This project is about “practicing the emergence of sustainable living within community” and entails the establishment and demonstration of a sustainable lifestyle on a rural property in Alverstone, Durban.
I became a member of this small intentional community wherein the collective vision was to establish a centre that could demonstrate sustainable lifestyles and thereafter practice the same through various training courses. The project included the establishment of a Permaculture landscape; the construction of an eco-friendly training centre; and, the hosting of various training courses to sustain the project. The members of this intentional community financed the project.
The design process for this project entailed close consultation with the members of the intentional community who all co-created the vision for this project. The design process followed a survey, analysis, design, implementation and maintenance process, known by the acronym SADIM, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 - Design Process
The survey entailed the acquisition of an orthophoto with contours as a base plan. This followed with many site walkovers to confirm water lines, view sheds, wind directions, etc. The design initially scoped the overall vision for the project and thereafter prepared a site layout for the overall rainwater harvesting system; location of wind breaks, location of indigenous and fruit trees; improvements to the grey water system; the design options for a training centre with a low ecological building footprint; and, ideas for how to sustain the project via various training courses.
The implementation was managed hands on by the members of the intentional community who supervised a gang of local labour plus various sub-contractors for specialized work. The implementation included two major components, namely, the Permaculture landscaping of the site, and, the construction of the training centre.
The landscaping was undertaken primarily by earthmoving equipment with shaping and trimming by labour. Vetiver grass was planted on all swales and earth embankments, together with some 40 fruit trees and 40 indigenous shade trees. The grey water from the existing “Lilliput” package treatment plant was re-routed into a reedbed as the final “polishing” treatment before flowing into a gravity fed irrigation system to the newly established vegetable beds, which were now somewhat protected from harsh winds due to the vetiver grassed swales which created a new micro-climate. The grey water from my garden flat which had flowed into a septic tank, was now re-routed into a concrete sump box with a sand filter and vetiver grass before flowing into my own small vegetable garden.
The New Moon Training Centre used the EcoBeam system (www.ecobuildtechnologies.com) and was designed and supervised by professional engineers. The building is a 12 sided structure of 10m diameter and approximately 80m2. The building has a timber frame structure with sand bag infill walling; external and internal plaster finishes; a timber floor deck; and, a grass roof with a skylight.
Once complete, the New Moon Centre was marketed and used for various talk and slide shows about “conversations that matter”, which deal with sustainable and spiritual lifestyles. The Centre has also been used for Permaculture training courses and several spiritual awareness talks / courses, as well as, regular “5 Rhythms” dancing.
This project has created a niche opportunity for teaching about sustainable lifestyles. It continues to promote “practicing the emergence of sustainable living within community” by hosting various talks and related training courses.
This project has shown the way insofar as demonstrating sustainable building systems with a low ecological footprint; grey water systems; a Permaculture landscape to grow some food; and, teaching about sustainability.
The Ecobeam building system has shown its worth, whilst a unique water proofing system for the grass roof was designed in conjunction with Kaytech (www.kaytech.co.za), the manufacturers of a wide range of geofabrics for the construction industry.
This project has also tested the consensus decision making process within the intentional community. The project has been an invaluable experience in working with and directing local semi-skilled labour to establish the various project components.
The overriding lesson was that in today’s world it is somewhat difficult to try and live “off grid” without first being financially independent, as an individual, and, as a community.