Elements of Natural Building

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    Elements of Natural Building

    April 18 – 26, 2022

    Instructed in English with Spanish Translation

    Houses and buildings are the “nuclei” of any site, through which the majority of energy and resources flow to be either wasted or maximized for best use. And yet, most permaculture courses barely touch on physical structures! We here at Atitlan Organics think that your house and other structures deserve more attention as integral and essential parts of your overall permaculture design. That is why we offer this 9 day course grounded in the permaculture principles offering a deep dive into the art and practice of Natural Building. From stone to cob to natural plasters, you’ll learn a wide range of natural building styles and technique which can be put to use in any climate or region of the world. Learn how to reduce your footprint and maximize your efficiency all while creating beautiful, durable structures! We like to think of it as “Permaculture for Zone 0.”

    Each day is split into two parts: a hands-on practical exploration of the art and practice of natural building and classroom sessions which delve deep into topics such as bioregional design, foundations, wall systems, and troubleshooting design flaws.

    A dynamic adventure awaits. We can’t wait to meet you!



    what is natural building?

    Natural Building is many things. Broadly speaking, it is use of natural and renewable materials to create shelter for ourselves: something humans have been doing for millions of years. Natural building helps us to connect to the ecosystems we are a part of and ask what resources are abundantly available around us for creating structures. It allows for endless creativity with the raw and minimally processed materials that nature provides. Each bioregion on earth has historically developed a building vernacular that was based upon available resources.
    There are many styles of natural building that we utilize: cob, adobe, straw bale, rammed earth, wattle and daub, wood, bamboo, and stone work to name a few. But beyond the techniques and materials used, natural building also means connecting deeply with the place you are in; valuing and honoring the ecosystem to which you belong. It gives us the opportunity to build with consciousness so that our homes do not contribute to planetary destruction but rather the regeneration of the environment.
    Through the permaculture framework we begin to understand that our homes can aid in the reduction of waste through the use of recyclable and renewable resources. We can create homes that are healthy living spaces not utilizing toxic materials or requiring large amounts of maintenance and upkeep costs. Through these modalities we are able to create energy efficient designs that require less energetic inputs while offering us a beautiful, unique structure. By turning our gaze to the homes and buildings which surround us, we discover huge potential for a more sustainable and regenerative lifestyle!

    -Build personal and communal Resilience through time tested techniques

    -Connect with the wisdom of the elements

    -Resurrect your Relationship to the Natural World





    • Class is a balanced mix classroom activities presentations, hands-on work, and excursions and workshop.

    • Daily yoga, meditation, elemental ritual, song circles in the evenings, temazcali and self care/ self reflection time!

    • Kick off with an introduction to natural building modalities, revisioning of home activity, and working with the elements.

    • Learn how to handle and build with several different traditional natural materials, including adobe, cob, rammed earth, bamboo, light clay straw, bajareque, and more.

    • Lessons in building structures from foundations to roofing systems.

    • Natural building walking tour of Tzununa with builder Charlie Rendall.

    • Work on a variety of sites throughout the community, interacting with the local community and exploring a variety of way to incorporate natural building into any site.

    • Learn how to enhance your space with natural plasters and finishes.

    • Create and present your own natural building design project.



    Your Stay

    During the course participants will stay in the Bambu Guest House, a beautiful eco-hotel in the indigenous village of Tzununa. Built from all local and natural materials, the Bambu embodies the principles of Permaculture and Natural Building. All guest rooms are big and bright, and come equipped with private bathrooms with hot water, wifi, comfy beds and balconies with hammocks and amazing views of Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes. The Bambu’s farm-to-table restaurant is supplied by Atitlan Organics and other local producers and serves 3 fresh, delicious meals a day plus snacks, dessert, tea and coffee. The Bambu Guest House proves that luxury and sustainability can go hand-in-hand!


    weekly schedule:

    introductions natural building

    Day 1 : Orientation

    • Orientation & Introductions

    • Overview of the Week

    • Introduction to Design Project

    • Revisioning Home Activity

    cob natural building

    Day 2 : site analysis & The elements of Design

    • Site Analysis/Design Introduction

    • Presentation: Introduction to Foundations

    • Introduction to Natural Building Modalities

    • Practical: Working with the Elements

    rocket oven natural building

    Day 3 : Exterior Wall Systems

    • Presentation: Exterior Wall Systems

    • Practical: Adobe/Cob/Rammed Earth

    • Community Tour to Experience Wall Systems

    • Practical: Bajareque Garden Wall

    plasters natural building

    Day 4 : Interior Wall Systems

    • Presentation: Exploring Wall Systems Continued (Light Clay Straw, Slip Chip, Hempcrete, Straw Bale, Cordwood)

