Yestermorrow, Natural Design and Build

This week I returned from a 2 week program at the Yestermorrow Design and Build School in Warren Vermont- the start of winter phase for our community space project. In the class we focused on the philosophy, design, and technical construction behind the Natural Building approach; an integrated style of building that prioritizes sustainable systems, social and ecological integration of building projects, and conscious material use.

The educators at Yestermorrow work to bring together hands-on building and construction experiences with more theoretical and contextual elements of design and its application. Their mixed teaching style helped me to gain a strong grasp on the material and also provided me with a rich context for this emerging design movement. Beyond the specified content for the course, the class was also a great chance to observe strategies for group/ project management conducted by instructors and a thoughtful group of fellow students.

In particular we focused in on:

  • The anatomy of a building: (Material Options, Foundation, Structure, Insulation, Heat and Moisture Consideration etc.).
  • Siting requirements: (Access, Water, Soils, Slope, Fire, View sheds etc.).
  • Basic design: (Programming for a building, Picking building systems, Climate Considerations, and an overview of some Holistic Design Strategies- Permaculture, Ecological Design, etc.).
  • General context for Natural Building: (Real world examples of natural buildings through field trips and on site building projects, Conversation on the intersection of the natural building and green building movements, etc.).
  • Hard Skills: (Architectural Drafting, Straw-bale, Straw-clay, and Woodchip-clay material preparation and wall construction, Plastering).

The experience helped to clarify some of the questions I had about the parameters of our project and what it might require for a group of untrained students to come together in creating a small, low impact structure. It also gave me a new set of questions and considerations to be aware of as we move forward into the planning phase. Because time and cost to a certain extent are our biggest limiting factors for the project, I am working on design options that employ more user friendly, affordable materials, and allow for flexibility in terms of raising and breaking down the structure. The importance of having a mentor for the building aspect of the project is also an emerging priority, both in terms information sharing and the value of that shared relationship.

I would definitely recommend Yestermorrow programs to other Bennington students interested in exploring environmental stewardship and design and would say that their values are well suited to Bennington’s engaged, interdisciplinary approach.

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