The Butterfly Earthbench in Alta Vista’s garden classroom is not just a beautiful place to sit; it also showcases the engineering and artistry of natural building techniques. Natural building aligns with sustainable and environmental ethics. It is very affordable, and it is art. Anyone can do it– young or old, male or female—the project brings people together and builds community. Presently, more than half the world’s population lives in naturally built homes and this building style is innovative, empowering, and fun!
In Spring 2015, AVS Garden and Sustainability teachers Marissa and Brennan put together a rich natural building and ecological design curriculum for AVS. One of the first projects to come to fruition is the Butterfly Earthbench. Marissa and Brennan led Junior Kindergarten through first grade students in designing and building a bench that could seat ten students. Danny, the third-grade teacher, donated his old car tires, which sit at the base of the bench, and students re-purposed trash from their lunch into bottle bricks, which support the backrest. As a class, students mixed batches of clay, sand, straw, and water to make cob and applied it on the bench. The children enjoyed every moment of the process, singing songs as they worked together. AVS then hosted a garden work party, where students taught their parents how to mix cob and parents joined the fun and got their hands dirty! After the final layer of cob was applied, students decorated the Butterfly Earthbench with glass beads and tiles. Students have expressed that they feel joy, a sense of accomplishment, and are empowered by this project.
During the natural building and ecological design unit, each grade focused on a project. Third and fourth grade classes designed and are in the process of building a children’s playhouse. The fifth-grade class collaborated with Four Barrel Coffee and the Portola Neighborhood Association and built an ecologically designed Little Free Library. Marissa and Brennan have many more dream projects for AVS and plan to integrate natural building and ecological design concepts into playground structures, community benches, wall murals, and even possibly a small building for a classroom, tiny home, or greenhouse in the future. The possibilities with natural building are endless!