The last week of April this year, the Building Man hemp construction workshop was held in the remote desert of Utah. Stephen Clarke, a hemp advocate and builder based in Mexico, led the workshop along with World Hemp Alliance partners Stephen Cutter and Thatcher Michelsen. Clarke said the harsh desert is a good place to test hemp building because of the extreme weather swings.
He said that the spot had once been a military missile base because of its remoteness. “We have been told that nothing built out there has lasted, so we are taking up the challenge.” He said, noting that a structure proving it will withstand the conditions there would last anywhere.
Clarke said that one of the reasons organizer Scotty Soltronic selected the location is because having to work in a remote place without standard access to tools and resources forces resilience and creativity.
For a week participants worked on creating hemp bricks and then formed them into a dome structure using “treebar” provided by Lucas Noble from E3 Agriculture – a natural rebar product made from hemp, glass and basalt fibers bound together with a plant-based epoxy. “Making bricks every day helps participants connect with what it takes to build.” Clarke said, explaining that people are often afraid of trying to build themselves because they believe it’s more difficult than it is.
Clarke is passionate about teaching how easy it is to build with hemp and explained that he strives to impart a basic concept: if you make five bricks a day for a year you will then have enough to build a 1000 square foot house. “It’s as easy as putting natural mixed elements into a form or mold,” he said.
Clarke said that models and simulations are great but the best way to test hemp building is to expose it to as many different conditions as possible and see how it does. He noted that his work has taken him to many places around the world where buildings are still made by hand, making hemp a natural solution that can be locally grown.
In this, the second year of the natural building event, the hemp was grown five miles away, further showing participants that natural, local building materials are possible to grow for themselves. Clarke also described working with mud, clay and various pozzolans in the workshop to show participants how local materials can become the binder of choice.
The last few days of the event welcomed weekend visitors for an art festival in which attendees create art from found and recycled materials. The dome building continued, Clarke said, and “anybody at the festival can join and make bricks,” noting that a nice aspect of having the art festival was that visitors would walk up and become interested in the building project. Clarke believes that art and building are one and the same, and explains that when he works in Mexico the houses are unique custom creations.
For the next Building Man, Clarke said they are planning to use waste from the well-known Burning Man festival to grow a hemp plot and make more domes with the material. Workshops are a way of systematically sharing the knowledge, he explained, and the collaborative art community is a great setting with a receptive audience. “We practice a philosophy of ‘Grow your house, Grow your food, Grow your medicine, Grow your freedom,’” he said. “That is what hemp can provide.”