The characters

They are self-builders, architects, engineers, artists, researchers, activists… and act on there own scale to build a better world !

Simón Vélez – Colombia
Born in a family of architects, Simón Vélez followed in the family’s traditional footsteps but he focused on the use of Guadua, a kind of endemic Colombian bamboo.
Together with the engineer – builder, Marcelo Villegas, he developed a bamboo assembling system injecting mortar in the joints. This invention enables him to push the limits of this material further and to create some prestigious public structures (bridges, churches, exhibition pavilions…) as well as private ones (eco-lodges, houses…) all over the globe. He has been nicknamed the master of vegetal steel and Simón Vélez is making use of his fame to give a second life to the Guadua which is still suffering from a great deal of bias.
In December 2009 he was awarded « the Principal Prince Claus Award » for the whole of his work. Following he called on President Alvaro Uribe for the guadua to be included in the construction codes in Colombia. Since then, this country has become the first country in the world with a specific construction code!

Dulce Maria Guillen – Nicaragua
After being one of the leaders of the Sandinista revolutionary movement in Nicaragua, Dulce Maria went to the autonomous national University of Managua to read architecture.
She was convinced by the potential of adobe building and therefore has been dedicating her efforts since 1998 to improve and value this technique which is traditional in Nicaragua.
She has more specifically been commissioned to head adobe social building sites: in Ocotal (200 houses) and Totogalpa (43 houses) in the wake of the Mitch hurricane and in a slum in Grenada (6 houses).
Now she has retired, but she still dedicates her time and efforts to transmitting the result of her research by organising regular training sessions. She is also working on the first Master’s Degree in construction in Central America , together with the University of Managua.

Liz Johndrow – USA
After working as a physiotherapist for some twenty years in the USA, Liz woke up to a passion for natural building (cob, straw, adobe, woden framework, coatings…) and set up Earthern Endeavours.
Since then she has been asked to lead workshops and share her expertise over the American continent : the USA indeed, but also Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada, etc…
As she was dreaming of transmitting her knowledge to the poorer people, she set up the Nicaragua Pueblo Project in 2011. Since then she has been helping in various isolated rural communities each year to share her experience by offering the inhabitants (especially women and young people) to improve their traditional raw earth abodes. »

Ianto Evans – Oregon
He is one of the leaders of natural building in the USA. After graduating in architecture in the 60s, he delves deeper into COB, building, a traditional technique in Scotland, his country of origin. Convinced by the properties of that technique, together with his wife Linda Smiley, they build the first cob house in North America. In 1993, together with Michael smith, they set up the « Cob cottage company », an association which has since organised hundreds of workshops and conferences. Ianto Evans is a regular guest with American and international institutions (US Aid, the World Bank, the US Peace Corps). In 2009, during the Copenhaguen conference on climate, he delivers a speech in which he calls upon the leaders of the planet to raise awareness to the major part played by housing in the fight against climate warming. « (…) Half the energy expenditure in the USA (as in many Western countries) goes to housing. The development of natural building could reduce the energy consumption of this sector by 50 to 80%! (…) »

Sheefteh Khalili – California
She is the executive co-director and financial manager of Cal Earth (California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture), an NGO set up by her father Nader Khalili. Cal-Earth’s objective is to make accessible to the poorest populations (war refugees, natural disaster victims…) emergency accommodation which is both quality and decent housing, through the earth bags building. Since 1991, Cal Earth has been developing the « Super Adobe » (earth bags dome) and has been transmitted throughout the world with NGOs, but also with more and more private individuals who have been convinced by the concept…

Bruce King – California
Bruce King has been a civil engineer for 40 years. He has been working on skyscrapers projects in San Francisco as well as in straw bale houses in Mongolia; he is studying the structural resistance of modern and traditional materials. For more than 25 years, he has been one of the leaders of the ecological building movement in the USA. In 1999 he sets up « Ecological Building Network » (EBNet) a network of engineers, architects and builders who are helping the sponsors to find the best solutions to reduce the impact of their buildings. Recently this network has initiated a new project « BuildWell Library », a database enabling anybody interested in eco-building to exchange their information, advice, discoveries … in open-source!

