Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Instructor Spotlight: Jacob Deva Racusin, Natural Building Expert and Committed Educator

By Charlotte Leib, Community Outreach Intern

Yestermorrow instructor Jacob Deva Racusin’s path to the forefront of the natural building movement is a needle in a haystack—or straw bale, rather—kind of story. It all began in 2000, when Jacob came to Yestermorrow to take Home Design, Solar Design, and Straw Bale Design/Build.

Jacob reflects, “I think I can safely credit Yestermorrow with being the beginning of my design/build experience. I think I’m a Yestermorrow poster child at this point. The Home Design class with John Ringel and Kathy Meyer…was my first formal training in construction, so I really came to this all totally as an owner-builder with a liberal arts background and very little practical skill.” 

Ace, far left, and Jacob, far right, pose with Natural Paints & Finishes students.
After courses at Yestermorrow, Jacob worked at a home business based out of a straw bale house at Ten Stones, an intentional community in Charlotte, Vermont, where he “fell in love with the look” of natural building, especially the “third dimension of the walls that could be used creatively and artistically.” It was this aesthetic appeal of natural building along with the “totally welcoming and open-source technology culture…and high-performing, climate-appropriate, and yet non-prescriptive way of building” that Jacob cites as key to his entry into natural building.

Just six years after taking courses at Yestermorrow, and building his own home in the process, Jacob had accrued formidable expertise in natural building and began teaching at Yestermorrow.

Fast forward to today: Jacob and fellow Yestermorrow instructor Ace McArleton run a thriving company, New Frameworks Natural Building. The two have recently published The Natural Building Companion, which has quickly become the seminal source for integrative design and construction. Despite an increasing demand for their work as natural builders and consultants, the dynamic design/build duo returns regularly to Yestermorrow to teach several courses in natural building, as well as a unique six-week Natural Building Certificate.

While students have always raved about Jacob and Ace’s expertise and accessible teaching styles, the building world is beginning to recognize their work and worth as well. Jacob and Yestermorrow instructor Ben Graham were brought on board as natural building consultants for an affordable straw bale senior housing project in Vermont that has made headlines on the Metropolis Magazine blog, among other online news outlets. The project was the first of its kind in the Northeast and is seeking certification from Efficiency Vermont as a Vermont Energy Star Home project. On the heels of the media coverage of this groundbreaking project, the International Code Council approved a building code appendix for straw bale construction in October, a move that has far-reaching implications for wider acceptance of this cost-effective and energy efficient building practice.

Jacob credits the success of this pioneering straw bale project to the project team’s commitment to material-driven decision making throughout the design/build process. “There was very appropriate technical design from the front end and the design was a truly integrated process, where major stakeholders throughout the construction phase— from engineers, to the building energy-folk, to the natural building construction people—were all brought in appropriately at the right time. That follow through in design was brought into construction to ensure that all of the [Energy Star] benchmarks were hit and that the detailing was appropriate.”

Such a collaborative work process is rare among building professionals, where the chasm between architects, engineers, and builders often runs deep. But for Jacob, the design/build process has been second nature, beginning with his first courses at Yestermorrow fourteen years ago. Jacob reflects, “Ben and I have a shared body of knowledge that allows us to tie the architectural and construction processes into a whole design/build process, and [in the affordable housing project] that was very successful. That’s one of the foundational elements of our practice.”

This January, Jacob and his longtime business partner Ace McArleton will take a break from their busy schedules to teach Natural Design/Build, a two-week primer covering all facets of creating an energy efficient, climate specific natural structure through sessions in both the studio and the shop. In March, Jacob will share with students his expertise in engineering cutting-edge structures in Fundamentals of Building Science. Then in May, the duo will return to teach our 6-week Natural Building Certificate. Any one of these courses can set you on the track toward a successful home-scale design/build project, and perhaps even a career path, as was the case for Jacob Deva Racusin fourteen years ago.

Thank you, Jacob, for your dedication to educating Yestermorrow students in natural building and building science, and for your commitment to merging your passions for fine craft, ecological stewardship, relationship to place, and social justice.

Natural Building Certificate students (left) and apply natural finish to a structure at Knoll Farm in Waitsfield, VT, guided by teaching assistant Annie Murphy (right), who interned at Yestermorrow and completed the Natural Building Certificate.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What is Good Design?

Guest post by Charlotte Leib, Community Outreach Intern

It would be quixotic to assume there is one singular definition of good design. After all, Dieter Rams, widely regarded as one of the most influential industrial designers of our time, put forth not one, but ten principles for good design.  In the early 1980’s, around the same time that John Connell founded Yestermorrow, Rams published these principles, which have since influenced the designs of countless products, including Apple computers.

