Eco Building, Green Building, Earthships, Oh My!

Eco-building, cob, straw-bale, tiny houses--this article explores a wide range of green building techniques.

The built environment is all around us.

In addition to food and shelter, all humans have four basic needs: to learn new things, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to leave a mark on the world, and to care and be cared for. All archetypal studies, from psychology to storytelling to marketing, returns to this assertion, and we see it all around us, especially in our buildings. 

Think about it. What do we built besides houses? Schools, churches, hospitals, theaters. Roads to the wilderness. Fences between good neighbors. It all connects to those four fundamental human needs: inquiry, community, legacy, and connection.

In a permaculture design, the built environment becomes the nexus between our own needs and the needs of the other species we have, by our ethics, chosen to protect. As such, it is important that the buildings we create are designed accordingly. Doing this requires a shift in how we look at the built environment as a whole, but this isn’t difficult to accomplish, and the easiest way is by starting with where you live, today, and tuning into the edges, microclimates, and intersections where the human-built space connects to the biological spaces.

Where does mechanism meet organism? Find your design opportunities there.

Tuning in to the built environment

In a huge way, this could be the first module in our course. As humans, our built environment is in our hands, over our heads, and under our butts all day, every day, and it makes tons of sense that we would start our whole-systems design projects from the built environment as a starting point.

But it also makes sense to learn the other stuff first, to open doors in your designer’s mind, and get you geeked out on plants and seeds and systems for a while…because now you can look at the structures and squares and hard surfaces around you and more easily see what I mean when I say:

​Integrate the buildings with the living systems. Make them a whole.

Study this image of a suburban permaculture demonstration site. What’s missing? How could the structures in their built environment be more connected to each other, and to the landscape? 


The built environment is full of opportunities

And, sometimes opportunities are created through the building of an environment! Check out this amazing project:

Build Sustainable Opportunities for Women Farmers in Armenia


Most of the time, it’s a MUCH more ecological choice to retrofit your existing building than to build something new. Plus, most of us are working with what we have, rather than building our dream houses from the ground up.

​Here’s an excellent study of a very relatable retrofit project, with Rowe Morrow’s house as the example:

A Good Home Forever


There are so many wonderful ways to build structures using recycled and natural materials, but this doesn’t automatically mean the building is “green.” Be careful not to replace one type of consumption with another type of consumption, and always try to keep your inputs and outputs in balance!

Here in our course we only have time for a quick slideshow of these methods. Please go down your own rabbit hole with this inquiry, and be sure to check out the links in the resources section at the end of this article.

A selection of ecobuilding styles

Want to learn more about this and other topics related to permaculture, sustainability, and whole-systems design? We offer a range of FREE (donations optional) online courses!

types of eco green building
Graphic by Heather Jo Flores

Relevant Links and Resources​

The Green Building Forum is a lively online forum created by the people who brought us The Green Building Bible. It’s a good place to find knowledgeable advice on all aspects of building, renovation and retro-fitting from experienced green builders.

woman building cob house
Photo by Heather Jo Flores

This website provides a ton of excellent information. The case studies are specific to Australia, but the climates considered range from tropical, through arid and mediterranean to temperate. Just remember that if you are in the Northern hemisphere, you want to orient your house to the South, not the North as Australians do!

cob pizza oven portland
Photo by Heather Jo Flores

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