My name is Brian. I am a student in the Portland, Oregon area. School is great, I'm learning a lot of great stuff and expanding my network, but I don't think I want to go on past my B.A. I'm getting my B.A. in Sustainable Design, and I've taken classes in Permaculture (I'll actually get certified in it), Natural Building, Ecology, Eco-Design among others, and I have become passionate about Natural Building and sustainability in general. I was thinking of going on to architecture school, but that would add another 3-4 years of schooling. School is not the problem, I love learning, but it's just so darn expensive. I'm already going to be in roughly 25 thousand in debt after my B.A. so I just want to ask a question along with some advice.
How would I go about having a career in natural building? Ideally, best case scenario, I would love to travel the country, even the world, working on various natural building projects (schools, preferably homes and perhaps even educating folks on natural building techniques). Architecture is more along the lines of larger scale buildings and projects. Also, I'm a very hands on person, and the idea of working in an office, at a firm a lot of the time kinda doesn't appeal to me. But I still love to design and build. Would you recommend going to grad school for architecture or would you think that my sustainable design degree would be enough credentials to get started? I know that partaking in various natural building workshops can boost my credentials but those can be quite expensive.
While on the subject of money, I can't help but worry about my financial situation. How do natural builders make their money, and enough of it to travel, pay bills with some left over for whatever? I know I shouldn't do anything solely for money but these days, it unfortunately makes or breaks you. Money is kinda making this decision very hard. House, utilities, car, gas, cell phone, travel and other necessities, jeez I can't even imaging paying all of that myself. Sorry if this is a bit overwhelming but I'm just a bit worried about the future.
Thanks for your time I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Bamboo Builder & Director of "Return to the Forest" courses, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.
Living in the land of eternal spring: 1600m altitude; tropical highlands with warm rainy summers & warm dry winters; lots of corn, beans, sweet potatoes, avocado, coffee, hog plums, citrus, bananas and bamboo.
If I wanted to make natural building my career, I would go ask these people, and you're in luck, they're in Oregon! Cob Cottage Company All the videos I have seen of them make them all seem very friendly and approachable, I would definitely ask them their advice. I have seen Ianto Evans say college was the biggest waste of his life but travelling, building, and learning through living has given him years of valued experience. Good luck to you.
I read your post and wanted to let you know that I'm sort of in the same boat! I went to college a few years ago for Fine Art and Biology before dropping out because I realized that I has some self exploration to do: thus the accumulation of debt ensued.
I have similar interests along the lines of Permaculture design (I'm certified as well) and I would like to focus in design/build, yet have had few opportunities to build experience in this area (I live in Pennsylvania).
I suggest that you take a look at the "de-schooling" or the "uncollege" movement, if you haven't already. I'm not a huge fan of the term because it's not truly indicative of it's meaning...either way, it is MORE than possible to develop a career in this area through doing your own studies and getting your own experience. There are infinite, free, educational resources via the Internet. A self-directed learning pathway works like this: You hone in on what you want to learn, create a syllabus for yourself which includes books to read, short courses to take, apprenticeships and internships to do, etc. BUILD A PORTFOLIO of your experience, your successes AND failures. It may take a lot longer than going to University, but with a self-directed education you can choose what you do and your own style of learning. You can be a pioneer in not just the world of Permaculture and Natural Building, but also in the evolution of education. I truly belief that in our field of interest, a degree, with hyper inflation in tuition, could become unnecessary and obsolete (let's help that along so we don't have to be enslaved by debt!!). The sites that I've listed below go more in depth about the process of designing your own education, but what you want to do is really what matters, and overall, EXPERIENCE MATTERS!!
Currently, I'm planning my self-directed education in Permaculture/ecological design, and the next step is natural building, admittedly it takes a lot of self-motivation and I would love to find a peer who is pioneering their own path as a source to bounce ideas off of. If you'd like, I can send you my syllabus thus far, it's consistently changing as I hone in on where I want to go. I too have goals of traveling during my education and my start in that is by applying to the Bullock Brother's Homestead on Orcas Island's skill building program (It's on their site if you want to learn more). I'm saving up a buffer of money to pay for my loans while I travel.
As far as a career in Natural Building, I am not sure how that all works, but I suggest contacting and interviewing natural builders that you know as a start. I think it's possible to develop a career in most anything, but if you are creative and scatter brained like me, a business course (many of which you kind find for free online if you haven't been exposed to it) could be very beneficial.
So, just like Permaculture Design, do a regenerative design of your education using similar principles...I'd be happy to discuss more ideas on this because I have yet to meet anyone on a similar path as me.
..and in closing, BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE. Education is a what I feel is necessary for our species to evolve to meet it's amazing potential, and we are tricked into thinking that it has a huge price tag. There are so many free resources, libraries, websites, and just good old DIY to take advantage of and we are beginning to see it!
A degree in structural engineering would be more helpful than architecture. One problem iv'e experienced is lack of knowledge in the area of engineering in natural building. Very few structural engineers seem to know what to do with cob or straw walls or any other designs than modern construction methods. Architecture is a dead art these days and most people wont consult an architect however there is a significant need for permaculture engineers. And if not a full degree at least some background in structural engineering would help.
Hey Brian, congrats on finding an area that interests you so much.. not an easy thing for most people in your situation. I can understand your fears and concerns. To me, it sounds like a career as a design-builder would best suit you. Youre entirely correct that a degree in Architecture may not be worth the investment. The same goes for the advice on an engineering degree. While knowing how to do the math on the stability of the structure will come in useful, most of what you will learn (and pay for) wont have much to do with having a career as a design builder.
I feel that most of the Natural Building techniques fall short in basic building science fundamentals so I would suggest learning as much as possible about building science. This will help the appropriateness of your structures and could help give more credentials to natural building techniques in the building science world.
Working for a builder is probably the best thing you could do at this point. It will give you experience and money. I dont think its necessary to seek out a natural builder either. If you can great, but its hard enough to find a construction job these days and there just isnt that much natural building going on. Even if you start as a laborer, it opens the door to prove that you are capable of much more and your education could be a good asset to a traditional builder looking to get into green building.
"If you want to save the environment, build a city worth living in." - Wendell Berry
This was very inspiring to read. I’m in a similar position to you both, albeit a few years later. I studied architecture in Australia (undergrad) and am currently looking at a permaculture design course and as much hands-on experience on as many builds as I can get to (many are unpaid and we gotta pay the bills)..
Curious to know how the journey goes for you both?
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