Why fixate on Rams’ “Ten Principles for Good Design”?  Because more than offering a rubric for product design, these principles value process over product, offering a durable and elastic system for design. Rams’ process-driven approach evolves from a design/build ethos, making him relevant to any discussion of “good design” at Yestermorrow.  Rams’ formative years were strongly influenced by his grandfather, a carpenter, and though Rams at first aspired to be an architect, he ultimately found his calling adapting industrial technologies for the home setting.

Rams’ most recent reflections suggest that good design must concern the creation of both better products and better processes.  “Today we need less but better products,” says Rams in this short film “The Ethos of Dieter Rams.” “We need new landscapes, together with new cities.  We need new structures for our behaviors.  And that is design…We have enough things…we can improve some things but it’s not spectacular to improve a television…”

Perhaps what we need are not more things, not more industrial designers, but more industrial ecologists, who study the “flows” of materials and energy through socio-economic systems with a view to optimizing their use.  Architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart issued a clarion calls for this regenerative approach with their books, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002) and The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability — Designing for Abundance (2013).

We need more inspiring work from industrial ecologists like Ariana Bain, who works to create positive change through innovative food systems, cities, and industry through her business, Metabolic Lab.  Bain delivered an outstanding lecture during the Yestermorrow Summer Lecture Series, “Symbioculture: Healing the Food System,” and returned to campus recently to share her design approach with Regenerative Design Certificate students.

After completing a four week program in whole systems thinking, these students are poised to create cultures of positive change that move beyond the creation of sustainable products to the facilitation of regenerative processes.

In order to better understand the emerging field of Regenerative Design, I asked the certificate students to answer the question, "What is good design?"  What follows are a selection of student responses, which expand traditional definitions of good design, turning the notion of “good design is timeless” on its side to suggest that design is not static but instead a product of evolving, dynamic design processes.

“Good design…interconnects the watershed, culture, community, people and their needs, place, the elements, and location, trees, roads, rocks and plant life in a regenerative way.  In the built design this entails both interconnection and the use of natural materials with minimum impact on the earth and modest, yet efficient construction that interrelates with its people and landscape.”
– Jesse LoVasco

“Design is the process through which we utilize all of our knowledge to create a solution.  Good and bad design don’t exist.  There can only be under-informed realizations.”
–  Ryan Galliford

 “It’s hard to define “good design,” because “good” is an abstract subjective word.  To me, good design is regenerative design – a process of designing [that] ensures that the final outcome is a design that is vital and viable to a larger whole.  The design would have the ability to evolve overtime.”
 – Monica Albizu

“Good design begins with good attention:
Listen, use your vision, smell, taste, and feel movement, seeking wisdom.
Ask and hold the space for questions.
Consider obstacles and greater ramifications of our actions.

Good design takes the time to dwell in and respond to context without judgment.
Sees what is - whole and simple.
Draws connections; makes a new way to rise above the challenge.
Manifests process, inspired by and spurring life.”
– Jesce Walz

We look forward to seeing the work of our first class of Regenerative Design Certificate students as they bring these definitions of good design into their next endeavors.

How do you define good design?  Join the conversation and share your definition below! 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Steve Amstutz, Twenty One Years of Timber Frame Design/Build

Steve Amstutz teaching Advanced Timber Framing.
For Steve Amstutz, timber framing is not just a profession, it’s a passion. Steve started designing and building timber frame structures from his shop in the Adirondacks in 1989 and began teaching at Yestermorrow in 1994. He has since developed a wide portfolio of works in the Northeast: from modest, small scale timberframe structures to cavernous barns—the timber frame typology Steve enjoys most. Particularly impressive and inspiring is a recent studio off the coast of Massachusetts for sculptor George Sherwood, which utilizes curved laminated timbers (glulams) that transition from the posts to the principle rafters, held together with custom steel bands that are tightened with oak wedges.

Steve recently returned from travels with his wife, Nan, in Bhutan, which included visits to timber framed Buddhist monasteries and timber framed cantilever bridges. Be sure to visit his blog to see some of the striking photographs from his travels and while you’re at it, visit his website, where you’ll find a portal into Steve’s professional practice and explanations of various timber framing techniques.
An in-progress photo of a studio designed and built by Amstutz Woodworking for sculptor George Sherwood.
One of the timber framed cantilever bridges Steve photographed in Bhutan.
Steve will be on campus the weekend of November 24—25 to teach Advanced Timber Framing with Nancy Bernstein. Steve and Nancy will guide you through the finer points of timber frame layout, talk you through your own timber frame construction plans, and distill joinery engineering techniques through hands-on practice on sample logs. Enroll now to take your timber framing to the next level!

Check out these recent photos from our September Timber Framing class. The class is a great way to start developing a working knowledge of timber framing while enjoying scenic Vermont.

