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« Eco-logis : another world being built « 

Interview for the web journal The DissidentSeptember 2015

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In May 2014, you left for a long trip with the purpose of discovering and filming alternative housings. How did this project arise ?

Olivier Mitsieno and Chloé Deleforge, founders of Eco-logis project © Eco-Logis

Olivier : After I graduated from Law school, I got involved in the Outraged movement while starting to work in the Humanitarian field. There was a huge gap between the hope of a citizenship revolution (but without knowing either how to organise it or which society to build…) ; and the operation of the NGOs in which the employees accept to run after grants rather than develop useful projects.

I was getting exhausted in both worlds and refusing a society that has no future, I have tried to find out how I could act at my own level. I remembered a documentary « volem rien foutre al païs » by Pierre Carles in which one character explains that his house build with straw balls cost him 10 times less than a conventional house. Then I started a training in woodwork with the idea that re-thinking housing can be one of the solutions so that people do not become trapped in credits while reducing the impact on the environment. Then I wanted to find out about other building techniques.

Chloé : Before leaving, I started changing my consumption habits, wondering on how and where I wanted to live, how to see my work… For two years I had taken part in in several very interesting audio visual projects around immigration, women’s rights, precarious situations…

When we started discussion about the idea of leaving looking ecological housings, we thought there could be a subject matter for a documentary to emphasize practical solutions to inhabit the planet in a better way and stand witness to another world being built !

You are currently in Canada, half-way through your trip. What can you tell us about about housing through the world ?

After spending 9 months in Asia, the contrast with Canada is quite striking! Here, just as it is in our European countries, we can see that housing has become a social marker, at a par with the car. People get into debts to have the nicest and the biggest one, but at the same time, they hardly enjoy it since they have to work a great deal to pay their mortgages to be able to afford it…. Yet, it is possible to build very comfortable houses for less while respecting the environment.

In the poorer countries where we travelled to (India, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines….) the houses are far smaller. Often parents and children share the same room when the kitchen or living room do not turn into bedrooms. The inhabitants are of course dreaming of more comfortable and nicer houses… built with concrete, just like those they can see on TV, while some traditional or alternative techniques are far cheaper and better adapted to the climate.

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Building site of an earthbags house in Nepal © Eco-Logis

For instance, we have actively participated in an earthbag building in a small village in Nepal. It cost €9,000 for 80m2. It was not only cheap, but the earthbag techniques has much better thermal properties than concrete… and it is also much stronger! This construction (like the other 60 of this type existing in Nepal) did stand through the terrible April 2015 earthquake episodes as the earth bags absorb shocks much better than concrete which is too rigid. In the beginning, the village people were quite sceptical when faced with that technique. But since the seism, many Nepalese and NGOs have been convinced that it is a good solution to rebuild the areas impacted by the drama…

More broadly, we notice that a certain standardisation of the world is visible through the housing design… So, as we were told by a man in Turkey (involved in the conservation of the troglodyte houses in Cappadocia) « As far as I am concerned, today’s standardised houses are a limit to imagination. The rooms are the same size and inside you find the same furniture, bought in the same shops… I think that it is more difficult to imagine another world when living in a formatted, even sterilised environment… »

You have come across a great deal of builders, architects and engineers. Which are those that struck you most ?

Olivier : In the south of France, meeting roger, when we tried to get some information prior to leaving. We helped him build straw walls and I thought I was 6 years earlier when I saw this documentary « Volem rien foutre al païs ». But now it was real, I was not watching a film! His house is an experimentation model. He managed to combine several building techniques perfectly well according to the local resources and his needs: the foundations are built with tyres filled with waste, the underground with earthbags and the walls with wood and straw balls… At the end, he built a 70m2 house for around euro 15,000 and spends €200 a year on heating !

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Straw bale House (GREB technical) at the « éco-hameau de la Baie » (Quebec) © Eco-Logis

Chloé : Since then we have met many interesting people! We have just spend a fortnight in a very interesting eco-village in Quebec with members of an Ecological Research Group of the Bay (GREB). For 25 years, the inhabitants have been carrying out experimentations to live in an ecological way with the disappearance of natural resources in mind. They have invented a very fast and ingenious straw ball building technique which has become very popular in France. They are also carrying other research on solar panels, permaculture, mass heaters for the heating… The family who hosted us had a very inspiring way of life: their house was always open to the visitors and those who wanted to work, they had an incredible vegetable garden, made their own bread, their cheese and shared their know-how and joy to live with great pleasure… A nice embodiment of « voluntary simple life » as claimed by Pierre Rabhi.

