Resources are a hot topic at the moment. Personally I am not feeling much for the image presented by our governments through the media which is based on scarcity. We are surrounded by an abundance of resources everywhere, but just distracted to see them. Our carbon based economy thrives by the control over resources and dependency of its customers. In my opinion this doesn’t go well with freedom and individual empowerment and I believe there must be another way.
Carbon positive building, using renewable alternatives for highly toxic materials like cement and researching natural locally available materials are all high on my list, yet I also like to explore how to use our habitat as a power plant and how to add meaning to the empty spaces of buildings.
I want to provide a test and demo ground for prototypes that accelerate the transition towards the circular economy by building multiple small demonstration buildings with a large variety of natural, renewable and locally sourced resources and alternative technology on the land.
From linear thinking towards circular living
The circular economy is an economical system based on the cradle-to-cradle philosophy rather than the linear cradle-to-grave economy we have been accustomed to. Our current linear design thinking often solves one problem on the surface but contributes to many other problems down the line.
Conventional linear approaches to sustainability, like recycling, often make the efficient use of energy and materials their ultimate goal. While this can be a useful transitional strategy, it only tends to reduce negative impacts without transforming harmful activity.
Cradle-to-cradle design goes beyond retrofitting industrial systems to reduce their harm. As architect, designer and founder of the Cradle-to-Cradle design philosophy William McDonough explains “Climate change is the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us: it is a design failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and wrong duration. It is we who have made carbon a toxin—like lead in our drinking water. In the right place, carbon is a resource and tool.
In order to design and produce in a truly sustainable way, without bringing harm to our environment and each other, the only thing we have to do is to correct our error by changing our way of thinking. To take nature as our source, not as an inexhaustible resource.
The circular system knows two chains. An ecological chain where waste products are returned to nature without harming it. And a technical chain, where products or parts are designed without losing much quality during their use and can therefor easily be reused. That way their economical value remains. The circular system is both ecological as economical ‘repairing’ but requires a complete new approach to our current design practices.
After purchasing the land, I wondered about my next step on how to realize my idea of building a legal, non-toxic, carbon positive, off-grid natural habitat on a small budget, without compromising on modern day comfort. After months of research and meeting people, I was struggling with finding a suitable eco-minded team of an architect, engineer and builder to legally carry out the home I envisioned, which isn’t as common yet in Portugal. One day I woke up to the image of a cute yet comfortable treehouse. It was a corner in the forest that had tried to tell me that all along. This Treehouse would allow me some more time to meet and connect with local eco-minded professionals, while working on an exciting project and having a roof over my head during the colder winter months.
In the meantime I was designing my solar system and received the phone number of a local guy who had experience with this. Turns out that Joāo is an awesome natural builder talent who studied at CAT, who, like me, adores trees, and is a very likeable human being. Due to that random meeting The Birdhouse quickly saw the light of day and by working next to him every day I’ve gained a tremendous amount of valuable skills and knowledge. It’s been such a rewarding experience to work in and with nature every day and to see visions quickly become reality in front of you. The fact that my house is build with only the energy from the sun and our own input makes it even more special to me.
Soon after I arrived, I realized I had to throw all my previous project management experience over board, because in rural Portugal things don’t work according to schedules. For this project I wasn’t able to elimanate unsustainablel materials like solar system components or certainn kitchen appliances, but hopefully I suceed in applying more sustainable alternatives for these in the future as well. The windows, doors and staircase I bought second hand in Portugal.
Sourcing the right materials which I could afford was something I very much enjoyed and resulted in succeeding for 90% in my mission to build with natural, carbon positive, renewable, non toxic, locally sourced materials.
I didn’t want to harm living trees by screwing in them, so the two story treehouse is build around the existing trees, so they are living among and beyond me through the roof. We contributed 600 (wo)man hours to this project and because of my choice for materials, it will require some more time from me to maintain and treat the mainly wooden structure over the years. I happily free up my time for this purpose, as it has a meditative effect on me and feels good to care for my immediate living space. In less than a year I was blessed with a cozy, comfortable, carbon positive, off-grid, beautiful home and winter is not even close.
I enjoyed watching the documentary Tiny, which made me question the size of my personal footprint and how much my life should be controlled by stuff. The amazing guys from the Cinder Cone, the Treehotel in Sweden and the Gankoyama Treehouse village in Japan have been a major inspiration for me to build The Birdhouse.
In January 2017 during the waning moon we felled some of the oaks and cherry trees on my property to allow more light to reach certain areas of the land in order for more layers of species to thrive. We used this roundwood in combination with milled “green” local pine to build a small A-frame cabin, a Hexagon shaped structure with reciprocal roof, a 5m x 12m platform, a structure for the vermicomposting flush toilet and several platforms for the small greenhouses.