    • Practical: Light clay Straw

    • Presentation: Intro to Appropriate Technology


    roofing natural building

    Day 5 : Wall systems continued

    • Presentation: Artistic expression through Natural Building

    • Practical: Connecting Windows/ Doors/ Shelves to wall systems

    • Practical: Sculptural Art, how to make walls magical

    project design natural building

    Day 6 : Plasters and finishings

    • Presentation: Intro to Plasters

    • Practical: Mixing Plasters and Application Techniques

    • Presentation: Natural Paints and Finishes

    • Presentation: Intro to Flooring

    DAY 7 : Framing and roof systems

    • Practical: Apply framing techniques in Bambu frame

    • Presentation: Intro to Roof Systems

    • Field trip with Charlie Rendall of Return to the Forest

    • Presentation: Wood and Bamboo Framing

    DAY 8 : Integration day

    • Practical: Continue on main project

    • Presentation: Guest teacher

    • Career applications of Natural Building

    • Presentation: Question and answer

    DAY 9 : Project Presentations / Course Closing Ritual

    Daily Schedule



    Registration is now open for Elements of Natural Building. Please know our courses fill up so please register early! The full cost of this course is $895 and includes your stay at the Bambu Guest House, all meals and snacks, facilitation, daily yoga, field trips and materials. Translation is available to those who are more comfortable speaking Spanish.

    We understand that this may not be accessible for all, If you would like to join but are having difficulties making it happen connect with us.
    email Ashley at Roottorisedesign@gmail.com if this applies to you!




    Ashley McDonell, Lead Facilitator, Foundations of Regenerative Design, Natural Building Course, a 2 week course in Permaculture and Natural Building with Atitlan Organics in Tzununa, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, Central America 2019 2020 2021


    Ashley McDonell

    Ashley was born on occupied Anishinaabe and Dakota land referred to as Minnesota. Her life at this time shifts with the seasons as she collects teachings, weaves communities and spreads the seeds that she has been given to sow. As a student of permaculture for the past 9 years she has had the privilege of learning from land based people throughout the americas, engaging with both traditional ecological knowledge and permaculture trainings. While immersed in the teachings of permaculture she found her niche in her practice as a Natural Builder. Ashley approaches this practice with respect for the elders and traditional cultures whose exploration of ecologically responsible construction offers her the modalities she works with today. Her work combines both the modern and ancient into a building practice that aims to create community based resilience through bioregionaly appropriate construction. Drawing from experiences in both the permaculture and natural building world she approaches sharing these skills from an informed place of pattern. With deep reverence for the natural systems that support our lives Ashley weaves song, story and practical knowledge into educational opportunities in the form of workshops and classes. If you would like to know more about Ashley, her studies and work, please contact her at roottorisedesign@gmail.com


    The art of creation is known in our bones, to engage with our creative energy through the practice of natural building connects us more deeply to the core of who we are as people. Natural building gifts us the opportunity to experience profound trust in our capacity to care for ourselves at the most fundamental level. Rather than outsourcing our needs we reach into ourselves to take radical responsibility for tending our lives in a more sovereign way. In doing so we deepen our resilience and capacity to respond to the ever uncertain future.

    It is an art that breeds freedom, it gifts us the ability to know our relationship to the great web of the world in a new way. Natural building is a primal practice that has been done for thousands of years by those who have come before us. Opening for us an opportunity to at once reach back to connect to our ancestors while simultaneously reaching into the future as consider the generations to come in our creations. It is my prayer that all can experience the blessing of hand crafted homes imbued with meaning and significance.

    May we occupy spaces that remind us who we are, that mirror to us our beauty and our true nature. May we again be place based people who trust our bodies capacity to create knowing with certainty we can care for ourselves and this world in a good way. Through this may we all know what it feels like to belong. May we and the generations to come understand our place in the complex web of life, may we know how to nourish our relationship to all beings and understand the reciprocal nature of relating. The offer and receive. May all my work serve this vision. 



    Travel and Logistics

    Participants are expected to arrive by 2pm, but are welcome to come and check in at the Bambu Guest House any time after 11am on the start day of the course.

    Once the course starts, all food, lodging, training, and travel is covered and included in the cost of the workshop. 

    The course ends Friday at noon, following a big brunch, student presentations, and goodbyes. We can help arrange shuttles to and from the airport, Antigua, or anywhere else. Just let us know if you need this service.

    Upon registering for the course, we will send an email with lots of course info, FAQ and a food allergy questionnaire. We can accommodate almost all requests including vegan, gluten free, and vegetarian diets, etc.

    directions to the bambu guest house

    Travel to Lake Atitlan and visit Atitlan Organics Permaculture Farm in Tzununa. Study Permaculture and Natural Building Courses 2019 2020


    Traditional peoples tended to do everything mindfully and with care, making no distinction between art and work, meditation and education. In every action is a sacred process.
    — The Hand-Sculpted House

    Sarah Wu

    Sarah is a clinical herbalist of 20 years, studying and practicing planetary eclectic, regenerative herbalism with a foundation in Wise Woman Reclaiming philosophies. Influenced by global traditions, Sarah focuses on local food-based healing and ethnobotanical traditions. She leads trainings and workshops in herbal medicine, Permaculture Design Courses, Therapeutic Deep Ecology, Social Permaculture, field-to-the-plate holistic nutrition, herbal first aid and Tarot. She is a passionate mentor and educator, who believes in the teacher’s role in unlocking the innate wisdom of the student. Sarah is the co-founder of the Village Witches project, and is a Co-Founder and Co-producer of Envision Festival.

