Samo Terra Community, Bulgaria

Straw Bale, Timber frame, Community House in Rodopi Mountains

In the Rodopi Mountains of Bulgaria, SAWA has recently been working an exciting project fro a new community: Samo Terra.

Samo Terra is a non profit organisation and a collective of healers and teachers, headed by Benjamin Sasse. The project here was to build a Community House with natural and local materials and resource to showcase how we can have a much lighter impact on the planet. looking carbon into the build. Planting and composting re cycling waste nutrients back into the ground and food system. Using appropriate technology such as installing a compost heating system, add a natural roof for efficient insulation and dry compost toilet, the building will be a another achievement in showcasing how building structures can be healthy for the environment.

The philosophy behind this project is to make use of materials available locally and design a structure and a functional house as ecologically as possible, with minimum to zero environmental impact. To have a building that is socially mindful, employing local craftsmanship, local resources and for the community.

The main frame of building was fabricated with  timber sourced from local forests with cob stone foundation up-stands.

Alongside these timber frames, the build has used hay bales from local farmers, earth dug from the ground, local craftsmanship and a team of like minded individuals interested in Natural Building.

Natural buildings offer many advantages over concrete including, lower cost, lower embodied energy, lower energy cost of running, so more effective to run long term. Reclaiming materials goes hand in hand with natural building, being so versatile and forgiving in its construction methodology and practice.

An example of reclamation in the build were the windows that were reused, particularly for the solar green house. This is a great way of using materials that would previously have gone to landfill or incinerated, polluting the natural environment and potentially harming wildlife. This also reduces build costs and gives character and history to this ‘new build’.

Turfing of the living roof – hoping to last for 100 years. Why keep repairing a roof when your roof will repair itself? It also provides excellent water retenion through the slow drain of water through the roof into the drainpipe system where the water can then be collected.

An incredible piece of appropriate technology used within Paul’s House was a Rocket Stove Mass Heater [RMH]. The photos above outline the assembly process. An RMH is a form of slow release radiant heating system. The sub-type used on site was a cob-style RMH, where the heater riser is made of a mixture of clay, sand and straw. The key benefits if this heater are as follows: Firstly, according to anecdotes, a rocket mass heater might reduce fuel consumption by 80–90% compared to “conventional” stoves; Secondly, it is a long term heats store – fire goes out at night but warmth carries through well into the morning; Third of all, it is a self-buildable, low cost and recyclable heating solution.

Another heating method used in the build was a compost heater. This harnesses the heat generated from exothermic reactions in the decomposition of organic matter. This is a very low cost system, using a re purpose IBC, water barrel, agricultural pipe, and a lot of manure, straw and compostable waste.

A hougal bed is a form of raised bed construction that consists of layers of bio mass that will soak up water and therefore provide plants with more consistent moisture levels in the soil even through drier months. This consists of dense materials such as logs, and then is layered with thinner organic matter and finally covered with compost or top soil for planting into.

A swale system was dug downhill of the house. Swales are dug to obstruct the downhill run-off of rain water, and create perfect channels to plant along as the new typography self-irrigates. At Samo Terra, 40 fruit and nut trees have been planted to reap the rewards of this system.

When it comes to design in permaculture, keep it simple! A selection of sketches below illustrate that simple designs that are well executed will always prevail.

This build is Paul’s House although he says “It’s a house for everyone!”. The house will be shared by the community, with future goals to build an Eco Village, showing examples of building in a regenerative way. The community will run various courses for a diverse age group focusing on Natural Building, Permaculture, Yoga, Meditation, Retreats and Organic Farming.

Last winter, the Rodopi Mountains welcomed as much as half a meter of snow! The builds stood firmly nonetheless, almost disappearing into the whitewashed landscape.

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September 2019