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A Complete Introduction to Earthen Building Techniques (Cob, Earthbag, Wattle and Daub)

March 1, 2020 ∞ 5:00 pm - March 7, 2020 ∞ 7:00 am


Intro to Ecological Construction

For thousands of years, people have been building their homes out of the dirt beneath their feet. Natural and vernacular building techniques have roots in every culture around the world, but share the distinction of using local materials, being energy efficient, and having a low ecological footprint. Only during the past century have natural building methods been replaced by the construction industry which is characterized by an unsustainable sourcing of non-renewable resources, energy inefficient design, and a huge carbon footprint.

Natural building techniques allows individuals to use their hands and feet to form earth mixed with sand and straw, a sensory and aesthetic experience similar to sculpting with clay. Natural building is easy to learn, inexpensive to build, and lends itself to organic shapes such as curved walls, arches and niches. Earth homes are cool in summer and warm in winter and maximize the capture of natural sources of energy. Natural building methods don´t contribute to deforestation, pollution or mining nor depend on manufactured materials or power tools. In this age of environmental degradation, dwindling natural resources, and chemical toxins hidden in our homes, doesn’t it make sense to return to nature’s most abundant, cheap and healthy building material?

Summary About Logistics

This six day workshop will cover considerations on picking a house site including passive solar design, building a rubble trench and natural rock and lime mortar foundation, wattle and daub wall construction, earth bag construction, cob construction, and natural, earthen plasters. We offer private transportation from the Guatemalan airport to Santiago Atitlan and vice versa. Lodging options include comfortable local hotels or home stays with local families. Included in the price of the workshop is a day-long tour of several communities around Lake Atitlan to experience and learn about other types of natural construction. Also, participants will have the opportunity to participate in several recreational and cultural activities during the evenings to learn more about the unique culture and history of the Tz´utujil people.

About Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is one of the three major tourist attractions of Guatemala, sharing the distinction with the ancient Mayan center of Tikal and the classic Spanish colonial city of Antigua. The Lake lies in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, 80 miles west of Guatemala City and three hours by car along the Pan American Highway.

Lake Atitlan has long been considered by discriminating travelers to be among the most physically beautiful lakes in the world. But, the magic is not just the Lake. It is also the surrounding volcanoes and escarpments that frame this 130-square kilometer surface of sparkling water. It is the sun and breeze, playing on the Lake’s surface, nudging it into revealing its capriciously changeable character.

The enchantment of the Lake is also found in the proud but friendly Mayan people living along its shores that hold to the essence of their cultural identities while adapting to modern conveniences that fit their pragmatically adjusting view of the Universe.

About the Tz’utujil People and Santiago Atitlan

The Popul Vuh describes the mythic journey and arrival of seven tribes of warriors to a place called Tulan. In this account, the Tz’utujil are the first of the seven tribes to arrive. Existing evidence indicates that Tz’utujil-speakers once occupied the territory surrounding Lake Atitlán as well as the southern expanse of territory to the coastal lowlands.

The word “Tz’utujil” means “Corn Flower.” Today Tz’utujil is spoken in the towns of San Pablo, San Juan, San Pedro, Chicacao, and Santiago Atitlan. “Atitlan,” a word of Nahuatl origin, means “close to the water.”

Santiago Atitlan is the largest of the 12 lakeside communities and is the principal population center of the Tz’utujil people. Its population is over 32,000, with about 95% indigenous. The town is located on the embankment of broken lava at the foot of Volcano Toliman, across the bay from the pre-Conquest Tz’utujil capital, Chuitinamit.

The survival of the Tz’utujil Maya and the existence of present day Santiago Atitlan, one of the largest intact communities in the Americas, give powerful testimony to the spirit of Tz’utujil resistance.

The Infrastructure You´re Helping to Build

On a pragmatic level, the Utz´ K´aslimaal Collective seeks to demonstrate a tangible example of sustainable living, ecological land design, and natural construction. All of the structures built on the land are made from locally available, natural materials. In the long term, we hope to build a center to launch a diverse array of educational programs that allow Western people to learn from indigenous people, engage in exchanges of mutual solidarity, and offer a new standard of tourism that involves and values the local community, culture, and environment.