    Laura Palmieri

    Laura ‘Lala’ Palmieri is a clinical herbalist, a biologist, plant and fungi lover and grower. She offers health consultations to balance body, mind and soul working with medicinal herbs and mushrooms. Her approach to health integrates the knowledge of many ancient traditions and teachers, fusing spirituality with nature, and science with alchemy through the transformation of the elements.

    Lala has spent her years in dialogue with Nature, which has fueled her passion to integrate scientific knowledge and the connection with all beings to help humanity. She integrates her practice with cooking, gardening, and exploring ecosystems. She teaches and facilitates herbal clinics and programs in permaculture, herbalism, botany, fermentation, and medicinal mushroom cultivation, with a regenerative earth care approach and techniques that are accessible to most. She and Sarah co-created the Envision and Cosmic Converge Herbal First Aid Clinics, other relief Clinics in Guatemala for the volcano eruption. You will find Lala crafting remedies for her diverse communities in Guatemala and Costa Rica, where she is actively creating a world with integrated healthcare.

    Holly Mech

    Holly fell in love with yoga because of the sense of connection she felt every time she came to her mat. She began teaching yoga in Chicago in 2011. Her desire to deepen her teaching and personal practice led her to continue her yoga education in California, Bali, Australia and Guatemala. Holly now travels around the world teaching yoga and facilitating yoga teacher trainings. She enjoys helping new teachers sequence yoga classes and incorporate philosophy into their teachings. Her classes are creative and dynamic with an emphasis on making yoga accessible to everyone.

    Holly studied English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and frequently draws inspiration for her classes from literature and poetry. When she’s not on the yoga mat she enjoys exploring nature, singing, dancing and working with textiles.

    Ashley McDonnell

    Ashley’s work focuses on resurrecting our relationship to the natural world through the development of earth based skills that deepen our connection to place while increasing our sense of sovereignty and resilience. Devoted to the arts of permaculture, natural building, herbalism and birth work as her mediums, Ashley explores with humility the diverse modalities that support us in living in right relationship with the world around us. She views permaculture as a practice that not only creates healthy ecological communities but one that helps to reweave the very fabric of who we are as people. Her work is an offering to the future.

    Zach Loeks

    Hailing from Ottawa, Canada where he and his partner run the 50-acre Kula Permaculture Farm, Zach brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the course. He works as an educator, designer, consultant and farmer, with an emphasis on integrating diversity, conserving soil and maximizing farm ecosystem services while maintaining high productivity.

    Last year Zach published The Permaculture Market Garden, which explores ways that permaculture can be scaled up be a profitable whole-systems enterprise. Zach is a leading figure in permaculture, who brings a new and exciting vision of how it can be integrated into the wider community and marketplace.

    Rony Lec

    Rony is one of the world’s leading experts in permaculture and Mayan ancestral knowledge. Rony has spent the last 20 years teaching and implementing permaculture throughout Central, South and North America focusing on promoting food sovereignty and preserving biodiversity for the survival of Indigenous communities.

    Through his extensive work with Indigenous communities on traditional ecological knowledge, seed saving, native plants, local/global food movements, livelihood security, and the interaction between communities and the environment, he has made a key contribution to the empowerment of Indigenous people around the world. Rony is a co-founder of IMAP.

    Neal Hegarty

    Neal is originally from Ireland. He grew up on a dairy farm and has been around animals all his life. He studied agriculture in Ireland and has worked as a permaculturist for the past 10 years. Neal was the Volunteer Manager at Atitlan Organics for 2 years before co-founding his own Permaculture-based enterprise, Abundant Edge Farm, in Tzununa. He brings a wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and energy into each Intro to Permaculture Course and Permaculture Design Certification Course and we’re happy to continue to collaborate with him!

    Shad Qudsi

    Shad Qudsi has over 13 years experience in organic and commercial gardening and farming. He is certified in Permaculture Design and has over 3 years experience in permaculture design consulting. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a double major in Applied Math and Psychology, Shad and his wife, Colleen, moved to Central America with only vague goals of farming at some point in the near future. In January of 2010, Shad and his wife bought and moved onto a very small farm located in the traditional Mayan village of Tzununa, which on the north shore of Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. The farm developed into Atitlan Organics and now mainly focuses on greens and chickens, a large edible and useful plant nursery, a food forest, and training and education.  Shad is an enthusiastic teacher who truly believes in the work he is doing. Human resiliency cannot be erased from the landscape and now, it is coming back with a loving grace.