October 2001

Volume 10, Number 10


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.jpg

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 industrialized

world.

– TW

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October 1, 2001