At the Communities Conference this summer, I got to take a tour of Cambia and I learned a few things.
Like the connection between their pond and one of their buildings.
This is their pond:
They dug it out themselves, it has a nice deck (built from a deck that was torn down at Twin Oaks), and is great to cool off in, among other things. (For more about the pond, see Ella’s post, What Does It Mean to Build a Pond?)
Not far from the pond is a building they call ‘the barn’:
This is a residential building where a family lives, but it also has a common space where meditation and spiritual activities happen:
The flooring and walls are made from clay. It says this at the beginning of Ella’s post, but I had forgotten, the clay is from what they dug out for the pond. So two of the things that they accomplished at the same time were digging out the pond and getting clay to create this room. It’s very much how they do things at Cambia.
A couple of new things that I saw this summer were this wigwam (which I believe was built during their Wigwam Building Workshop):
And this new outdoor classroom:
Check out the amazing roofing:
Cambia continues its combination of ecological innovation and a lovely esthetic. I wonder what I will find next year.
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The grand opening party for Twin Oaks’ hospice, Appletree, was April 11th 2014.
It’s been a long journey. The process for Appletree (then, “the hospice addition”) started right after Kat Kinkade, the founder of Twin Oaks, died on July 3rd 2008. Josie, Kat’s daughter, observed that Kat had “Rolls Royce” from twin Oakers care while she was declining at Twin Oaks. That care came at some emotional cost. A couple of Twin Oakers had pretty serious emotional breakdowns due to caring for Kat, or being around her as she declined. Additionally, many caregivers who were sleeping on a mat in Kat’s room suffered hurt backs and various other physical ailments. We collectively concluded that if we want to have people stay at Twin Oaks as they decline, and not have it be traumatic to the rest of the community, we need to have a space that isn’t in the middle of an SLG—that is, we need to build a place specifically designed for end-of-life care.
The goal behind Appletree is to keep elders in the heart of the community as they age and decline. So the hospice was designed as an addition to Nashoba, Twin Oaks’ main handicapped accessible SLG, which, in turn, is close to ZK, Twin Oaks’ dining hall and community center.
The guiding principle for the addition was to make it “nice,” that is, built to a quality standard to provide a pleasant environment for people who are dying. And also to make sure that it’s comfortable for more mainstream caregivers, family members, and friends to be able to visit and stay.
The Louisa building department granted Twin Oaks a building permit for the addition in 2010, so the building of Appletree has taken 4 years. That is probably longer than necessary due to stopping active construction for about a year for cash flow reasons.
I was the main mover of the process starting in 2008, and I have been the honcho of the building part as well, so I have had this hospice addition on my front burner for six years now. Historically, a building project burns out the honcho, often to the point of leaving the community. I have tried to be conscious of that unhealthy pattern, so I have tried to think of this as an opportunity and, specifically, to not be too attached to outcomes around Appletree, or to think of the building as “mine” just because I’m the honcho. I’m very pleased and proud of how it’s come out and, as anyone who knows me well is aware, I’m really quite ready to be done with the construction part of it; six years is long enough.
Throughout most of the actual construction, the crew was Rowan, Arlo, and Elijah. Rowan and Arlo started working on the building when they were 14 and 17. On April 11th Rowan turned 18. It has been a joy and a privilege to have that able crew to work with—to see them gain skills and confidence, and to generally observe them growing from being boys to being men.
The first stages of the building, leveling the hillside and pouring the concrete were very stop-and-go. It was hard to schedule people, and the uncooperative weather caused lots of slow-downs. But once the concrete slab was poured, Elijah, Arlo, Rowan and I committed to doing a push to get the building itself up as quickly as possible. We collectively cleared our schedules, and then did a construction boot camp. Our goal was to work every day, for as long as there was light each day and to not stop until the building was “completed,” that is, the framing was up, the trusses on the framing, plywood on the trusses, metal on the roof, the siding on, and the doors and windows installed—that is, it would, from the outside, look like a completed building. My very optimistic estimate to the young lads was that we could, if the weather held, possibly get all that done in a month. The weather was perfect, the young lads worked hard; we built that whole house in two-and-a-half-weeks. Yes, weeks. Really. Ask people who were here.
