Earth, air, water, fire… The basic elements of nature are everywhere, constantly mingling and moving within and around us. The most ancient health arts and the most modern scientific tools of inquiry tell us that these elements are also what our bodies are composed of. Add spirit and we are alive.
Countless studies have shown the health enhancing effects of abiding in natural environments. As anyone who gardens and/or enjoys a walk in the forest can attest, interacting with nature helps to diffuse our intensities and restore balance to our body/mind. Meditative skill is not required – natural environments offer their medicine freely.
As environmental and socio-political troubles amplify across our planet, anything we can do to dispel our intensities is of immense value. Spending time in natural environments therefore makes much sense. But with the ever-increasing busyness of life, getting out to such places can be challenging. Ideally, doing so should require no effort at all. Herein lay the value of Natural Buildings.
Throughout history, humans have gathered together to create living spaces from readily available naturally occurring materials. Clay, sand, and plant fibre, mixed with water and dried by the heat of the sun have been the primary ingredients in shaping walls, floors, plasters, and wood-fired heaters all over the world. And for good reason – they help us unwind.
Of particular benefit is the effect of non-fired clay surfaces, which are very ‘hygroscopic’, meaning they can absorb and release large quantities of moisture without wetting out. The clays always draw moisture away from wood fibre, which is why natural buildings last many hundreds of years without deteriorating. Clay-rich interior surfaces naturally maintain indoor air humidity at 50-60% – levels that are ideal for the mucous membranes of our skin and respiratory system. By drawing excess humidity from the indoor atmosphere, clay inhibits the migration of moisture into wall and ceiling cavities, which inhibits the growth of mold. When clay releases moisture back into the atmosphere it also releases negatively charged ions that neutralize free radicals within our bodies – much like the effect of swirling water and the feeling in the air when Sunshine warms the land after rain.
I have nothing against ‘high tech’ processes and materials, so long as they are an improvement over simpler methods. However, when such is not the case, ‘modern’ is worth questioning. Houses constructed with synthetic materials require plastic vapour barrier lining to try and stop the (inevitable) migration of indoor atmospheric humidity into wall and ceiling cavities. Said houses must then have a ventilation system to discharge 50% of the indoor air per hour. And then the complexity of HVAC tech to try and recover the heat from the exiting air. Granted, these high tech systems can work (for 10 years or so til they malfunction and require either costly repair or replacement…), but the paradigm is inherently flawed; creating new problems as it doesn’t quite solve the issue of intra-cavity condensation and mould.
Natural buildings with high clay content often take longer to construct than conventional synthetic structures, and therein sometimes cost more. But they also last more than 400 years. Newer approaches involving factory-made fibre-and-lime/clay bricks speed the building process up considerably and thereby reduce cost. Either way, what a relief to realize that one of the most common materials on earth is a natural medicine that can be woven into our living space…
For a deeper exploration of such possibility, check out:
‘A Confluence of Remedy’