Lotan - Mud building workshop

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Middle East » Israel » South District
June 22nd 2009
Published: February 7th 2010
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For some reason, unbeknown to me, we thought it may be a good idea to find out a bit more about building from mud. I think we are thinking ahead for when we travel (I hope) to South America, we thought it may be a skill that would come in handy.

Well, suffice to say we were told by a friend in Haifa about this Kibbutz in the middle of the desert who are an ‘Eco’ friendly centre for learning and have build most of their kibbutz using mud and straw. As luck would have it they were running their very last course before the summer shut down (it get up to 40+ degrees there in the summer so it is too hot to run the courses or do anything much). There was a place available, so before I had time to think about it we were on another bus from Haifa back on the road to Eilat. Another 4 to 5 hour journey along a road that I was beginning to get to know well.

We were dropped on the side of the road. This really was in the middle of nowhere and the driver showed us the track to take towards the Kibbutz Lotan. It was hot already but luckily for me a random car going towards the kibbutz stopped and took us the last part of the journey.

Entering the Kibbutz is a real treat, here in the middle of the sun baked Arrava, was a green oasis, the grass was so thick, and there was even a grass football pitch. The buildings around were beautiful, an array of different and very individual buildings either completely made from mud or covered and enhanced by the wonderful designs and patterns made using the adobe mix. My head felt as if it was rotating at a rate of knots, there was so much to see and take in, not only the buildings but some fabulous metal and scrap sculptures mainly of birds. I later found the reason for this, as not only is it an ‘Eco’ village but it is also famous for the bird life here, and they have build a huge bird watch hide. You can see more at www.birdingisrael.com. If you would like to see some of the buildings and read a bit about the Kibbutz you can by going to www.kibbutzlotan.com, or check out my facebook photo’s, there are certainly enough of them on that!

We were given a lovely little room with a kitchen area and a bathroom, and it was air-conditioned. Outside there were lovely sitting area’s in shade and the odd hammock under a tree, as I said before, lovely green lawns and wonderful Bougainvillaea, herbs, and an array of flowering trees and bushes I do not know the name of.

It was fairly ‘In at the deep end’, we had about an hour or so when we first arrived to have a quick cool down in their swimming pool, then the course started.

There were ten of us on the course, all ages and backgrounds. We started with an introductory session, then went straight into the nuts and bolts of the course. We had a break for supper at seven p.m., lovely food served up in the Kibbutz canteen, then went on with the course until about eleven, ending with a video on the subject. It had been a long day, followed by the intensive session, and added to that the heat; I was shattered, I was so glad to see my bed that night.

The next morning started at seven am, breakfast, then the course from eight. It was a full on day of practical and theory, all in Hebrew, so for me it was a challenge to follow it all, but the group were all very kind and translated or the teachers every now and then threw in a bit of English. It is amazing how much you can understand even if you don’t understand the words. My Hebrew vocabulary has now grown to about forty words, and I can ask some basic questions like where is….. how are you, the only problem is when they reply I haven’t a clue what they are saying…..oh well am sure one day it will click, but it is a very hard, very foreign language for a Brit., and trying to decipher the written Hebrew is near impossible for me, but I am still trying. Anyway, I digress, back to the subject. This is the way the course went for the whole three days, full on from one place in the Kibbutz to another, some hands on, some theory, some video, and seemingly not a moment to spare, even the food breaks were under pressure of time.

We made mud bricks, did soil testing to see what mix would work best, we built with the bricks, we build part of the seating for the new football ground using tyres and mud. We mixed different types of soils to make different layers, coarse for the first layers, finer for the second and plaster finish for the top layer. Some mixes with straw, some with donkey/horse manure, some with cow hair etc. We learnt how to make an outdoor oven, a bit like a pizza oven. We built a straw house, (only on a small scale), learnt how to go about it, how and why you pin the bales, where you pin and with what. A mud and straw hut or shed can be built very quickly, especially here where it is hot and everything dries out so quickly.

We went round the Eco village, saw their recycling centre, they collect rubbish from all over the area to recycle. They have build a test village out of straw and mud, the houses are all dome shaped, this is to see if they can get the inside temperatures lower for the summer. Heat here really is a big problem especially in the four hottest months, her in this village they use 20%!m(MISSING)ore electricity per year per capita all due to the use of air conditioning.

We saw and learnt about composting toilets, we learnt about water systems, how to purify water using plants, we touched on the subject of permaculture, we learnt how to make a slow cooker using a bit of foil, glass and the sun. We did a bit of sculpture using the softer mud mix, this bit I really enjoyed as it was like working with clay and I was able to make one of my masks which now sits on one of the walls in Lotan Kibbutz. All in all it was a fascinating and informative few days. I like the idea of using natural local materials to build a home, however, I am not sure that West Wilts Council would agree with me. Funnily enough here at the kibbutz they had a fire test done on the straw and mud walls, it took over three hours for the heat to penetrate the walls…. Incredible, and if there is a fire within the walls, this will just smoulder so long as the air is not let in, apparently in the USA they are coming up with methods to put out a fire of this kind, I think using carbon monoxide to suffocate the fire. The fire brigades there like this way of fighting the fires, as it is so much safer for them and the occupants.

There were a few things I was not so comfortable with about the ‘Eco’ village. These were that they used old tyres for a lot of their structures (it is expensive in the Arrava to get straw, as it has to be brought by road from the North of the country). They also use a lot of recycled plastics as in-fill on the walls, and they use old glass bottles and jars within their buildings (the glass for some reason I was not so unhappy about). They also used metal structures as opposed to wood. My understanding of an ‘Eco’ building is that in years to come when it falls into disrepair and degredates, it returns to the earth. When asked about the use of these materials, their answer was that it was sustainable landfill. I suppose in a place where it is difficult to get hold of materials and there is a lot of waste then they are using it in the best manner they have open to them at the moment. Let’s just hope that in years to come, there is some solution to the waste of plastics and rubber, or otherwise the Arrava will be a sea of both.

It cannot all be bad as they run so many courses here. They have a few longer term courses on ‘Eco’ building and Permaculture and these are supported by many universities and go towards points for degrees, they also have a great deal of students from many different countries coming over to study. They hold many lectures and give advice to many architects and authorities on the subject also.

Well the course eventually ended, my head was reeling with the information overload. But it had been good. The others on the course were friendly, the people who ran the course were enthusiastic and helpful and in fact have given me names and emails of other Eco projects both in Israel and South America where I may be able to go and help as a volunteer.


29th April 2015

This was very informative. I'm thinking of signing up for a two week course at Kibbutz Lotan this summer. Would you recommend it for somebody who would like to learn about permaculture?

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