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Natural Construction in Argentina – Trends of an Emerging Permacultural Area

The small city of El Bolsón is located in the southwest of the Río Negro Province, right in the angle formed by the Andes Mountain Range and the 42nd parallel (provincial border with Chubut).

It is a place known internationally by its people and its wonderful natural beauty. People from all over the world have come to this region that lies under the magnificence of the Piltriquitrón mountain – finding a fertile land for their dreams of living an alternative experience to the city kind of life.

Since the 70s long haired Argentines from the big cities as well as foreigners came to experience the hippie way of life and their influence is still present. El Bolsón is well known for the organic production of home brewed beer, fruit, bread, jams, milk, yoghurt, cheese, ice cream, cosmetic products and other items that visitors love to find. It has also become the site to celebrate the National Hops Festival and international events such as the Moonbow Festival (a kind of electronic Woodstock party) and the Jazz Festival that takes place every December.

Tuning in

Every year the surrounding areas are visited by people from all over the world – people looking to experience harmony with nature and find pleasant distractions from city living. There are several farms that have become places for volunteers. The CIESA project (Centro de Investigación y Ensenanza de Agricultura Sostenible) is an experimental teaching and research centre, created by Mr. Mark Jordan and Fernando Pia, an agronomic engineer, who started an educational demonstration garden in 1994 in Las Golondrinas Valley, putting into practice the Biointensive method developed by Mr. John Jeavons, Ecology Action Executive Director.

Millalén (pronounced mee-ya-LEN, and meaning "golden cypress" in the local Mapuche language) is a small organic farm situated in a forest of pitra, maiten and cohiue trees, birds such as bandurrias and teros, a mountain stream that crosses the land and provides them with wáter, swampy areas where carrizo grows, and the visual presence of mountains such as Pirque and Currumahuida. They introduced a variety of fruit and other trees, as well as some animals. The land includes an organic vegetable garden that applies bio-intensive principles, a flower garden, areas for recreation and a few buildings. Visitors have the opportunity to participate in the activities of the farm, share meals with permanent residents, go on excursions in the area or go horseback riding with a guide.

Another important centre for teaching and research is CIDEP, started 9 years ago by a group of Permaculturists who have been developing appropriate techniques for a sustainable way of living. They show visitors and neighbours how to optimize the use of natural resources and the use of green energies, as well as developing and experimenting with several natural building techniques and group work.

Following the same path, Mr. Mark Jordan (CIESA co-founder) and his wife Ellie made a dream come true at La Confluencia, a teaching and demonstration center for sustainable self-sufficient living. Developed by the Land Ethic Action Foundation, their endeavor is to use the simplest, least energy consumptive, and, to every reasonable degree, locally available building materials to construct and build the most energy efficient buildings they are capable of. La Confluencia has a lodge and spa, both built of plastered straw-bale walls, dead or wind fallen cedar lumber and local stone. And following this same criteria, they will construct a super adobe/cob building by the end of November 2009, which will be used to house future workshop participants.

The workshop, entitled Basics of Cob and Super Adobe, will run from November 29 to December 6, 2009, and is 7 days of intensive learning appropriate for people of all ages, with or without experience. The backdrop for this workshop is La Confluencia, where you will be able to sample some of what we have experienced. We live in an almost magical corner of the planet where two torquoise rivers meet and where mountains and forests mingle in a symphony of color and form, and where man and animals flourish.

More about super adobe

Earth building techniques such as cob and adobe are among the most ancient forms of construction used by man. This type of habitation is considered to be fairly inexpensive and sustainable as it uses only clay, sand, soil, water and straw, and as such, many of the materials can be found on-site. Cob, although one of the most beautiful and versatile aesthetically, is also one of the most labor intensive. It requires more people, with more skill, over a long period of time.

In response to a growing need for low cost energy efficient housing, a new technique known as ‘super adobe’ was developed in the 198’s by the Iranian architect, Nader Khalili. Its roots are in the sand filled bags used to create bunkers during WWI and it is now a proposed design for future use by NASA.

The super adobe technique uses long tubes of material such as burlap or polypropylene and can be filled with virtually any material. The tubes are layered and when complete are covered with an exterior treatment, usually plaster. It is an extremely cheap and easy method. Soil can be taken from the site, the tubing is low cost and the technique requires few skills so that people of all ages and skill levels can participate. Because of this, super adobe has become quite popular around the world, especially in areas where cost, ease and speed of construction are crucial issues. IPEC, a Brazilian permaculture center, is on the cutting edge of this movement in South America and this super adobe/cob building will be the first of its kind here in Argentina.

The experience at La Confluencia

Click for course details

(540kb PDF)

Visitors will learn to locate and test soil, sand and straw, create the right cob mix for any situation, and build strong, durable, sculptural earthen walls. This will give them practical experience with super adobe, foundations, windows, doors, arches and niches. Lectures will cover permaculture, other types of natural construction, sacred geometry in design, solar design, drainage, heating, plumbing and electric, roofing and flooring.

Since their vision of a self-sufficient and sustainable life covers even more than the land, the workshop will also offer shamanic drumming, circle dancing, short treks into the surrounding mountains, the spa, and time in the organic gardens for the enrichment of mind, body and soul.

For more information about the workshop:

Contact in Spanish: Mariano Anastassiades – mariano (at)
Contact in English: Ellie Jordan – ellie (at)
Tel: 54 – 02944 – 498329
Mail: Apartado 111 – 8430 El Bolsón – Río Negro – Argentina

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