Only natural foundation techniques were used to keep the soil free of concrete and other toxic or non-sustainable materials.
This little triangle shaped sacred one found her perfect place under the oak and cherries next to the stream. My neighbour Marko did what he does best by taking care of the structural roudwood framing. Paul lived with me for 5 months and helped Marko with lots of chizzeling in order for the many joints to fall perfectly into place. The benefit of an A-frame structure is that walls and roof are the same, which saves materials. The structure is build on poles with a natural foundation of stones and about a meter off the ground. It has the smallest measurements possible in order for a 2.00m tall door to fit in.
With additional help of Danny and Sander we put the indoor and outdoor cladding on, which consists of local pine with a layer of breathable membrane and battons in between to provide airflow. The secondhand door and window are the same as those used in the Birdhouse, making it a cute little sister of her bigger squared brother and according to many a very cozy place to inhabit.
The Be Hive
The third addition to A vida Fausto’s healthy habitat was inhabited in July 2017. It has the smallest footprint of all 3 structures, but took eventually the longest to complete. After finishing the A-frame I thought it was a good idea to put a few challenges in the mix. The hexagon shaped structure is build with round oak and cherries from the land. We also used 12 round rafters for the reciprocal roof, which was quite easy to install but the cladding and waterproofing turned out to be more difficult.
For the indoor roof cladding we used local pineboard with aluminum plates on top to protect it from the rain. We sealed the top of the rafters with a tractor tire where a crown window is placed on top. The walls are cladded with local pine again and handwoven rugs made by an old lady with wool from sheep here in the Serra de Estrela mountains provide a colorful and cozy vibe inside. An ideal place to retreat and just be. The blood, sweat, smiles, persistence and loving energy of the amazing Marko, Hugo, Sander, Paul, Ronan and Frank make this a very special one.You guys bossed it!
Your pooh will smell like roses
Lots of great things happened over winter 2016/17 at A vida Fausto and I feel blessed to be surrounded by very talented, inspiring people. Wendy is one of them. Before I moved to Portugal I was already following her blog with lots of admiration. Not knowing that I would eventually become her neighbour, as I found out weeks later after buying my land. In my opinion she has developed and tested an incredible important tool on how we can dispose our human waste in a sustainable circular way.
It does not only provide a welcome solution to those living off-grid, now carrying the heavy load of sawdust buckets every week, but something that can be upscaled to a global market and applied to rural as well as urban areas, for residential as well as industrial purpose with very low expenses.
Her vermicomposting flush toilet works like any other toilet you are used to in the city and is able to handle household gray water. The difference is that an army of worms and microorganisms work around the clock to transform the waste in such a way that it’s very clean. This way it can be used directly on the land again without the need for kilometers long sewerage pipe systems or nasty chemicals. You can read more upon the system and the open source design plans here.
Wendy has reached a milestone by getting approval from the local government for this type of toilet to be installed in any residential building project without the need for extra licensing. Considering the bureaucratic system in regards to building codes in Portugal, she has paved the way for those newly arriving here to be able to install this ecological sound system in our homes. Hopefully many other municipalities will follow this example.
During the creation of all healthy habitat I received lots of help from amazing and talented local friends as well as old and new friends from abroad who often extended their stay to experiece the Luxury Life a little longer.
Forever grateful to those who made it happen by contributing their energy and skills to create carbon positive demonstration buildings in various shapes and sizes with a small financial footprint.
Instead of imagining a limitless world, I do see the creative power of limits and feel inspired to explore the provided space within. I envision to live on the farm with two other permanent families and have one building occupied by changing professional collaborators who visit for a shorter stay.
To me a sustainable world isn’t one global village but a globe with interconnected communities all over.
The farm also provide basic accommodation for those visiting for an educational program or experience. This way we can share resources like woodland, farm land, water, animals, equipment and natural building materials while keeping our individual household footprint to 1 acre each and share the surplus with outsiders.
All structures, houses and farm buildings will be off-grid and build with renewable natural materials, preferably sourced at the farm and otherwise as local as possible. Every new structure will implement innovative materials and technologies to test and experiment with, in order to provide more data to the already existing information about sustainable building.
For me local self-reliance forms the inevitable foundation towards a sustainable future and therefore I want to experiment with alternatives that empower individuals and the local community while establishing a mutual beneficial relationship with our natural environment.
I focus on the basics of food and shelter, where overall well-being is a priority as well. By providing a test and demoground for a variety of accommodation types; to experiment with alternative materials and technology; to transform real estate into healthy habitat ,I hope to contribute proven technologies that ensure more individual independence and local abundance and inspire others around the world. If you like to join me and experience the Luxury Life for yourself, I invite you to have a look here.