Expert discusses ancient, eco-friendly construction

An authority on ancient and site-appropriate building and design will speak on "Re-Introducing Ancient Building Techniques" at 7 tonight at the Ashland Public Library.

Jack Stephens of Eugene, a writer for Last Straw Journal and Cob Web, the main magazines about strawbale and cob construction, will outline how ancient cultures used siting and materials that today would be called the cutting edge of natural solar design, local, renewable materials and sustainable, non-toxic building practices.


What: "Re-Introducing Ancient Building Techniques," a look at how ancient building techniques intersect with modern principles of sustainability

Who: Writer Jack Stephens

When: Tonight at 7

Where: Gresham Room, Ashland Public Library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd.; enter from the rear alley

Cost: Free

"The ancient peoples had to rely on materials at hand that were appropriate for where they were living, whether in the mountains, desert or tropics," said Stephens. "They would not cut 2-by-4s and build with them everywhere."

Ancient building practices maximized common sense and practical materials and "we haven't forgotten how to do this; we've just had a long period of cultural amnesia," he said.

Even if you were building on the north side of Mount Ashland, which has more wind, or the south side, which has more sun, the needs of the site would call on the builder to make a very different structure for each side, he noted.

Some of the optimal materials today include cob (straw, mud and sand), strawbale, adobe and bamboo, because of their wide availability, low cost and renewability, Stephens said, and they can be used in a broad spectrum of locales.

The basic book for this approach is Paula Baker-Laporte's "Prescription for a Healthy House," and the organization through which adherents work is the Natural Building Network, which has members on every continent, including about half a dozen in the Rogue Valley. The group's Web site is

"The revival of ancient building practices is important today because it's environmentally and economically responsible," Stephens said. "It supports the local economy and creates a healthy environment to live in. It's fun. It's beautiful to live in, and it has a lot of art in the building."

The talk is free and open to the public.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland.

E-mail him at

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