A Corner Stone Concept: Empowering DIY Homes

rural permaculture architecture

I have been mulling over the design for a concept permaculture home for the last few months. I’ve done so initially to have a good basis of design that I can locate onto a site, with most of the problems of a home solved, most of the solutions included- then I can edit it to fit into the larger context as we move forward.

As I proceeded through this study, I continue to realize that there are way too many factors to capture in a concept home. Families, individuals, are way too diverse for the format. And in a way-this same prototyping mindset being hijacked by commercial construction has led to the abundance of cookie cutter homes. I understand that custom homes are different-but my point is that somewhere there ought to be a balance of flexibility and a good first step.

Recently, while consulting on a rural home build, I realized an important opportunity.

There are a lot of alternative construction techniques available. But they do not always make it feasible for your average family to use them. Consider earthships by Michael Reynolds at EarthShipsGlobal. They are great long term homes-but require immense labor and time to build one of the key components for the design to work – the rammed earth+tire wall.

tire wall. credit: earthshipglobal

To take on an earthship one will need to have access to a significant amount of used tires. You also need to have the ability to transport these to the construction site. You will also need the physical capability to pound a significant amount of dirt and compact them into the tires. More importantly-one will need to have the time to build these-one tire at a time. I do not argue about the long term benefits, I am only listing the effortl to get this key part done.

Now back to my discussion with a home owner I was consulting with-I asked: what if there was an alternative to this method? What if this alternative allowed for the earthship builder to overcome one of the large barriers to this project (the tire+dirt wall)? Or even just accelerating his plans and construction schedule so that he can get a lot more done and move into his home sooner? Would that breakthrough not encourage more people to build earthships?

If you are not into earthships, would a similar technological solution for other construction types not empower you to build your own home? Imagine having the ability to drive to your land for a weekend project, taking the equipment/materials with you sufficient for that weekend work. Not having to risk leaving supplies on site that might get stolen or vandalized. Being able to build and maintain a lean operation with the manpower of one or two. Would this not empower more families to take the DIY approach? I understand there are solutions to these already-but if we take a look at them further, what can be done to simplify them?

Scaling this up, would solutions along those lines encourage people to move to rural areas where they can build homes easier because of these solutions?

I am including this pursuit into a broader effort which I will build my practice on. This will be a pursuit of construction technologies that we can leverage to make DIY rural home construction more feasible.

These type of efforts will be tagged cornerstone concepts and I hope to encounter these types of ideas as I develop my work. Where this will lead – I do not know, but at the very least it will help highlight key attributes for homes which, in my humble opinion would in fact represent a more permaculture approach to architecture and empower individuals to build their own homes, unhindered by location.


Here at Alt-Ark, our goal is to make architecture more permaculture. We seek to empower the creation of forever homes that families can actively design to match the lives they choose to live.