I had no house for over 2 years during my early 20s — I just didn’t care for the associated baggage, like rent and contracts. I also was put off by the environmental issues that came with most houses, and “green” building seemed something only accessible to elites. So I chose a “houseless” life and loved the freedom it gave me. I just woke up each morning and did what I wanted to do.
Then one day I was volunteering at a Buddhist eco-orphanage in Isan, Thailand, and I saw someone building a hut for a monk with dirt “adobe” bricks. She invited me to help. The work was fun and creative, there was basically no environmental damage done, and the cost was just a few months’ salary for a Thai farmer and just a few days’ for many Westerners. Since that day, I’ve become a convert and evangelized for the gospel of adobe.
I wanted to build more so she put me in touch with her teacher, Jon Jandai, a charismatic Thai farmer with no money, and yet he has more houses than he can count. After spending very little time with P-Jon, (“P” is a title of respect in Thai), I changed my questioning from “Can this be done with dirt?” to “ How do I do this with dirt?” Life put me on a small detour, but four years later, with the help of former Matador editor Tim Patterson, I began building my own adobe house. With zero formal training and about US$250, we had a very livable hut in one month.
Earthen building takes minimal time to learn, but a lifetime to master. I have since improved my building and design skills. I have six separate buildings, and my latest creation is an office with built-in loft, bookshelves and storage, a custom round work desk, and a balcony with double-helix-shaped supports. Grand total…US$750, which includes lights and decorations.
For over three years now my partner, Non, has been a full-time natural builder and teacher, or as she puts it, “dirt head.” We pair up on many projects, such as building adobe schools for Kachin refugee kids from the ongoing civil war in North Burma. Non is starting a foundation called Earthen Abode to teach and build in Thailand’s many neighbors, including Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. Right now we are in Tibet helping to build a traditional ram-earth Tibetan two-story house. The more I build and see earthen buildings, the more I want to build and share the good news.
Kahlil Gibran wrote in his masterpiece The Prophet, “Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.”