Reclaiming Space

 |  November 26, 2009

Formerly a rubbish-filled, forgotten corner of Lanna International School is currently being transformed into a lush organic garden. The garden will be surrounded by walls done in adobe – an ancient, natural building technique that will enable you to actually build almost cost-free mansions out of dirt.
[right]by Hakan Jakob Kosar[/right]

Up until August this year a neglected corner of Lanna International School was an eyesore pestering students, teachers and the surrounding neighbours alike. Filled with broken glass, rubbish and other unwanted items, it was far from an inspirational vista – and not the place to go for a barefooted stroll. History teacher Kip Otteson thought it would be a great lesson for the students to learn how they – with very few resources, but plenty of physical labour and teamwork – could convert this carbuncle into something more scenic.

Inspired by the work of his sister-in-law at the organic farming and sustainable living and learning centre Pun Pun, Kip decided to clean up the place, bring in fresh dirt, and create a small organic garden with edible produce. The main objective would not be the garden itself but the process of constructing it in a sustainable manner, and of course learning along the way.

“It is all about reclaiming space and making something rubbishy, beautiful and useful,” Otteson says.

To further reinforce the sustainable aspect, Otteson decided to enclose the garden with adobe walls. Adobe is a natural building material made of sand, clay, water and some kind of fibrous material such as straw or twigs which is kneaded, put into a shape and sundried to form very durable bricks. It dates back to ancient times and accounts for some of the oldest existing buildings.

“Our adobe is made from local dirt and rice husks which is plentiful in Thailand. It is the most natural building material, 100 % biodegradable and very forgiving to work with,” Otteson explains.

A quick Google will show you some impressive images from around the world of multiple storage luxurious adobe houses.

The gardening and building project involves kids from different grades. They work on it 40 minutes a week participating in clearing the lot, mixing the adobe substance, making bricks, building and in the future also gardening. Otteson expects the garden to be ready around Christmas. He and the other teachers at the international school implement the building project into many different subjects. Calculating the amount of needed bricks in math classes, discussing the physics of adobe construction in science classes, talking about ancient buildings in history classes – according to Otteson it is a very good practical example-enhancing learning. And the kids also seem quite enthusiastic about the project.

“It is a very good project. Students can make both the school and community more natural. It is hard work, but I don’t mind. I like the fact that we are using nature to build instead of concrete,” says Linkyi – a 17 years old student from the school.

Otteson would love to see his idea borrowed by other schools. He believes that it is highly empowering for the students to see how much they can actually achieve with their own hands. The environmental aspects are also much needed in this day and age he explains. The energy and CO2 connected with modern-day building materials are eliminated with the use of adobe and the focus on organic gardening is quite sensible when the toxicity of pesticides are taken into account.

“Ideally my students could go around to other schools and teach them how to do this themselves,” Otteson says with a dreamy twinkle in his eye as he tips his big straw hat and is off to see how the bricklaying is proceeding.