Timber Framing at Yestermorrow, September 2013.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Big Dreams for Small Structures: Learning Tiny House Design and Construction

Charlotte Leib, Community Outreach Intern

This past June, Yestermorrow hosted its inaugural Tiny House Fair, which attracted over 100 tiny house enthusiasts and many tiny houses to our campus. Though the summer crickets have quieted, the tiny house conversation continues here. Campus is especially buzzing right now with big ideas on small living as thirteen students learn the ins-and-outs of the Tiny House Design/Build process in our two-week course.  Follow along as students develop their designs with Instructor and Yestermorrow alumna Lina Menard at This Is The Little Life.

The students, who arrived on campus Sunday, September 29, are among the many that have come to Yestermorrow since 2011 for our Tiny House Design/Build course. This year’s class includes students Canada, Australia, and the U.S. At the beginning of the class, their knowledge of the tiny house design/build process spanned a broad spectrum; by the end, they will share in common the collective experience of building a tiny house and designing their own small-shelter plans.
Brace yourselves for the roof!
Check out our Facebook page for progress photos.
The students join a growing social and ecological movement toward tiny living — a movement sparked by early tiny house enthusiasts like Dee Williams, who turned heads in 2004 when she downsized from her 1500 square foot home to an 84 square foot tiny house on wheels. Students had the chance this past Thursday to speak with Dee on Skype as they embarked on their own tiny house designs. Students also had the opportunity to tour numerous tiny houses in the Mad River Valley and Montpelier and to discuss the design/build process with the homeowners.

Thanks to these conversations and the collective century-plus of design/build expertise offered by Yestermorrow Instructors Patti Garbeck, Paul Hanke, Lina Menard, and Lizabeth Moniz students have begun to “think outside the box” as they work to fit their life essentials within just a few hundred square feet.  At the end of week one, the class had raised two walls of the tiny house they are building for client and former Yestermorrow intern Day Benedict.  Many students spent Sunday, their day off, in the studio hashing out design details. I caught up with Cate Woulfe and Evan Skandalis at their drafting stations to discover how the class has given direction to their tiny house dreams.

Cate chiseling a birdsmouth for a rafter.
Her favorite safari hat completes her worksite outfit.
Cate comes to Yestermorrow from West Hartford, Connecticut with an Associates Degree in Architectural Technology and years of experience working in commercial design and as a locksmith. In 2009, after the economic downturn put Cate on a hiatus from commercial design, she enrolled in Straw Bale Design/Build at Yestermorrow to try her hand at natural building. Now, she’s back on campus to skill up for her next project: building a tiny house.
“I returned to Yestermorrow to jump back into the design process and build my self-confidence in building and its intricacies,” Cate explains. “I want to gain the sense of security that I can always build my own shelter.”
With “sunlight” as her design parti, Cate is designing her tiny house to recall her grandfather’s sunlight-dappled general contracting studio, where she remembers sitting by his side and learning how to draft. She is also planning to maximize passive solar gain in her new 160 square foot home, which will allow her to adopt a more mobile lifestyle as she makes plans for her ideal home, a 500 square foot, off-the-grid small house constructed with natural building methods. While discussing her urge to downsize, Cate reflected “the fewer encumbrances there are, the more opportunity there is to live life differently.”

For Evan Skandalis, a Seattle, Washington native and Outdoor Education major from Evergreen State College, this two-week immersion in the design/build process has been completely new, while the process of pairing down his possessions for life in a tiny house has been a natural progression thanks to his years of hiking and camping.
At his drafting station, Evan draws out his tiny house dreams late into the night.
It's the little details in Tiny House design that count.
Evan explains how the direction of the plywood sheathing
contributes to proper shedding of rain and snow.
Like Cate, Evan finds the spatial constraints of tiny house design liberating rather than limiting. “If you’ve already subtracted everything, what do you add back?” Evan asked out loud at his drafting station on Sunday, waxing philosophical. He explains his design approach as “not strict minimalism” but instead a consideration of the elements of a house needed to support what he enjoys most in life.

Choosing a six-inch cast-iron skillet he found at the Waterbury fleamarket as his design parti, Evan has prioritized the kitchen and garden in his tiny house plans and has given special attention to how the structure will allow him to relate to the outdoors.
“A huge part of going tiny is tapping into the community: getting to know your neighbors, going to the laundry, going to the park…Some people, like Dee [Williams], choose not to have a fridge, so they rely on their local co-op.”
Evan hopes that by integrating outdoor space into his tiny house, he can live closer not only to nature, but also to his community. He imagines his tiny house as a form of urban infill enabling him to serve as “eyes on the street.”