The guys took a break while wiring was run and insulation installed. But then we got the band back together, did another blitz, and put up all of the sheetrock. Since those heady days, Elijah, Rowan, and Arlo have found other work and followed other interests, although Arlo did almost all the interior painting once the “mudding” was done.
It is either ironic or appropriate that the first use of this hospice was for the birth of Sylvia, before the addition was even all the way completed. And now Aubby is planning to give birth there (she’s due any day now). Maybe we shouldn’t call it a hospice.
However, I like that the creation of Appletree as a hospice tangibly demonstrates that Twin Oaks is planning on sticking around. Appletree shows that Twin Oaks is investing in our members and in our future. It is sort of incidental, but no less meaningful, that the building for Twin Oaks’ elders was built by Twin Oaks’ teens.
Far from feeling burned out, here, at the conclusion of this project, I’m happy at how well Appletree has come out. I really value having had the opportunity to work with Elijah, Arlo, and Rowan over these years. It has been great having my main work area be fifty yards from my SLG. I have felt a lot of trust from the community and support from people throughout this whole project. During much of the building of Appletree, it has felt like a blessing to me, and now that it’s done, it feels like the project is a success.
Through the haze of old safety goggles I struggle to read the fractions of an inch I was told to measure. When I look up to ask for the length again my voice is droned out by the grind of iron against steel, groaning like tectonic plates being forced against each other. I pull out my earphones to try and hear the number my friend is saying, but as soon as my ear is exposed the scream of dull blades splintering wood makes my ears ring like funeral bells for the death of hearable tone. We are here to build a natural home, a safe place for the community to gather and celebrate, but our means of getting there is through the dehumanizing technology of industrialization. Does community begin when the project is done? Are the projects ever done?
Construction has become a means to an end. There are customers who design compositions of geometric shapes on two dimension screens, and builders who are tasked to turn these teeny tiny drawings into voluminous structures which exceed the cubic area of many hundred year old trees, and preferably they should complete the task in the same amount of time it takes to simply imagine doing some of the steps. This impossible task can only be dared to be dreamed of due to the cunning bedmates technology and globalization!
However, home construction also has potential to be an artistic celebration of the unique local environment. In fact, the architecture styles associated with various cultures of the world, are a beautiful expression of the dance between place-based resources, local climate, and the human imagination.On the other hand, building a Laotian bamboo stilt house at the 45th parallel north will look stunning in a picture, but a close up would show popsicle frozen homeowners entombed in their own dream house. That example sounds ridiculous because it’s unfamiliar, but there are innumerable identical architectural discords made bearable due to enough synthetic insulation, chemical wood embalming, and gently off gassing décor.
Turtle island (North America) has a rich place based architectural history. The indigenous cultures built migratory homes they carried with them, Lakota tepees, temporary shelters along their travels, Inuit igloos, and long-lasting homes to raise a family, Anishinaabe wigwams*. European colonists also established trademark style with the aid of hand saw technology to fell larger trees interlock them to create the signature log cabins. Even more recently with the fusion of ancient architecture and Anthropocene resources the earth ships design has become a hallmark of the South West. Each of these designs works best using the materials of the biome it’s in, because that is the region these materials, organic or inert, evolved to endure. Buried homes stay cool in the dessert but mold in humidity, and the forest appreciates the harvest of rot resistant sapling in regions known for benders (a general term for anything that involves created rounded structures using interlocking wood; sweat lodges, long houses, and wigwams).
With any of these homes, the finished structure is only a small glimpse of the true beauty that went into crafting it. Traditional building techniques also use traditional tools, which traditionally are about the volume of a loud bird (not a firing gun), and even more often require multiple people. From weaving the inner bark of Hickory to make Wigwam cordage, to collaboratively wielding either end of a large bow saw many “old fashioned” tools are meditatively redundant and quiet enough to get lost in conversation with your fellow crafts person. Without the screech of electric engines and unwieldy blades their use is also not restricted to the adrenaline hungry young men who surround me at conventional construction sites. My current highlight of traditional construction was working with a pregnant woman and young mother to peel Aspen bark while the year-old baby napped in the middle of the construction site.
