Our District

Natural Building Workshop


10 m 2 Hexagonal Building

Natural materials people crafted

A small retreat cabin is being built in stages, as a learning and educational journey, to provide a place for connection and relationship with the surrounding natural environment.  A start  has been made as a building exercise during a permaculture course in October 2016. This included the foundations and posts and beams for two walls, and a start to the clay-straw infill walls, with their internal earth and external lime plastering.

The cabin is being constructed using manual tools from locally available natural materials. The aim is to build in a humanly engaged way by using hand tools and with materials available in the local landscape, to provide a simple but effective shelter that reflects its location and the people who build it. No specialist skills or equipment are required, just a willingness to be working and learning together.

The building materials are: gravel (foundations); earth (floor and wall plaster); straw (clay slip infill walls); and timber post and beam frame. The timber structure has mortise and tenon joints (chiselled slots and tongues) with pegs. The timber rafters will join together at a centre key, and tie together the posts and beams of the walls.

There will be no nails or metal joiners, nor fuelled machines.  Just what nature provides locally, plus some hand tools, and a few recycled tyres – to bury them deep in the foundations!

The walls will be an infill of straw covered with a clay slip, from on-site clayey subsoil. This is light to handle and to tamp into place, between timber shutters. The internal side of the walls will be earth plastered, using a mix of the clayey subsoil and pulped paper. The external side will be lime plastered.  This does require burnt lime. The foundations will be river-run gravel in a rim trench and in the post holes. This gravel provides a firm foundation and protects the posts and base from moisture, when the selected gravel is well graded. The posts have a footing with tyres above to provide a solid anchor and earthquake support. The floor will be pressed clay, using the same clayey subsoil material, and can be finished with the earth plaster. This requires only light tamping, being built up in layers, over a sandy gravel base. The roof will be overlapping timber slatting, tied on by natural-fibre rope.

Shape is considered too. No square box or flat ceiling. Thus, the cabin has a hexagon shape, like a beehive. Symmetrical with identical dimensions and angles all round, it can be a module and joined up in different arrangements, and enclose outside spaces.

An effective shelter made from local materials that can be built with hand tools by a small group of people working together, given a little learning.

This workshop will complete the foundations and timber structure, of posts, beams and rafters, and under a temporary roof, continue the infill clay-slip straw walls. The final day, on Sunday 12th, will be an open day for the wider community, and a celebration of another stage in this building and earth-connecting journey, enjoying the work done and the learning achieved. All welcome!

Register with Doris Zuur: email name, address, phone number, emergency number, indication of dietary requirements and preference of accommodation (camping or farm cottage), and then secure your place with a $100 deposit on:

Toru Eudcation Trust: 38-9018-0332936