Your trip is the opportunity to shoot a documentary on such alternatives. Which are your ambitions for this film ?

Our objective is to raise as wide awareness as possible on the impacts of climate changes and the drying out of natural resources by focusing on housing, one of the main energy consumers (around 40%) and causing greenhouse effects (around 30%). Therefore, we are interviewing scientists and engineers who can show and emphasize the impact of housing on the environment.

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Shooting in Thailand -Prototype of an earthbags house © Eco-Logis

Beyond this establishment, we also want to show that there are other and cheaper ways of building, which are also more performant. We want to encourage people to act at their own levels in changing their ways of building, renovating, heating… The film will also the opportunity to raise awareness amongst political decision makers by inciting them to open the building codes to alternative techniques and show that society could save, both financially and energetically, preferring other materials to concrete and steel for public buildings. We also wish to support the film by organising a travelling exhibition and conferences, especially with the Architecture, Town Planning and Environment Firms and Departments.

If our documentary gets the public’s support and if we manage to find the funds to do so, we intend to develop a web-documentary next. It will go back in detail to the building techniques mentioned in the film (Straw bale, earthships, earthbags and raw earth) with tutorials and links to the participative sites for those interested so that they can move from theory to practice !

Interview led by Alice Dubois for The Dissident

Find this interview and others articles on the dissident web site anf facebook page :

Interview for Paris Normandie, 1 year after the start – 4th may 2015

Can you tell us a bit about this past year ? How was it ?

Richly intense ! It is hard to grasp that a year has gone by already : we have met so many people and seen so many new things. That makes us feel that we left home much longer ! Whichever way we look back, the year could not have run more smoothly…
Even if there have been times when we felt overwhelmed in-between the articles on our site, the involvement in the various building sites, shooting, exchanges with the schools and the everyday logistics of our trip, we have managed to gradually find our rhythm. Furthermore, what is fantastic with such a long-term project is that we are constantly progressing. We are just so happy to have another year in front of us !

Does the trip go on as you expected ? Have you had any unexpected occurrences ?

In so much as we are planning our stops as we go along, according to the people we come across, the advice we get and the opportunities (from one month to another or from one country to the next), we do not really have to face any unexpected occurrences.

The only thing which proves to be harder than expected is to travel over land. For instance since we left, because of closed and/or dangerous borders we have had to catch a plane twice to go through Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma)… Of course we could have gone via round about ways, but it is a challenge in itself, which is hardly compatible with our shooting and its very own constraints!

Moreover when we left we had no idea that the value of the Euro would go down and and that is a heavy burden on our budget: in May 2014, when we left, we would exchange euro 100 for dollars 140, but today the two currencies are at a par…

Which building site impressed you most ? Why ?

Olivier : After I graduated from Law school, I got involved in the Outraged movement while starting to work in the Humanitarian field. There was a huge gap between the hope of a citizenship revolution (but without knowing either how to organise it or which society to build…) ; and the operation of the NGOs in which the employees accept to run after grants rather than develop useful projects.

the building with straw balls at Roger and Leslie in the south of France. In 2007, when I embarked on my law studies, I watched a documentary by Pierre Carles “Volem rien foutre al Pais”, which stayed in my brain for some time. One of the people explained that it is indeed possible to build houses using such a technique, and they would cost about 10 times less than conventional houses. And I am amazed that our shooting did start with a building using straw !

Chloé : The building of a training centre for primary school teachers in Nepal… in earth bags. I was impressed by Durga’s success, the NGO’s initiator who came from a poor remote village. Despite a future which did not look bright, yet set, he managed to leave for New Zealand, then returned to Nepal with this project to give the children the education he unfortunately had to do without. There was a very friendly atmosphere on this site. Work was physically demanding, yet everybody was happy !

Which techniques have you discovered (could you maybe just give us the most remarkable or amazing ones…) ?

Over this first year we managed to discover a broad panel of techniques and materials, amongst them:

– The straw ball building in France, Greece and Thailand with two self-builders site and meeting with an engineer
– The COB (a clay, sand, straw mixture) in Italy, Greece and Thailand through a workshop, two self-builders site ; meeting with an architect and visiting a resource centre
– Earthships inspired building (houses aiming at being energetically self-standing, built in recycled materials, particularly tyres) meeting a self-builder in Turkey;
– A bamboo geodesic dome in India;
– Earth bag constructions in Nepal and Thailand: through a school building site, a few self-builders and an engineer.

