Madhuban Housing Project Overview

Janmastami is a good day to begin things, and we are beginning to think about a sustainable housing project to be built at Madhuban where the residents will be focused on oxen based agriculture. The following is a report prepared for us by Annie Warmke of Blue Rock Station.

The Overall Perspective

Our goal is to use biomimicry (an attempt by humans to imitate nature) where ever possible, to create an overall lifestyle of partnership with nature. This practice expands to include how we eat, work and generally live our lives.

The process of designing and creating buildings that are rooted in a philosophy that incorporates biomimicry into the process is hardly a new idea. However, it is an idea that will have many important implications for the future of the planet. This awareness incorporates a holistic thinking about the earth, the environment, humankind and all of the creatures that are needed to support human life.

By learning the skills required, and participating in the construction of shelters, at Blue Rock Station we have found that people become much more aware of their impact on the planet and the choices they face. This new-found awareness can increase or reduce their impact on the earth People have also expressed that the process helps them gain a bit more control in their lives – a sense that they are able to monitor and repair building systems over the life of the structure.

And finally, by its very nature, construction utilizing sustainability concepts helps in the building of community. The shared labor required due to the low-material high-labor techniques tend to bring groups together, cooperating towards a shared common goal (construction of the building).

Principles of Sustainable Construction

This is a brief overview of the principles we employ at Blue Rock Station, a 38-acre sustainability demonstration homestead.

Location, location, location:

All buildings are consciously positioned and oriented with the latitude, contours and other natural features in mind in order to take advantage of the physical dynamics present upon the Earth.

  • Passive Solar: Most of the time buildings in the northern hemisphere can capture maximum sunlight (solar gain) in the winter by orienting them (along with abundant windows) on the south side of the structure. Awnings can be used to restrict sunlight (heat) during the summer months.
  • Thermal Mass: By using the thermal properties of the earth, it is possible to create the “cave effect” which establishes a permanent winter indoor temperature of 55 to 56 degrees F within certain buildings.
  • Prevailing Winds: Structures can also be oriented to take advantages of or protect against prevailing weather patterns.

Use what’s available:

  • Discarded materials (“clean garbage”) are plentiful throughout the world. In West Virginia, these materials may include cans, bottles and salvaged building materials (such as barns and other buildings that are scheduled to be torn down). Buildings can be designed with these materials in mind. The cost and value of the project then not only includes the end product, but the true cost may also factor in how much garbage was kept from being hauled and dumped in landfills. Local manufacturing facilities often have waste materials such as packing containers, unusable input materials, etc that could be incorporated into the design of specific projects.
  • Locally sourced materials (earth, wood, stones, etc) can also be used and contribute to the ecological nature of the project.


  • Birds understand that in order to make a proper nest that is warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot, they must make do with local readily available building materials such as grass, feathers, bits of twine, etc. When creating structures for humans, this gathering process can include using things like slate from roofs, re-used insulation, cupboards re-used from another building, sinks and plumbing fixtures gleaned from auctions or second-hand shops.

Water Collection:

  • Water is the “oil” of this century. It is important to create structures that anticipate how water accumulates and flows on the land. Sustainable building practices need to include water collection in cisterns, and vegetated (living) roofs.


  • Some scientists report that the most serious issue facing the planet is the need to replenish the soil. Collecting biodegradable materials from the home and farm is a great way to accomplish this goal. A variety of techniques are inexpensive and efficient including worm bins, composting toilets, composting bins and other larger types of composting systems (good examples can be found at Malabar Farms, Ohio).

Black water treatment:

  • In dealing with human waste, it is necessary to understand the volume of material that will be generated in a traditional toilet. It is not necessary to mix the gray water (waste water from sinks, showers and other non-toilet waste-water sources) with black water (waste originating in toilets and other highly polluted sources). Black water can be treated in a number of systems that are on the market today.
  • One important concept of sustainable living is that whatever is generated on the site, must be dealt with on the site (it is not a simple matter of flush and forget). What is used and how it is disposed of becomes a daily conscious choice.

Some Advantages of using clean garbage:

Clean garbage is plentiful. Bottles, cans and tires are useful for filling in the space that make up wall cavities in structures. The garbage itself is “invisible” because the finished wall will be covered over (with some sort of material) to create a smooth finish.

Since it is merely a matter of filling in space, it seems logical to utilize materials destined for the waste stream for this purpose. Understanding the various physical properties of the waste material (insulating value, thermal mass, ability or inability to decompose) assists in selecting the right material to assist in the specific project.


Over 350 million tires are abandoned annually in the US alone. Tires rammed with earth create bricks that are capable of forming solid walls that will actually absorb heat and radiant that warmth back into the room. When used properly as part of the structure, they create a sturdy wall that will last forever. An added bonus is that tires do not deteriorate, so that if the building would need to be dismantled in the future, the same tires could be re-used in other walls, become raised beds or, by the time they would need to be removed, used for a variety of other purposes. Since tires used this way are not subjected to oxygen, sunlight or water, there is no fire risk and there appears to be no leaching (based on extensive tests) of chemicals used in their manufacture.


Bottles are plentiful, especially brown ones. When used to create walls they also provide some insulation factor (both for warmth/cooling and sound). Bottles can also be cut and taped together to create openings for light – adding an artistic effect to the wall. Plastic as well as glass bottles can be used for this purpose, although glass bottles tend to provide better structural support (not crushed by the weight of the mud or other materials used during construction).


When used to create walls, they also provide some insulation factor (both for warmth/cooling and sound) derived from the trapped air they contain. The use of cans and/or bottles can also extend the other materials required (less adobe or cobb required, to build the walls). Also, when arrayed in a honeycomb pattern, the cans help create a lighter, but also a stronger structure than solid clay (for example).

Straw bales

A variety of baled straw products are available throughout the US (wheat, rice, barley, and others). They can provide a high insulation factor to a building and are renewable in that they are the byproduct of industrial grain production. Straw bale construction is a mature and widespread building technique. Many governmental bodies have already adopted codes and standards that apply to straw bale (no need to reinvent anything or spend a lot of time in education). In order to be effective, straw bales must remain dry over the life of the building – requiring particular attention to modifying traditional foundations and roof overhangs.

Low cost

No building material or process is “free”. While energy is used to transport re-used and re-purposed goods, and there is often a high labor cost, the true price for the structure is less than the true price of a traditionally built structure.


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Reader Comments

I lived in Madhuban in one of the Prabhupada (rammed earth) houses for 5 years. About 10′ square/2 story/corrugated steel roof . Loved it.

Regarding using tires for wallbuilding , filling them with mud takes forever. Good for corner columns .

But maybe they could be used hollow as interior wall structure , instead of studs . Attach them tread to tread in a lattice . Brace the inside, set outside forms and pour the mud walls .
Then screwgun paneling rite into the tires .
GR8 dead air space !!

Yes, super labor intensive, good for young people with lots of energy and no money.

They use straw bales for interior walls.