Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods

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Edited by Lynne Elizabeth and Cassandra Adams, 2000. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York. Hardcover, 392 pages, $70.

Alternative Construction provides a terrific overview of various methods for building with earth, straw, and bamboo. With writings from over 30 authors—many of them experts or innovators in the fields they describe—Alternative Construction is an enlightening, sometimes fascinating, combination of voices. Despite some unevenness of tone and a certain amount of repetition, the book’s format is enjoyable—somewhat akin, as the editors point out, to attending a conference on natural building methods.

Edited by Lynne Elizabeth and Cassandra Adams, 2000. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York. Hardcover, 392 pages, $70.

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Alternative Construction provides a terrific overview of various methods for building with earth, straw, and bamboo. With writings from over 30 authors—many of them experts or innovators in the fields they describe—Alternative Construction is an enlightening, sometimes fascinating, combination of voices. Despite some unevenness of tone and a certain amount of repetition, the book’s format is enjoyable—somewhat akin, as the editors point out, to attending a conference on natural building methods.

Alternative Construction provides a terrific overview of various methods for building with earth, straw, and bamboo. With writings from over 30 authors—many of them experts or innovators in the fields they describe—Alternative Construction is an enlightening, sometimes fascinating, combination of voices. Despite some unevenness of tone and a certain amount of repetition, the book’s format is enjoyable—somewhat akin, as the editors point out, to attending a conference on natural building methods.

A chapter on materials contains information on using earth as a finish material. David Eisenberg, coauthor of EBN’s recent feature article “Sustainability and Building Codes” (seeVol. 10, No. 9) contributed a chapter on the same topic. A chapter on natural conditioning addresses regionally appropriate heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation strategies that make sense with natural building. The latter chapters consist of case studies of a number of the methods. While some of the material is repeated from earlier chapters, these case studies contain lots of realworld information. The book concludes with an epilogue on the place of intangibles like spirit and soul in building, followed by an extensive list of recommended references and resources.

Alternative Construction makes a powerful argument for combining the best of the industrial and non-industrial worlds in the built environment. It maintains that natural materials can and are being integrated with industrial materials and modern engineering to reduce maintenance and significantly enhance safety (often characterized as major drawbacks of some of these alternative methods).

A theme repeated by a number of the authors is that the use of these earth- and straw-based systems by the affluent will help to remove the stigma that traditional methods often bear in poorer countries, where people have abandoned these methods in favor of modern ones that they perceive as superior and indicative of wealth and status. This is an important consideration as the Earth’s population continues to grow and more people abandon traditional, lower-impact technologies for the resource- and energy-intensive methods and materials of the industrializedworld.

 

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October 1, 2001