This sort of symbiotic tiny house settlement has taken root already at Boneyard Studios, in Washington D.C. In Berlin, travelers can get a feel for “urban camping” at the Huettenpalast, an old warehouse in Berlin filled with artfully arranged caravans, campers, and small cabins. The post-industrial “hut palace” attracts travelers who happily trade the anonymous corridors and carpeted quiet of the standard hotel stay for a bed within the Huettenpalast’s kaleidoscope of interior-exterior spaces created by the warehouse, its courtyard, the cafĂ©, and the caravans.  Closer to home, in Portland, Oregon, the Caravan Hotel offers an offbeat urban oasis where visitors can test-drive tiny house living.

We’d love to hear about other spaces and places amidst a tiny house transformation, or what you would choose as your tiny house design parti.

Caravan Hotel, Portland. Wouldn't you like to stay at a hotel like this one?

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Observing Nature’s Patterns: Thoughts on Regenerative Design & Development

Guest post by Brittany Schroeder, 
Berea College summer intern

I've been brainstorming all week about how I wanted to write this particular blog. It would be easy to just write a day-to-day summary with a few reflections on my latest class—Regenerative Development & Design—but I do not believe that would do this particular class justice.

A few weeks ago when I told Dan, the Curriculum Director, that I wanted to take this class, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought it would be great to get some kind of design course under my belt, and the word regenerative intrigued me. Since I have an interest in ecological restoration work, and regenerative is synonymous with restoration, I thought this course would greatly assist me in this manner. I was right. It did. But this course did so much more for me than show me the value in nature. It helped me see the value of myself in nature.

I know this all sounds ridiculous. I spent a week in a classroom and I come out talking like I have found the deepest meaning in life or something. But that is the nature of this course. I did not just learn about regenerative design; I partook in the process of regenerative design and, in turn, something inside me was regenerated. Writing this last sentence, I think it sounds like a post by someone who has completely lost her mind. Fret not—I haven't completely lost my mind. That will come later, and it will be a good thing. But I’m getting too far ahead of myself.

To make this easier on everyone, I'll backtrack to just after dinner on Sunday night, when our class met for the first time. Joel Glanzberg introduced himself to the class as the instructor and member of a design group called Regenesis. Rather than have us go around the table and introduce ourselves, as I’m used to at the start of class, Joel first asked us to turn to the person next to us and talk about what really mattered to us.

Wait, I was supposed to have a personal conversation with the stranger next to me and tell them what I valued most? Well, okay . . . I guess I can do that.

Joel then asked us to define regenerative, design, and development. I can honestly say that at this point I was feeling uneasy about what I had gotten myself into. Why was this guy asking questions of us rather than introducing us to some PowerPoint on regenerative design? I didn't understand. And I wouldn't understand until about three days later, but be patient. I'll get there.

We were to meet every morning at 7:30 AM for morning exercises. These exercises were a combination of yoga, tai chi, and other meditation exercises. I had taken a class in tai chi last fall, so I thought it wouldn't be much different. I was of course wrong. These exercises felt more like stretches than the tai chi I was used to, and many of them involved movements I was unfamiliar with. Every morning I heard different parts of my body crack and creak as I stretched in ways that up until last week I did not think I was capable of. Yet it was strangely relaxing to me. Joel taught us about proper breathing and movement, and after an hour of twisting and breathing I found myself not needing my usual morning cup of coffee.

Morning movement classes ended with quiet breathing.
Joel began day 2 by discussing the five types of capital—human, social, ecological, built, and financial—and the relationships among them. After this talk and the one the day before, I wasn't sure if we were ever going to get to discussing how to incorporate regenerative design into our work. That was until Joel began talking of Wendell Berry's essay "Solving for Pattern." This was more in line with what I had hoped to learn about in class. I wanted to understand natural systems thinking and how to design for such.

That brief moment of reflection over Wendell Berry was followed by Joel encouraging us to "look for the difference that makes a difference." Okay. He lost me again. How am I supposed to be able to find "the difference that makes a difference" if I don't actually learn a single thing about regenerative design by the end of this class? I'm embarrassed by my impatience and ignorance now. This all seemed like "fluff" at the time, and I wanted substance. What was it that Joel was teaching me that I wasn't seeing? Why was he telling me all these tales of warriors and writers rather than telling me about how to regenerate systems?

That morning Joel also introduced us to the concept of ecological succession. This was something I learned about briefly in freshman botany. But rather than giving us a textbook definition of ecological succession, he told us about its importance in an ecosystem. According to Joel, this system is successful because of the disturbance it creates. The disturbance “breaks up” the older trees so that new ones can come through, and that disturbance generates a host of other regenerative processes that enhance the soil and feed the species that live on that land.

He then related that concept to us, saying that people need to be disturbed so that newness can come through. In Joel’s words, as humans we habitually live in a two-force world: we have a force that drives us (an activating force) and a force that prevents us from achieving our goals in nearly every case (a restraining force). These forces constantly push up against one another and often result in a compromise, where no one on either side is happy with the end results.