David Eisenberg – Arizona
After 30 years of various experiences in the building trade and establishing the legal difficulties the eco-builders have to face, he decides to dedicate his energy to push legislation forward. In the « US Green Building Council » (which is more specifically at the origin of the LEED reference system to quantify and certify the ecological performances of a building in the USA ), he founded the « Building Codes Commission » to have the accommodation recognised, the COB or also straw bales as proper building materials. At the same time, he co-founded and works with the DCAT « Development Center for Appropriate Technology », where he has been following his commitment for more than ten years.

Matts Myhrman – Arizona
Matts is one of the fathers of the resurgence of straw building in the USA. After coming across an article dedicated to a straw bale house in 1988, together with his wife, Judy Knox, he decided to launch a very interesting search lasting several years to find the first straw houses built in Nebraska at the end of the 19th century and interview the latest inhabitants. That search convinced them that the Nebraska technique ( load bearing straw bale ) could be a solution for the future. Since then, the couple has been keen to promote and transmit the straw building technique through the writing of a book « Built it with bales » (with Steve MacDonald) ; the setting up of « Out on bale » an international resource centre on straw building; and the creation of « The last straw » magazine which, 20 years is still connecting self-builders of the whole world!

Catherine Wanek – New Mexico
She co-founded Builders Without Borders in 1999, an international network of architects, engineers and builders who are promoting natural material building both in deprived areas (Mexico, South Africa, Mongolia, Haiti…) and in the Western countries through the organisation of building sites, workshops, seminars, publications, conferences… For more than 20 years, Catherine has been dedicating her time to promoting ecological building through her copyrights as an author and a photographer: «The Hybrid House» and «The New Straw Bale Home». She has also produced films: « The Strawbale Solution », « Building With Straw ».

Michael Reynolds – New Mexico
He is the inventor of the Earthships ! Once he graduated as an architect in the late 60s, Mike embarked on designing houses built from waste: tins, bottles, tyres… with the team that is gradually building up around him, he develops those houses towards a « radical autonomy ». Completely outside the network, the Earthships produce their own energy through solar panels; heating comes from the sun which heats the thermal mass; rain water is collected through the roof and reused up to 4 times… Mike and his team have fought many legal battles to be granted building permits and the right to experiment in Taos, New Mexico. In spite of those obstacles, they are set to – and they have been so for 45 years – improve and promote those houses of the future, throughout the world, and they are becoming more and more trendy !

Phil – New Mexico
An architecture graduate, Phil is one of the pioneer members of the Taos earthship community, « Greater world ». Concerned by the climate changes and unwilling to sign up for debts over many decades just to have a roof above his head, he is one of the first ones to believe in Michael Reynolds’s vision and bought a piece of land in the desert and built an earthship. Since then, he has become Mike’s assistant, he directs many earthship building sites in Taos and throughout the world. He is also one of the main founders of the « earthship academy » which is training students from many different countries.

Ginette Dupuy – Québec
An interior designer for several years, Ginette Dupuy has become aware of the fundamental part the home plays on the inhabitants’ well-being. With research she discovers the incredible properties of raw earth. Thanks to a grant, she leaves for a training in France with the the International center for Earthen architecture (CRATerre – Grenoble). A subsidy enables her to later carry out research on compressed earth block constructions for the mortgage and housing Canadian company. Her studies lead her to publish her work « Habitat sain et écologique » (healthy and ecological habitat) which analyses the impact of 25 building materials on health and environment. She keeps on training through the « la Baubiologie » a German discipline which places health at the core of the house. Since then, Ginette has made her dream come true: she has had a house built – the very first compressed earth blocks house in Quebec, and she is hoping that the said technique will be adopted by others.

Hélène et Alain Québec
Since 2005, they have been living in the ES-Cargo, a house they built by themselves completely with recycled materials, following the Earthship model. It is the first house ever built like that in Quebec! From their experiences of life, they are regularly leading workshops lasting several days around the theme of eco-construction and permaculture together with Era Solution.
Hélène is also sharing her experience by taking part in the ‘Archibio’ group which has decided to contribute to the research and spreading of viable human housing, i.e. housing which gives pride of place to the conservation of resources, the conservation of energy and the conservation of water…
Alain gives a definition of himself as a «  patenter », a self-learned man who leads research in such diversified fields as used vegetable oil car engines, wind farms, bicycles generating power… And he finds and makes time to work on sculptures and practice the Chi Art ! (in french)

