the changes being suggested by climate change reality. Should we just push on in the face of it or should we listen? Pushing on suggests that we will prevail, listening suggests that we must change.

Change is one of the hardest things for people to initiate. Usually some dire event or circumstance will set the mechanics of change in motion and we must resign ourselves to being changed rather than taking the initiative and changing ourselves. This is a cop out and consigns us to the back foot, labelling us as victims rather than as instigators. To position oneself as an instigator is to make a stand, to place oneself outside of the norm of delusion. This is no easy place to be if only because people oftentimes want to challenge such positioning in order to bolster their own denial levels.

The work being carried out in the United States in the areas of natural building, permaculture and the formation of community is currently being founded on clear efforts at raising consciousness. This approach considers that practical solutions for sustainable living are already in place and that now it is a matter of people shifting their consciousness in order to embrace this new way of life. This requires an emotional leap, a stepping outside of the norm. This is the greatest challenge facing those currently locked into ‘the system’.

My own instincts now are to focus to the ‘consciousness’ aspects of sheltermaking and to parallel this with continuing work on the EcooSpace Project. Rational thinking had me following the apparently obvious design-construction sequence. What is now becoming clear is the need to backtrack, to lay a foundation for practical/material action based on strong emotional/life dynamics. This is the inside/outside story articulated by architecture which I have referred to in earlier blog entries and in articles available on the website.

The Living Architecture HeadSpace, pictured above and below, will be the vehicle for these explorations. This is a 1:6 model of the Actual House which allows one to experience the inner/outer connections that are forged when we create architecture. This will be on public display at the Dock Arts Centre, Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim from Friday August 17th to Sunday August 19th.


July 23, 2007 Posted by | Living Architecture, The EconoSpace Project | 1 Comment