I could apply this to my life as an environmentalist. Environmentalists often witness compromises in which no one is pleased with the final decision. Living in a two-force world, we are used to forfeiting or agreeing to something we don't like in order for the outcome to be "less bad."

Joel proceeded to introduce us to another type of force, a "reconciling force." In natural systems, when a reconciling force is introduced the system finds its balance. In human systems, when that reconciling force is found, everyone walks away from a decision point feeling as though a critical value of theirs has been honored. But in order to find this reconciling force, we first need to fully understand what each side values and work from there.

Finding the value of something that opposes you is just as hard as it sounds. We tend to devalue our restraining forces. We see something in opposition to us as a burden and often overlook its driving force. Why should I care what it values? It limits me! For instance, I could say the only thing coal companies value is financial capital and not look farther that. In this instance, we overlook the other kinds of capital this establishment might value, such as social, built, or maybe even ecological capital. Or maybe every coal company only really does value money—I honestly don't know. But if you do not take the time to observe what a restraining force values, you will never move beyond compromise. I'll come back to this idea later.

Before lunch on Monday, Joel introduced us to the concept of a purpose statement.  He wrote the following purpose statement for our class:
          To develop a coherent way of seeing and working
          in a way that enables evolving awareness and practice
          so that we can be effective and useful in the world.
He then proceeded to say that we would achieve this task by the end of the week. Once again, I was quite confused as to where these words came from and how we were supposed to go about achieving this goal when I didn't even yet understand what regenerative design fully was.

After lunch Joel asked us to pick a task for ourselves and develop a personal purpose statement for that task. He then directed us to split up into teams of two and discuss our tasks. For an hour or so I sat with Shawn, a student I took Constructed Wetlands with. Shawn and I both had chosen big tasks that would improve our respective regions. He wanted to improve the culture of his hometown, and I wanted to revive areas of Appalachia that were plundered by extraction processes. We talked for a long while about our interests, and jotted down a few words for what we believed would be our purpose statements. Easy enough, right? Well, when regrouped, Joel posed more questions for us and we found that our statements needed to be refined. What Shawn and I had chosen weren't really tasks but long-term goals and dreams. How hard was it really to write a purpose statement? And what was the significance of doing so?

The class spent a lot of time outdoors. We had many discussions inside the Yestermorrow treehouse.
Tuesday morning, following our morning exercises, Joel told us we were going to be doing a different kind of exercise. After opening up a discussion on how nature works in patterns, he brought us outside and told us we were going to learn a bit about tracking. I like to think of tracking as really immersing yourself in nature. It involves using each of your senses and slowly taking in your surroundings. It's a very calming activity. I found myself being less distracted and more on point with my thoughts immediately following our tracking experience. Which was ideal because Joel proceeded to question us and add more elements to our tasks at hand.

In order to fully develop a statement of purpose, we were to break down our task a bit more to make it more approachable and therefore more achievable. It had to have a clear process as well as products. Which forced Shawn and I to sit down and really rethink our tasks. I brainstormed a few ideas of tasks I could do in Berea and then went through another round of discussing what I valued in each of them.

At this point, I was beginning to feel a little unsure of myself and this class. I loved the nature exercises, but I could not see how developing a task cycle was useful. This felt like a "personal ecology" class where we had to sit down and analyze our values. I didn't understand why any of this was important until I went to town to get some groceries.

As I was opening the trunk of my car to set my groceries down, my eyes rolled across my GRE prep books. I groaned over their existence, and started to shut the trunk to my car when something Joel said crossed my mind. Joel had introduced us to the idea of disturbances, which are things that often repel us or shake up our way of thinking. I reached back into my trunk and pulled out my books, and immediately began to ponder what was causing this disturbance inside me. Why did I detest studying for the GRE? Why did the sheer thought of it disgust me? I sat there on the trunk of my car for a minute and began thinking about everything Joel had been talking about with us this past week, and that's when my eureka moment hit. Suddenly all his talk about disturbances, systems ecology, and tasks clicked. I proceeded to go to my notebook and began to write down a new task for myself.

The next morning, the class gathered to discuss regenerative design on a wider scale. In order to understand the importance of regenerative design and how to apply it, you have to understand how the system is working. Nature functions in a self-organizing, systematic way. In order to see how nature engages and exchanges information, you must be able to view its patterns. The whole of nature works in patterns of forces working off one another and growing together to form a successful living system. No one part of nature is in dominance, and all disturbances created by its functioning parts lead to the development of the system. There is value found in each part of system, and the other functioning parts recognize this and develop accordingly. It's miraculous, really. The ecological system doesn't make compromises because it’s a system of reconciling forces, and it meets the needs of every organism living in it.