When building community becomes the goal, instead of making a community building, there is less of a race to the finish, and more of a dialogue with local materials and people. Do you know the 5 most common trees that grow in your biome? Do you know which characteristics of them are equivalent to their modern synthetic mimics? Instead of exchanging money for hired time, have you considered luring your friends over for a building party with food and music (you’d be surprised how people who are deprived of hand craft in their profession are exuberant to get their hands dirty building your home).
At Rustling Roots in Central Virginia, we are turning back the wheels of time to weave community by weaving together a Wigwam. Over the course of a weekend we will all learn how to turn the sweet-smelling bark of springtime Poplar into wallpaper, and the overly abundant shoots of cedar saplings into a bedroom sized inverted nest. Not only will we be working with these materials for architecture, but you will learn about how to harvest them to appease the forest, and when they are most eager to be compliant to your construction whims. With simply tools a 1st year blacksmith could forge we will weave together a structure rich in indigenous wisdom, while weaving together the lives of every hand involved. Of course, we are planning to have a beautiful organic home at the end, but that is just the flower on top of community we’ll cultivate along the way.
Zoom Interview with Instructor, Jeff Gottlieb, Wednesday 6 p.m. June 19th (Free, Click Here)
* “Wigwam” and “wikiup” are both popularly used to describe Woodland nuclear family homes. In general reference, these terms work (like when we use the term “moccasin” to describe a type of footwear in general). But keep in mind there are so many uncorrupted terms for “a home/dwelling” from different Native dialects that are very appropriate to use, especially when describing homes of specific Nations. You might have noticed that we favor the term “wigwam” in our writings. This is only because the term “wikiup” is often an applied term to describe Apache dwellings (in poplar writing and some academic outlets), and because they are not similar, we’d rather stick to terminology that embodies Woodland traditions without the association of a very different Native housing tradition of the Southwest. But truly the term “wikiup,” just like the term “wigwam,” are born of the Woodlands region.
The East Wind Building Maintenance Crew has been pushing our infrastructure forward. The project for this Spring is remodeling of the floor and windows of our main Food Processing space.
We are still bringing in over a hundred pounds of milk everyday and dairy processing has been moved to the former showerhouse. Good thing the BM Crew got the new showerhouse up and running this past Fall, they just keep setting themselves up for success!
The East Wind’s agricultural areas keep bringing in the goods. Produce, dairy, meat. Potatoes, beets, and carrots are in the ground. We are still harvesting kale, spinach, lettuce, and radish. There are two new additions to the milking cow herd: Betty Boop and Carmen.
The East Wind Nut Butters (EWNB) Crew is continuing to evolve. Members new to the management team are stepping up and taking on responsibility. Passing complex operations along in good, working order can be difficult in this income sharing context. Anna Youngs (Anna Young ran East Wind Nut Butters for most of the 2000s, thanks for holding it down) don’t come along but once a decade. Luckily, there are numerous young Annas here at the moment, all picking up a piece of the puzzle as they can. Effective training and effective leadership comes with time.
There was a relaxed Equinox, Easter, and Birthday combo party on the 21st (the actual Equinox was rainy). No pictures or comments from my end as I was in Dallas visiting my lovely Blood Fam, but I heard it was a good time. Happy Spring!
All in all, East Wind is moving along quite nicely in this most interesting year of 2019. As my co Sage told me today: “things tend to work out for the best.”
Blog readers: This is a paper I posted at Twin Oaks. The reception did not rise to the level of lukewarm. Twin Oaks’ finances are tight, so this was deemed as not a good time at Twin Oaks to start planning a major new project. As of March 2013, there is still no movement to begin process to build a new building. [Editor’s note: Still true in 2019.]
Twin Oaks’ reached a peak population of 96 adult members a few years back—very close to 100 members—but since that time, due to more kids, additional slack rooms, and bedroom conversions, our current pop cap is now down to 93 adult members. I would like to reverse this downward trend; I propose that Twin Oaks’ next building be a residence that brings Twin Oaks’ adult population to 100 members.