Benoit Thévard Québec
A former aviation engineer, Benoît Thévard, went back to studying and specialised in the issues of petrol peak and territorial resistance. He delivers conferences from time to time in the National Assembly, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, in local councils or associations… In 2012, Yves Cochet, a former French environment minister, entrusts him with the drawing up of two reports for the European Parliament : « Europe facing peak oil » & « Towards resilient territories in 2030 »
At the same time, in 2010, he creates a blog to raise awareness amongst the citizens as well as the political deciders, to the impact the rarer fossil resources of our plant will have on our societies. (in french)

Jean-Baptiste Thévard Québec
During a trip to the eco-village of the Bay (Québec) to help his uncle and aunt build their straw house, Jean-Baptiste discovers the GREB technique. Convinced that this ecological method is a very relevant one, but still widely unknown, he decides to promote it and work hard on that once he is back in France. In 2005 he sets up, together with a friend, the « Approche paille » association which has made it possible to training some 1,000 professionals and self-builders. At the same time, he is the co-author of the book entitled « Construire son habitation en paille (Building one’s straw house) » and took an active part in drawing up the professional rules for straw building into force in 2012 in France. This legislative progress enables those building professionals more specifically to be covered by a typical insurance contract should they decide to apply this straw building technique! Read our article (in french)

Patrick Déry Québec
Researcher and lecturer on renewable energies at the Cégep in Jonquière, Patrick Déry and his family settled in the eco-village of the Bay in 1994. He then joined the Bay Ecological Research Group which he is chairing today. A tireless researcher, he is actively involved in trying to find practical solutions to imagine and experiment an ecologically sustainable life style. Apart from his work on renewable energies, he is the inventor together with Martin Simard of the straw ball construction technique, known as the Greb technique. He also demonstrate through his research work that the phosphate rock production reached its peak at the end of the 80s (one of the essential minerals for the ground’s fertilities and so to feed the planet). Read our article (in french)

Pierre Gilbert Québec
From Ghandi type non-violence to the Arche communities, Pierre Gilbert travelled to the USA, through Europe, the Middle East and in India to experiment ecologically and socially sustainable life styles. And eventually he decides to settle in his native Quebec where he initiates, together with his wife and a few friends, the creation of an eco-village and the Bay Ecological Research Group (GREB). For 25 years now, this group has been exploring a post-oil life style (agriculturally as well as building, energies, living together…) to invent a society which is more resilient to the present and future environmental issues.
Read our article ( in french)

Bow and Martha Thaïland
After being a Buddhist monk, working with NGOs, been in the armed forces, travelled to Europe … Bow learnt about ecological building, which for him meant emancipation. He had a passion for raw earth building, and so he decided to create in 2007 Dindang (« red earth » in the Thai language) a pedagogical centre to promote this technique with the Thai people. Since its creation, the centre has welcomed more than 1,000 voluntary workers! Marta, an architect from Canada is one of them … and she has become his partner. She shares his passion for ecological building and she co-animates this centre with him now.

Owen Geiger – Thaïland
A Former director of Builders Without Borders, Owen is an engineer and the author of many articles and books in which he promotes the materials and methods to build ecologically. He more specifically worked together with the West Point military academy in order to develop earth bags and bamboo structures to rehouse the victims of the tsunami which hit South East Asia in 2004. Today he is still working to spread ecological techniques as well as alternative techniques of building by writing in the natural building.

Brian and Tukta – Thaïland
After working as a plumber for some ten years in England, as a barman in Thailand, Brian met Tukta. Together they decided to experiment a simple way of life, closer to nature, in the small Phia Ram village in North East Thailand. Later, they wish to organise workshops to promote building with straw, earth, bamboo and recycled materials. Read our article

