Musings on the ancient subterranean
When I first learned about some of the key elements involved in natural building, I immediately made reference to a very similar tiny critter – the termite. Some may find this quite perplexing to make such connections, but hang in there! I’ll explain.
Their homes – which are gargantuan in proportion to their individual size – are built in a similar fashion to O.U.R own healing sanctuary. The long axis of a termite mounds is oriented North-South, which assists with thermoregulation. This gives them the nickname “compass termites”. During the most intense hours of heat during the day, a very thin slice of the mound faces the sun. This means that the mound can avoid over-heating, yet still capture the less intense rays of the morning to maintain internal warmth. Similarly, the healing sanctuary is intentionally built using cob on the South facing wall, enabling it to take full advantage of the sun and absorb it’s warmth. Cob is able to capture heat and has a greater thermal mass – therefore it does not change temperature quickly and will give off it’s heat internally during the night. Alternatively, the North facing wall gets zero sunlight and is insulated with straw bale. This enables the building to maintain it’s warm interior temperature by protecting this coveted solar heat from the relentless Northern chill.
Aside from thermoregulation, the termite mound is able to breathe and filter toxins. Their unique shape pulls the wind – sweeping across it’s tough exterior as it is funneled inside. Tiny capillaries pull fresh air from the mysterious, unforgiving and seemingly infinite outer world. Eventually converging, this oxygen leads to a large central chimney. This process ultimately stops the air inside from becoming stagnant (which is arguably necessary when you live with millions of coworkers and family members.) This filtration also creates a very intelligently engineered air conditioning system, which comes in handy when the sun threatens a roasted termite smorgasbord. In comparison, natural homes are well-known for being much more friendly when it comes to human health. The walls have a permeability which is often overlooked in conventional building. By using natural building techniques, one can create a home which is literally able to breathe, regulate humidity and interact with the environment outside. The awareness of human health (in connection to our living spaces) is becoming increasingly pressing. More people are choosing earth-friendly alternatives in the home as a result of the natural building movement.
Possibly the most ironic comparison: the termites are a perfect example of community and cooperation. Every individual insect (regardless of how miniscule and insignificant we may think they are) plays an important role in maintaining these advanced societies. There is a common goal amongst the members of the colony and they are divided into teams, working towards these survival ambitions. The only real difference I see is that the termites are genetically created to fill a particular role, whereas we are passionate and use free-will to guide us on our cooperative endeavors.
It filled me with a strange personal joy to understand these concepts and make connections with our building initiatives. Natural builders seem to be taking cues from those who have been experts in the building business for millions of years (although obviously, there is a modern and elegant twist to these ancient approaches.) I guarantee that O.U.R building projects will not end up being nearly as dark and claustrophobic as a termite mound. By consciously integrating earthen materials into the home, you’re building upon the longevity of health, a sustainable future and the physical building itself! These homes are built to last – and if perchance they should falter – they will not end up in a waste stream. Let’s continue to teach these natural building principles and follow the way of the termites! They’ve been around for an awfully long time – so they must be doing something right!