Here in lies the human problem. Our society has set itself apart from the natural world. Our system tries to exist outside the realm of nature, and this is where it often fails. Conventional design makes up most of the system, and it is just one step above the law from being uninhabitable. LEED, or green building, initially started off with a great mission, but has since become a standard that is "less bad" but still not great. And sustainability is just scratching the surface. We are not going to make this Earth habitable if we are all living sustainably. We will just slow down the degradation. This is why we must aim for regenerative design, which calls for us to live as nature, and to co-evolve with the rest of the ecological system. We cannot live in a system that has set a course for degradation. In terms of ecological succession, conventional infrastructure has climaxed; since its initiation, it has slowly begun to fall apart while natural systems continue to grow and thrive just as they always have.

After accepting these realizations, you might ask yourself, "How do I become a part of this natural system?"

We must "find the difference that makes the difference, and act." This requires us to create a task, find the forces that drive and restrain it, discover the values in those forces, and then come up with a reconciling force that makes a difference in that system. It turns out, all the exercises we were doing all along so far in class were actually foundational to the process of regenerative design. We were learning about regenerative design all along, we just didn't understand all of its different processes and parts. I say "we" because all of us taking the course felt quite lost to begin with, but the more we began discovering the values of the tasks we assigned for ourselves, the more we began to see value in ourselves, in the course, and in its purpose statement:
          To develop a coherent way of seeing and working
          in a way that enables evolving awareness and practice
          so that we can be effective and useful in the world.

The final day of the class, Joel had us present our task and own personal statement to the class. I stood up and presented my own task:
          To take the GRE
          in a way that my anxiety does not hinder my perception of my 
          so that I can apply for graduate programs that will allow for a 
               continued education in ecosystem development.

When I pulled my textbooks out of my trunk, I realized the disturbance was mainly caused by my anxiety. I've found over the years that my anxiety issues are my greatest restraint. My anxiety has adverse effects on my test taking, my social interactions, and my overall development. I find that my anxiety attacks often leave me emotionally and physically drained to the point where I am left incapable of completing some of the simplest tasks. And a full college load has not helped lower my anxiety any. As a result of this disturbance I began to not only analyze the value of the GRE, but the value of myself and the system within which I functioned. I realized that my anxiety does limit me, but even it has its values, and if I cannot be a functioning member of the system I wish to be a member of, then I am not performing my ecological niche. The system I chose to be a part of cannot reach its fullest potential without me.

I decided I needed to start somewhere, to choose a small task that was manageable and wouldn't overwhelm me to the point of me being ineffective. So I chose to sign up for and begin studying for the GRE. And in order to successfully accomplish this task, I had to understand that my perceptions of this exam would have an overall effect on how I would perform. I could study for hours on end, but if I didn't believe in the value of my studying and myself, I would not be serving myself to the best of my abilities. I realized that being able to study for the GRE and relearn some of these concepts again is a privilege. It can only help me become a better version of myself.

With this in mind, when it comes time to take the actual test at the end of August, I will be ready to take it no matter what. My perceptions are the difference that makes a difference, and I'm pleased to report that since laying out my task, I have successfully studied for the GRE each and every day. I find myself learning more and more by the day, and I have a completely positive perception of myself and the work I'm doing. It sounds almost too good to be true, but by partaking in the regenerative process, something inside of me was regenerated. Only growth can come from what I took away from this week.

We ended the class with an exercise we had been doing every morning. Joel referred to it as "the snake," and it involved us weaving in and out of one another in a line. The beauty of this exercise is that it fully tied together everything we had learned in regenerative design. Each person used the force coming toward them to propel the other along in the line. We were a line, or a system, of reconciling forces that used the others’ force to push and move forward. Just like in our ecological system, we were moving parts that required the strength of others to grow and develop.

The Snake dance - moving gracefully with opposing forces
In sum, I would say the lessons from this week were some of the most rewarding of my entire stay at Yestermorrow. I dove into something completely different than what I had anticipated and reaped more rewards than I expected. These lessons will stick with me, and now that I have an understanding of the regenerative process, I'll be able to apply it to more aspects of my life. The beauty of this process is that it can apply to just about anything. Every process can be regenerative; thus, the final products can also be regenerative. And we can all afford to learn and grow throughout every step of the process.

Brittany completes her internship at the end of this week. We will miss her good energy and her insightful reflections on her time at Yestermorrow. You can read more posts from Brittany's time at Yestermorrow on her blog.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Live From the Tiny House Fair: What Do You Want Out Your Composting Toilet?

Abe Noe-Hays of Full-Circle Composting Toilets polls the crowd

Here's what we came up with:
-no odor
-no insects
-easy to clean
-low input/easy to maintain
-can operate at low temperature
-useful [by]product

What do you want out of your composting toilet?