Durga Aran – Nepal
Durga grew up in a poor isolated village in the Sindhupalchok region, before going to Katmandu where he met his partner, Fiona. After living together for several years in New Zealand, they decided to set up the « First Step Himalaya » NGO to offer decent learning conditions to the children of rural Nepal. A few days prior to the 25 April seism, Durga put the last hand, helped by some villagers and voluntary workers, to a training centre for teachers built with earth bags and it is still standing! Now, on top of their primary missions, Durga and FSH are the ambassadors of earth bag building to rebuild those areas which were impacted by the earthquake in Nepal. Read our article
Anna Hazare – Inde
Anna Hazare is an Indian activist who, since the 1990s, has become the symbol of the fight against corruption in India. He is also the leader of the village of Ralegan Siddhi in the State of Maharastra, which he contributed to pull out of poverty, thanks to an ambitious policy based on sustainable development and a reasoned management of the local natural resources, especially waters and forests. As such he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1992, the third most important civilian decoration in India for his efforts and successes. Read our article
Soazic Guezennec – India
A French artist living in Mumbai. In her latest work, « Subjective Architecture », she creates a fictive real estate agency which is offering the clients to become the happy owners of apartments in buildings which would look like huge trees, in cities in total communion with nature… Those inhabitants ironically believe the exuberant advert slogans of the real estate market in such huge cities as Mumbai or Istanbul, in favour of « green washing ».
Deeksha – India
Deeksha is an energetic Indian architect. After heading building sites in Dubai and India, she decided to drop steel and concrete and go for the dream she has always had: opening Saraya a cultural eco-lodge in the bustling State of Goa. The houses she built draw their inspiration from traditional techniques of the north of India mainly using clay and bamboo. Read our article
Hashmuk – India
After working as an engineer on the new technologies in the United States, Hashmuk decided to act for rural education in India. He bought a plot of land in the State of Maharastra and created the « EBHL – Experience Based on Holistic Learning Environnement » : project: an alternative ecological school, based on learning through experience. He has already built the prototype of one of the classrooms: a geodesic dome in bamboos! The objective is to build some thirty of them within five years to welcome 300 children ! Read our article
Mukremin Tokmak – Turkey
« Muko » has a passion for Cappadocia where he has always been living. He owns a boarding house where the travellers can stop over. Inside he has created a small museum on the history of the region and daily life in the troglodyte houses by collecting items and archives. And under his house … he even discovered the corridors of an underground town, as there are many in this region! He is a militant to preserve the heritage of Cappadocia which is more and more exposed to the threat of mass tourism and this is why he set up the « Cappadocia History Culture Research Protection » association. Read our article
Erdem Köksal – Turkey
After spending his childhood in Germany, Erdem went back to Turkey, his native country. For several years, he was the manager of several hotels and youth hostels in both Istanbul and Izmir. But tired of the city, he gradually decide to find another way, to work for less money, but for projects he has a passion for … such as the construction of an Earthship in the small village of Payamli, and the development of a kitchen garden based on permaculture. Read our article
Nikos, Yiannis, Natalia and the others – Greece
After living in a town, the initiators of the Stagones « community » decided to take the plunge and settle on the Eubia island, on a plot of land without any water, road or electricity and build houses using straw balls. The objective: being as self-standing as possible, be less dependent on the ups and downs of the economy. But above all, making a success of living together in a group, putting as much as possible together
Cultivating their kitchen garden. But above all they spend time thinking about living together and putting it into practice in everyday life taking the time to discuss, listen to each other while being open to the outside world. They organise workshops from time to time on ecological building and autonomy, which are more and more attended by Greek people – impacted by the economic crisis and looking for other ways of life. Read our article
(in greek)
Panos – Greece
After working for about ten days in new York in a big corporation, Panos decided to leave everything behind and return to Greece, his country of origin, and adopt a simpler way of life. There he took part in a workshop from the association which is organising trainings in Greece and Europe around ecological and bioclimatic building… He loved it so much that it has now become his job: for several years he has now been a trainer for this network. Read our article
Gianfranco Conti – Italy
An architect specialising and in love with raw earth building, he is the founder of the « Città della terra cruda » association, which is organising workshops, conferences and visits in Italy and Europe. Gianfranco is also responsible for the « AbiTerra » documentation centre in the small village of Casalincontrada, which aim is to preserve and transmit the memory, the heritage and the traditional knowledge around raw earth building.
(in italian)
Francesco d’Ingulio – Italy
Francesco studied economy, but it did not take him long to feel that he would not blossom in this path. For about ten years now, he has been living in a small isolated village in the Abruzzi region, with his two children. Looking for autonomy, he bakes his own bread, cultivates his own vegetables, but what he is particularly keen on is to pick the edible wild plants he can find. He has built two small cob and « archintreccio » (woven canes) houses which are self-standing when it comes to energy – it is true that he does not need a lot. From time to time, he organises workshops to share his building knowledge or also his biodynamic agriculture knowledge… Read our article