Adding seven more members would mean about 14,000 additional hours of labor per year, with a negligible increase to Twin Oaks’ labor infrastructure (we won’t need a bigger membership team, more cooks, more Planners etc.) With a waiting list that has been ongoing for years and a need for more labor in our income and other areas, it seems that it’s a sensible next step to begin planning for increasing Twin Oaks’ population. It’s been awhile: the last residence completed was Kaweah in 1995. Since then, the community has mainly been doing maintenance (replacing roofs) and building infrastructure (tofu addition, Nashoba addition) , but not increasing population.
If the past is any guide, we could be just starting to break ground in a little over two years in early 2015 (that is,if the community chooses this direction and makes a commitment to moving process forward swiftly). With a Twin Oaks crew working at a steady pace, the building could take as little as two years to build, so that, by 2017, just in time for 50th anniversary, Twin Oaks could have 100 members.
Where to locate a new residence? I suggest somewhere along the ridge overlooking the pond—either near MT, or on the volleyball court, or in front of Llano parking lot. The advantages of these sites are all about the same: excellent solar gain, (no need to cut down lots of trees either for the building site, or for a solar clearing), good access to a road (no need to build a driveway), minimal excavation needed, and easy access to sewer, water, and electric (less expense and less labor).
One advantage of any of these sites is that if there is a kitchen, it could serve as a second courtyard kitchen. The courtyard has three SLG’s and only one kitchen. The Llano kitchen gets a lot of use.
The proposed building:
I propose a two-story, solar powered, child/adult, 11 bedroom SLG, with two bathrooms, a kitchen (with pantry), a utility room, an office for the Seeds business, and two sign-outable public rooms (meeting rooms).
For purposes of acoustic separation, I propose locating all of the bedrooms on the second floor and all of the public rooms on the first floor.
Why eleven bedrooms to add seven members? If we increase the population of adults, we also increase the number of kids. I assume that two of these eleven rooms will go to children. There are then nine rooms to increase adult population. I am assuming that in the next five years probably two of the most sub-standard bedrooms will be taken out of commission, (furnace room?) or, that a bedroom or two will be converted to some other function, or that with a higher population, that we will want more “slack” rooms for guests. Given these considerations, I believe it is a conservative estimate that adding nine rooms for adult members will only be a net gain of seven adult members above the current pop cap of 93. Twin Oaks added 21 bedrooms with Kaweah and got a net gain of about 12 members.
Presumably, the seeds business will keep expanding. The hammocks business, the tofu business, and the indexing business all have their own offices (indexing used to have its own office and in a few weeks will again) . I understand that this courtyard location might be a good location for the seeds business office.
Twin Oakers seem to enjoy outdoor space—especially decks. The proposed, simple, rectangular design of this SLG lends itself to having a second-story, screened in deck on the east and west ends of the buildings.
Caveat #1) If Twin Oaks chooses to increase population, there will be lots of papers and meetings for input-gathering and design decisions. I am under no illusion that there is any assumption that we will be a) building a residence anytime soon, or b) that if we do choose to build a residence, that it will be anything like the one proposed here.
The current five-year planning process is getting people looking at “What next?” I am providing this somewhat detailed proposal merely as a discussion starter for people participating in that five-year planning process.
Caveat #2)Isn’t this a really bad time to be posting a building proposal? I am hoping that most people recognize that our current building issues wilbl be long resolved before five years have passed. Maintenance is a big issue now, but soon TCLR roof will be done. Soon Christian will be back. Soon Red will have more time available. Also we are mid-stream with two building projects. The Nashoba addition is inching forward and could be done in as little as six months. The tofu addition has been stalled, but it is moving forward and looks like it will have a completion date, probably soon. And, once the tofu addition’s done, Twin Oaks’ finances should suddenly look a lot better.
Additionally, the early stages of gathering community input for choosing what to build, where to site it, how to design it…all take a really long time. It is best to do processey, labor-intensive, meeting-heavy stuff in the winter, so I think now, with fall approaching, is a good time to start peeking over the horizon to see what we want our collective future to look like.
Caveat #3) Sketches have a false feel of significance to them. In thirty seconds these sketches could have four more bedrooms—or four fewer. I really did sort of whip the sketches together; for instance, the generic meeting rooms in the building design are not that essential. But to maintain the separation of the public space from the bedroom space, I had some extra square feet on the lower floor. It seemed to me that two meeting rooms would be a good use of that extra space. But my guess may well not be the highest need in the community.