Looking Back on the Natural Building Course in Jordan, the Lead Teacher’s Perspective

The first blocks coming out of the machine

We just finished the first Natural Building workshop at the Jordan demonstration site of the Permaculture Research Institute — the Jordan Valley Permaculture Project (aka ‘Greening the Desert’, the sequel). This workshop was co-taught by Hamzah Abu-Ragheb of Jordan, and myself, Sasha Rabin, from the US, with the intention of demonstrating and sharing building methods appropriate for this location.

During the workshop we had a surprise visit from one of the princesses of
Jordan — HRH Princess Basma bint Ali, far right, and her communications team.
They are interested in using some of these techniques at the Royal Botanical
Gardens in north central Jordan. (The Princess will be patron of IPC10.)

The workshop participants were mostly people living in the capital city of Amman. Some of them local Jordanians, and some of them people who have moved to Jordan from various parts of the world, but also included one student from England, and one from Norway. They spanned the professions of architects, contractors, engineers, builders, and people who want to learn the skills to build their own house. We look forward to seeing how some of these people might incorporate some of what they learned into their work.

The hands on portion of this workshop focused on building one wall out of Straw Bale, and another wall out of Compressed Earth Block (CEB), and doing a variety of plaster finishes on both. The structure we were building will eventually be a classroom and dorm space for PRI workshops and classes. The methods and techniques taught during this workshop were tailored to be appropriate for that location — considerations of climate, culture, and available resources were considered.

Hamzah and Ian start on the arch for the second window

The building is designed to block as much summer heat as possible by maximizing the insulation on the south and west walls, while attempting to gain and store as much of the night time coolness by maximizing the thermal mass on the north and east walls. The technique of Compressed Earth Block was chosen by Hamzah for Jordan because of the feeling that it would be more easily accepted as an alternative to cement then some other earthen building techniques. There is a common cultural perception that building out of earth is going backwards, away from progress. Due to the fact that the CEB involve a large machine and produce a very strong, very uniform building material, it seems that they do hold the potential to be socially accepted in a way that handmade adobe would not be at this time, while transitioning away from the use of cement back to the use of earth.

The Compressed Earth Blocks, ready for the workshop

For these techniques and systems to expand out in a country with such a variety of social cultures, there needs to be a variety of techniques used to share them. The demographic of people that signed up and took the workshop were not from the village that the PRI site is in, but there was a fair bit of interest form the locals passing by. They were so impressed with the bricks that some returned again, but bringing with them workers from the local cinder block making company. We had another local cement worker who was our ever faithful helper whenever we needed anything, and participated in much of the workshop. By the end of the workshop his scepticism had significantly diminished, but I believe that for it to diminish completely he needs to see the building completed.

Hamzah (on left) and the local builder and amazing helper Ahmed
Handen (on right). Ahmed Handen is getting ready to teach how to pour a
cement header for the window opening.

There are some communities of people that can understand it intellectually, and some that will not be convinced until the structure is finished, and they can see and feel that it is solid, and a lot more comfortable in the summer then the cement block buildings. Therefore I think that the real strength this building will have in sharing the systems wont be fully realized until it is finished, and people will be able to see and feel the benefits for themselves.

The work party we had a day after I got to Jordan


  1. Hi Sasha! This are very impressive photos which really show the workshop at work. As a participant, I really appreciated the class and your time and effort (and patience!) in teaching us. As the weeks go by and the building becomes more complete, I appreciate what you taught us more and more. Thanks for the great job you did and I highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about this to take a workshop from Sashs!

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