Monday, June 20, 2011

The Earthaven Ecovillage Community Center (Photos Included!)

Hello friends,

Having taken a relatively long hiatus from posting to the blog, it would be easy to assume that I’ve neglected my blogmaster duties altogether. Yet, I’m happy to announce that I’ve been saving up, and that blog postings in the coming weeks will be plentiful, indeed! I’ll be releasing photos and thoughts of and on Earthaven Ecovillage in five different installments devoted to 1) the community center and Council Hall, 2) my current dwelling (Brian Love’s house); 3) Earthaven’s natural beauty; and 4) community infrastructure and other impressive innovations; 5) the community as it presents itself to the “outside world”. Of course, I’ll be devoting time to social conventions and community governance in later blog postings, but due to the overwhelming request for pictures and the relative complexity of community governance, this will come later. Also-a special thanks to Klara Wengman, who supplied the camera.

Upon entering Earthaven Ecovillage property, a quarter-mile journey will usher you to what is quite prominently the community center. It is to this integral, multi-purpose, and ever-developing, corner of the community that I will focus this blog entry. The center of the community consists of the Village Green, the Council Hall, the Council Hall Plaza, a mail shack, and children’s play area. If you’ve read my previous posting about the Beltane celebration in late may, you’ve already been exposed to the community’s Village Green, an open lawn that I’ve seen used as a play field, performance space, ritual observance space, picnic area, and meeting spot—and all in just one month. The oval-shaped lawn is elevated several free from the road, and rimmed by a wall of young trees and a threatening swale of poison ivy (watch out!). Both the subtle elevation and the living plant wall serve to define the space well. It’s simple, elegant landscape architecture. Last night, a group of Earthaven members, guests, and I performed a solstice ritual that began in the Village Green with a meditation circle, and later moved to another “sacred” wooded space in the community. The details of this event will have to wait for a later post, however.

(Above: The Village Green and Maypole)

The Council Hall

Just uphill and to the west of the Village Green lies what I perceive as the most sacred, human-constructed space in the community: the Council Hall (CH). As I write, I’m beginning to realize the extent to which the Council Hall lies at the physical, spiritual, legal, and social convergence of Earthaven Ecovillage. Many of the community’s most inspiring successes (e.g. hydroelectric power) and on-going tensions (e.g. the desirability and/or legal status of flush toilets) manifest physically at this building. In my first several days living at Earthaven, it was to the Council Hall that I would wander in an attempt to integrate myself into community events, and while the space is currently the most accessible building to visitors, it has also witnessed the community’s most private conversations. Within a week of my time here, I was instructed to avoid the Council Hall for an afternoon as community members “threshed” through a private internal controversy. The simultaneous private and public nature of the building yields a layered social complexity unlike any other community building.

(Above: The southern wall of the Council Hall, plus the Council Hall plaza including a covered pavilion for outdoor meals and activities.)

Like most projects at Earthaven the Council Hall is an ongoing experiment, but its initial construction began in 1998, four years after the official founding of the community. The building serves as a meeting space for larger and small groups, an entertainment space (having just hosted an amazing concert by Chikomo Marimba Band), a yoga studio, a communal eating space, the Earthaven office, an internet portal, a DVD/board game/council minutes library, and offers a small kitchen for community events.

The building is principally circular, accommodating an open wooden floor encircled by off-white tulip poplar trunks. Tulip popular is one of the most common trees in the region and boasts a hand-shaped leaf, the likes of which I had not seen prior to my arrival. The wooden floor is a shoe-free zone and generally vacant of furniture when not in active use. Just inside the tulip popular perimeter sits rocking chairs, benches, and other assorted seats that are rearranged for council meetings that take place every Sunday. At the north side of the circle sits two large white boards, one of which bears the community calendar and to which meeting agendas are posted so participants can keep track of time.

The circle is capped by a yurt-style roof (there is a technical name for this, I’m sure) and the bottom rim of the roof is decorated with colorful reminders of the community’s mission statements. They include, for example, “Practice fair, participatory, and effective self governance” and “Shift from wasteful to regenerative use of resources.”

(Above: The Council Hall ceiling)

(Above: Thirteen banners on the Council Hall walls remind inhabitants of the community's mission.)

Passive and active temperature regulation

The exterior of the building is protected by white plaster, which, according to one source, has been neglected and is in need of repair. The white plaster, however, reflects sunlight away during the summer, keeping the building relatively cool while its vast, south-facing windows allow sunlight to illuminate the open Council Hall floor. The wall on the northern half of the building uses straw bale construction while the southern wall is filled with a clay-straw mix. Straw bale serves as an insulator, a temperature barrier, while clay-straw mix serves both as an insulator and as thermal mass, storing and releasing heat over time. So while the building’s southern wall is constantly absorbing and releasing solar energy, the northern wall traps it inside.

(Above: The plaster finish of the Council Hall sustaining some patchwork.)

The south-facing windows of the Council Hall were designed to allow for passive solar heating during the winter, but the community found that passive heating alone was insufficient. They’ve therefore invested in a wood-fired radiant heat system that resides beneath the wooden floorboards. The same wood burning system that fuels the radiant heat also heats the water in the kitchen, which lies on the north side of the building. According to one tour guide, the new wood burning stove has, “revolutionized” life at Earthaven.

Living roof experiment

I’ve arrived at Earthaven just in time to see the beginning construction stages of the living roof experiment atop the Council Hall. These first steps are the culmination of a decade of discussion and debate surrounding the wisdom of a living roof in a completely pavement-free place. My understanding, however, is that the opposing sides have agreed to move forward with a one-year long pilot project that applies a living roof to one-fourth of the Council Hall roof. I had the privilege of helping to apply layer one: used carpeting. The carpet was recovered from the hallway of an old apartment building, and smells like a year’s worth of accumulated mildew, but after we cover it in sifted dirt and sedums, the smell won’t much matter.

Stay tuned for more postings on Earthaven buildings, foliage, and community governance!


  1. Thank you Robby! Your post is so informative about your goals and the mission of the community. I especially appreciate how clear your voice is in your writing. You are so engaging and your enthusiasm for your work comes through. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Wow! I can't believe you were/are at Earthaven! You're a good man.

  3. I am speechless. The photos are breathtaking.
    Your article was very informative. I just did a brief post about an ecovillage around here.

    I wish you luck in your academic pursuits. I completed a master's degree, so I know how much work is involved going for that doctorate. It's worth it! Keep trucking.

  4. Hey Robby, great article. I stumbled upon it while doing some research, and then realized who you were. I hope all is well and your teaching is going smoothly.



  5. Hello,
    I'm looking for photos of resilient communities for an article in 'Environmental Building News' and love your photo of the inside of the Council Hall, If you'd consider giving us permission to use it, I can send along our artwork release form.
    Thanks very much!

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