For the year to come, we wish to be able to go deeper into such techniques going to see other collective humanitarian experiences, in towns …

Which people have you met, who struck you most ?

A difficult choice indeed!… but we both loved to share the lives of the inhabitants in Stagones (a small “eco-community” in Greece). They did think a great deal about how to live together and above all put it into practice, taking the time to discuss, to listen to each other and to be open to the outside world. We would like to manage to live as simply and peacefully, and maybe set something like them a place where people can live together!

At the same time, while discovering all sorts of buildings, we are struck by the lives those we come across are living. Although they live in different countries, they embody the same values of collective life, respecting nature, sharing knowledge and know-how, generosity… Beyond the criticism of capitalism, they are building individual and collective projects which stand evidence that other options are possible. What we intend to put forward in our film is this more global dimension.

And then, there is something which does not stand out in our articles and is not captured in our film, but is nevertheless very important, i.e. all those very nice people we meet in between two building experiences when we stop over at total strangers’ (especially through the coach surfing network) who welcome us as if we were members of their families. For instance at an activist, very full of energy in Greece; at a sixty-year old squatter in Italy; at a rich couple’s in Turkey; at a Kurd’s living in Turkey; at a young Iranian couple’s; at a wealthy old people’s home manager’s and restaurant manager’s in India; at a sixty year old German adventurer’s in Thailand…

Can you tell us something about your project to shoot a documentary ? I can imagine that you already have a great deal of material !

We are working on it ! We have already filmed some fifteen projects led by self-builders, architects, engineers and even an artist. We already have some forty rushes hours (rough material).

As we are filming, we are perfecting the narration and the structure of the web-documentary. It seems that we are going to choose an arborescence per building materials (straw, earthbags, earth, bamboos, earthships…) which will involve the testimonials of the various protagonists. The sequences will come with several bonuses: tutorials will explain the building techniques and give builders’ portraits. We are also thinking about a 52’ or 1hour30 version, which may be shown in the cinema or on television…

Have you also had nasty surprises ?

The only actual difficulty we have been faced with is that we could not get our visas for India from Iran. Unfortunately we had to shorten out stay there and go back to Turkey to get this precious paper.

Apart from that, we have never had any nasty surprises: no health issues, no technical problems, nothing got stolen … oh, I forgot; In Turkey a dog managed to run away with one of Chloe’s tracking shoes !

As regards “logistics”: you left with backpacks containing the bare minimum. Have they been filled on the way ? Have you been able to find all you needed in the various places ?

Our backpacks have not really filled up, but they have not really been emptied either (20 kgs each). It is hard to get rid of some of the stuff since three quarters of what we are carrying pertain to the shooting material!

We take advantage of our meetings with other French citizens on the way, or the visit of our families, to send back some stuff from time to time and especially, give them our very precious hard disks with saved versions of the film! Yes, of course we find the few things we need in the main cities… (except for cheese!)

Can you tell us something about your exchanges with the school children in the Louviers area ?

We regularly send them films with letters (focused on a material or a building technique), and news either by mail or snail’s mail.
The pupils answer our questions through a video system … and some send us friendly comments on the pedagogical space on the website!

The three classes also came together to set up the “Phileas’s gazette” (Phileas being our mascot), a journal summarizing our exchanges and describing the activities they do in class around sustainable development (visiting Hauts-Prés, separating waste in their respective schools, writing workshops…)

Which are your next stops on your world tour ? Have you decided when you are going to come back ?

After Thailand, we are going to go to Malaysia and the Philippines for a humanitarian earth bag building project. Then this summer we will be in Australia to take part in workshops, more specifically on straw building. Next we will be heading to south America and Central America for six months and, amongst others, we are going to visit projects on earth bags. In the summer 2016, we will be in the USA and Canada to focus on earthships (those houses in recycled materials). And finally (if we are not too late in our very ambitious itinerary!), we will eventually go to Western Africa to shoot films on baked earth adobes… prior to returning back to France in the Autumn 2016.
If the readers are aware of any interesting building projects in those areas of the world, we would appreciate any contacts!

Would you like to add something ?

We would like to once more thank all our partners for their support: the Haute-Normandie region, the Conseil Général de l’Eure, the CASE, the mayors of Val-de-Reuil, Louviers, Poses, the CAUE 76, Mongo Immo, the Alec in the eure, the CRIJ, the “Citoyens en Transition” network, the Silence magazine and Paris-Normandie. A big thank you also to everybody from france and all over the world who are helping and supporting us in this huge adventure !