Live From the Tiny House Fair: Building an Eco-Village

Guest post by tiny house dweller, author, and former Yestermorrow Intern Matt Wolpe.

Starting with 14 acres and a lonely sugar shack, Gwendolyn Hallsmith delicately wove several tiny houses into her broader vision of an eco-village in Cabot, Vermont.  Treading lightly on her land (leaving the majority aside for preservation, which supports seven families) tiny houses are carefully placed throughout to serve as guest houses, studios and temporary housing while families build their permanent housing - which then frees the tiny houses up for adaptive reuse.

Gwendolyn, as a zoning and code savvy visionary, stressed the importance of using a municipal sewer and water system as a responsible way to cluster housing on a smaller portion of a larger plot of land, noting that when you are relying on a septic system, residents need to be spread out further from each other, causing more interruptions of the existing landscape.

More home sites are available at Headwaters if you are interested in joining Gwendolyn and company.  Additional info can be found here:

Overheard at The Tiny House Fair: Boats and Lunchtime Musings

For those of you who have devoted hours of your time pouring over design solutions for living in small spaces, you've probably discovered the treasure trove of clever furniture and space uses in the sea-bound world. I caught a couple of snippets of marine inspirations and aspirations at lunch today:

1. A university administrator and recent empty-nester came here this weekend because she's plotting for her next life step: unrooting herself from her long-term home and setting out for an adventure. She dreams of living on a boat, but because of sea-sickness and the maintenance required of water-worthiness, knows she can't do it on the water - so why not on land? Hopefully this weekend will give her some of the tools and inspiration to retrofit a boat-home-on-wheels!

2. Have you heard about the Air Head Composting Toilet? One of PAD's participants favors this system over the many composting toilet options on the market or for making. Originally designed for boaters, this system is small, effective, efficient, and easy-to-maintain. It handles solids and liquids separately, diverting urine for easy disposal (e.g. remove it, dilute it, and water your fruit trees!); the poo-container is lined with coffee filters, which you dump into the aerating basin by "flushing" a lever. Add some carbon-material to the mix (she likes to use CoCo Core - a coconut husk product) and after some time you've got good, water-saving, human-generated compost! Hopefully I'll get to learn more about this at the afternoon's Full-Circle Composting Toilet talk.

Live From the Tiny House Fair: Think Outside the Box

(and building for a whole heck of a lot less while you're at it)

What a way to start the day!

"the cub", a.k.a. smurfmobile

Strolling across the sunny lawn to breakfast this morning, I was excited to see the arrival of "The Cub," a 4'x7' house on wheels that brothers Deek and Dustin Diedricksen of Relaxshacks are cozily calling home for the weekend.

The two started off today's activities with their talk "How to Build Your Own Home for a Heck of a Lot Less - Thinking Outside the Box." Anyone who's morning coffee hadn't quite kicked in yet, was quickly awoken by Deek's charisma and wit as he and Dustin related their experiences with building small-sized treehouses, trailer houses, and "ground-bound dwellings," using largely found, salvaged, and alternatively-purposed materials. In addition to testing the limits of what constitutes a dwelling space, making "cheap" art, and creatively building, the two are dedicated to re-directing the waste stream, getting functional materials out of the landfill and into use.

With over 20 years of "freeform building" under their belts, and Dustin's work as an environmental toxicologist, the two had a wealth of knowledge, experience, tips, and tricks to share. What I was most struck by, however, was the strong sense of freedom to experiment, learn, and push boundaries they'd granted themselves by seeking materials outside of the conventional. With stacks of found and free wood and odd windows, why not see if you could build a home in under 40 sq. ft? Why not create asymmetric window and siding patterns? Or use salad bowls and pickle jars as protruding windows and inset terrariums?

Some of Deek and Dustin's Tricks and Tips for Salvagers, Trash-Pickers, and Tiny-Livers:

- Keep a materials salvage Road Kit in your car, including: tarp, straps and bungees, crowbar, hammer, drill, Leatherman/multi-tool
- Let people know that you're interested in collecting building materials - word gets around!
- Develop a relationship with your local mom'n'pop sawyer and lumberyard
- Surf Craigslist (especially in affluent areas)
- Visit the "Take It or Leave It" section at the transfer station
- Ask for mis-mixed "oops" paint at the Loews or Home Depot
- Project Phasing: with some poly- or weather-protecting finish, it's fine to leave plywood sub-floor or sheathing exposed as your flooring or siding; don't worry about "finishing" it until you come by the money or desire!
- Get creative with typical household items - a glass bowl can become a window, a metal pail could be a sink, a teapot is a perfect planter
- Try It Before You Buy It - is full of tiny houses for rent, so next time you travel, thinking about booking a small space instead of a hotel room
- Space-Savers: Murphy beds, fold-down tables, shelving nooks behind stairs or in protruding windows, stair step seating

Do you have any creative ideas for inexpensive, small-scale living? Share your dreams and designs!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Live From the Tiny House Fair: Building a Community

Two of our featured speakers and their houses: the Ecovative Mushroom Tiny House and the COMET camper have arrived, growing our weekend tiny house community.