Community Involvement

As an organization that seeks to belong to and participate in the life of the community that has accepted us, this workshop will also open spaces for local Tz´utujil youth to learn about natural construction techniques. The migration of young people to North American is a huge issue affecting the local community. Many young people choose to migrate in order to raise money to build a modern home of their own which can be prohibitively expensive. Through helping young people to discover the vernacular, beautiful and natural methods of construction, we also hope to add a small contribution towards helping young Tz´utujil people stay in their communities.

Guatemala has gained international notoriety as a country reeling with violence from youth gangs and drug trafficking.  However, the vast majority of this violence is confined to the urban areas of the country.  The town of Santiago Atitlan, where the workshop will be held, is a quiet, peaceful town where violence of any type is a rarity.  Workshop participants will be picked up directly from the airport and driven (by van) to the small town of Santiago which is about 3 hours west of Guatemala City.

Natural Building Techniques to be Taught

Rubble Trench and Stone Stem wall: Instead of relying on concrete footers, we will explore how you can build a strong, reliable foundation for your home that offers both structural and drainage functions with nothing but natural materials.

Wattle and Daub: This simple wall construction technique uses a lattice of wood that is then filled in and plastered with earthen materials. It is among the most anti-seismic building materials known.

Earthbag: Filling polypropylene sacks with stabilized earth allows you to build massive, thick, and sturdy walls for your home. We´ll be building a fence out of earthbags during this workshop.

Cob: A mixture of sand, clay and straw allows you to build the walls to your home that can then be sculpted into any design that you choose. The thick walls also function as a thermal mass to effectively heat your home.

Natural Plasters: A naturally built structure is nothing but a mud hut until you add the finishing touches of a natural, earthen or lime-based plaster which turns your mud hut into an earthen home.

Each day of the workshop will offer a mix of classroom style conceptual/theoretical instruction in the mornings and several hours of practice with the different natural building methodologies that we´ll be using. We will also have the opportunity to visit several naturally built structures around the Lake and process what we´ve been learning at the end of each day. Each participant will receive a booklet with information on the natural building methods that we´ll be covering and electronic copies of several leading books in the natural building niche.

The $500 workshop cost covers:

Lodging in a clean and comfortable local hostel with a view of the lake, or a homestay with a friendly indigenous family. (You can choose which you prefer).

  • Five (full) days of workshop.
  • A day tour of the Lake, in which you will travel by boat to different towns to see magnificent examples of the very natural building techniques you have been learning about and putting into practice.
  • Daily you will be provided with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and refreshments.
  • Numerous activities that engage the rich local Tz’utujil culture and that invite you to experience the recreational possibilities of the surrounding environment.
  • Educational materials

What Is the Utz’ K’aslimaal Collective?

Almost all indigenous cultures around the world have a unique understanding of what it means to live the Good Life. For the Mayan Tz´utujil people of Guatemala, the Good Life, or Utz´ K´aslimaal, is characterized by a life of balance, of proper relationships with the community and the land which holds them, and the fullness of a simple life lived well. The Utz´ K´aslimaal Collective believes that the indigenous concept of the Good Life and the inimitable worldview of the Mayan peoples from Guatemala especially, offers needed guidance, wisdom, and a practical path forward in the light of the multiple crises we collectively face on a global scale. Through our connections with the indigenous communities and territories around Guatemala, and through the ecological development of a small piece of land in Santiago Atitlan, we hope to offer a glimpse into how the Good Life might open pathways for the construction of sustainable, just, and balanced communities around the world.


March 1, 2020 ∞ 5:00 pm
March 7, 2020 ∞ 7:00 am
Event Category:


Bahia de Santiago, Santiago Atitlan
Bahia de Santiago, Aldea Tzanchaj
Santiago Atitlan, Solola 503 Guatemala
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(502) 5359-4302


Utz´ K´aslimaal Collective
(502) 5359-4302
View Organizer Website