The Ultimate Challenge in Building Green

Dec 12, 12 The Ultimate Challenge in Building Green

With Olio Caldo 4, we thought it the opportune to republish an article by Capra Carruba first printed in Communities magazine in 2007:

When it comes to building projects, communities get frequently bogged down by arguments over timelines, budget, methods and materials. These are external factors that can be relatively easily managed.  We have learned a lot in this regard here at Damanhur, and we would like to share with you what has worked for us:

Any project involving extensive human resources and energy requires powerful motivation.  This true for ecological/green building: you have to have good reasons, and communicate them clearly to all of the stake-holders; the more advantages you can identify, the better; and the closer they are linked to fundamental values and interests of the community, the stronger factors they are.

Energy saving techniques and non-toxic green building principles are the only possible response when living within an ecosystem where low- or zero-impact becomes an imperative. For example, climate changes are already effecting the sub-alpine region where our community is situated, rendering self-sufficiency in regard to water and energy an investment in our survival.

One powerful motivation for Green building is economic. The last house we built cost only 20% more than conventional building methods would have, but we calculate that this will be recuperated for within a few years through energy savings. Such investments, financed by loans or mortgages, are unthinkable without long-term economic commitment by community members.

We have reduced the excessive costs and lengthy timeframes normally associated with green building by engaging the building sector to train our community members. This internal investment in the community‘s skill-set has, over the long-term, granted us more control throughout the building process.  We now have our own building company, renewable energy consultancy, professionals plumbers, electricians and architectural firm. The green building expertise developed through our internal projects  has become an economic asset of our community, sought out throughout the country.

What further motivates us is the concept of “exemplary mobilization”: creating a model wherein passive houses and green building principles pay off. This will help these techniques to find their way into mainstream building, where large-scale implementation will begin to make a significant, global impact.

In our experience, however, social factors may raise greater challenges than practical ones. Perhaps the human element poses the ultimate challenge.

Damanhur is exploring a green architecture of aesthetics, of rethinking space, towards creating buildings that transmit knowledge and identity, a physical manifesto declaring Who we are and Where we are going as a People.  This goes beyond the limited scope of merely using environmentally-friendly materials. Our last project presented the question: How do you build a community house with 20 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, and shared living spaces without designing military-style, utilitarian barracks? Our architects envisioned a house with meaning.

This vision challenged all of our brave technicians who were asked to do things in new ways, requiring more time, both in preparation — often not being able to immediately visualize unprecedented results — and in manifestation. Herein lie the challenges of the human element: activating individual willingness to transform, to move towards consensus, to develop trust and welcome diverse modes of perception. Managing this aspect is a delicate matter, requiring both solid negotiation skills and exciting objectives that elicit enthusiasm, without compromise or homogenization.

Our community is inclined to research and experimentation, a culture which offsets the inertia of sticking to known ways of building, allowing innovation to prevail. This has been fundamental in the practical application of new approaches and materials.

In the end, what strikes everyone regarding the last house is the result: Aval is different and better than anyone expected. It has been awarded the „Green Home“ flag by FEE* and our architects are invited to towns nearby to present models of sustainable living in small village communities.

Ultimately, green building has the potential to develop both communities and individuals. It is fairly easy to find practical solutions for practical problems yet much more challenging to motivate people beyond the known. But isn‘t it here, in the space of the not-yet-existing, where new meaning germinates?

Capra Carruba
(I want to thank Sam Feinstein-Feit for his most precious editing support)

*FEE is an international non-profit organization that began in Denmark to promote environmental education and sustainable energy.  The ‘Green Home’ program recognizes exellence in daily sustainable activities such as recycling, water conservation, purchasing organic products, and the use of ecological building materials.




1 Comment

  1. Are you in a position to share -at a cost- design details of your “green buildings, including greenhouses, etc.”

    Are you familiar with Anna Edey’s book: “Solviva – How to grow $50,000 on one acre” Learning the art of living, with solar-dynamics and bio-benign design?
    And, Machaelle Small Wright’s books: “Garden Workbooks -! and 2”. Complete guide to gardening with Nature Intelligence?
    Regards, Derek