Lee Pera and Brian Levy from Boneyard Studios kicked off the event with a talk about how their tiny house showcase on an alley lot has been a vehicle to build community in DC. 

I was excited to hear Lee and Brian talk about how the Boneyard project evolved, from a monthly Meetup group daydream, to a parking lot turned community garden and inhabited space - a place to expand the conversation about small-living and issues around affordable housing. 

As Lee and Brian shared their passions for community outreach and dialogue, a lively energy permeated the group - it was clear that people had been anticipating being in a room with so many like-minded enthusiasts. Questions ranged water and sewage solutions, complicated zoning navigation, and the presenters' aspirations for their own tiny-living; and each response only brought up more questions - it's a good thing we still have two days to continue the conversation!

How do you reach out in your neighborhoods and build community and awareness about housing issues through tiny-house-living?

Live From the Tiny House Fair: ...GO!

The scene is set!

The Yestermorrow campus is held in a ready stillness, our presentation rooms ready for eager listeners, our staff bustling about the grounds, as our first guests start to trickle in.
tent ready for the welcome dinner
the first roving-home to arrive
camping area - all marked out
wood shop yesterday, presentation space tomorrow
yestermorrow chairs ready for the first talk in the main studio: building community 
our executive director and operations manager ready to check-in our attendees

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Live From the Tiny House Fair: Get Ready, Get Set...

The rain clouds have cleared just in time to get the finishing touches on Yestermorrow's campus as we prepare for our Tiny House Fair guests to arrive! We're gearing up for a beautiful and lively weekend with a host of lectures, conversations, and events led by over a dozen small-living notables, not to mention the ample opportunities all attendees will have to engage in conversations about alternative living, community-building, and innovative technologies.

For those of you who aren't able to join us in Waitsfield, we'll be reporting from the event throughout the weekend, so be sure to tune in and join the conversation online!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Conference Room Collaboration

This spring, when we looked at our capital improvement projects for the year on the Yestermorrow campus, we decided to focus on one area during our "spring break" week. Unlike the typical spring break (sunny beaches, beer, etc), here at Yestermorrow we close to classes for a week each spring and fall to work on facilities projectsthings we can only do when there are no students around. This April we decided to put our energies towards sprucing up the conference room and lobby. And in typical Yestermorrow fashion, it was truly a collaborative project.

The first step in the process started in February with the design of a new conference room table, spearheaded by instructor Ben Cheney. After a visit to the "boneyard" out on the tennis courts, he picked out three thick slabs of maple that we had harvested and milled a few years back in a Stump to Sticker class. He decided to leave the live edge on the two long sides, and after the wood had acclimated in the shop for a few weeks, he glued up the three slabs into a tabletop. Then back in his own metal shop in Montpelier, Ben fabricated steel legs which were then joined to the tabletop, with room for inevitable expansion and shrinking as the wood shifts over the seasons.

The next step was looking at the other furniture in the room and thinking about our options. The Woodworking Certificate students were looking for a project for their veneer week, led by instructor Steve Skonieczny. After working together on the design and a series of mock-ups and models, they decided on a pair of tables, one in the lobby and one in the conference room, that mirror each other with different veneer and wood selection. And they designed a curved brace to support each table, to make it easier to clean underneath. 

With both tables underway, and our break week upon us, it was time to get out all the existing furniture in order to paint the walls and trim and lay down the new floor. We ordered pre-finished birch flooring through Lathrop's mill over the mountain in Bristol, VT (Exclusively Vermont Wood Products). Dave Warren and our intern team installed the flooring in two days along with some new baseboard trim. While the new floor was going in, we brought in professionals to strip and re-finish the hardwood floors in the lobby. By the end of the week we did a deep clean and had furniture back in place and everything ready for students arriving on Friday night.

We also were lucky enough to connect with a new project called Embracing Art. A group of professional artists decided to share some of their artworks with non-profit organizations that are doing good work in their home state of Vermont and beyond its borders. They donate these artworks to shelters, environmental organizations, educational institutions, and many other kinds of non-profits. We were lucky enough to connect with Montpelier artist Maggie Neale, who donated a recent piece of hers entitled "Intersections", a combination of oils and collage. It now hangs as a focal point in the conference room space.

Our next step is to replace the computer station table with a concrete countertop which was just poured the last weekend of April. We're waiting for it to cure, and once it's been sealed we will install it on the east wall. We're also finishing up a few new cork boards for the walls but wanted to share with you the photos of our "new" space, it feels great!