Natural Building Course

Natural Building Course

Europe: Portugal, June 6-25, 2016

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A modular, 3-Part Natural Building Intensive, focused on learning multiple earthen building techniques

Have you been dreaming of building your own natural home, re-modeling your house or just want to have a natural building immersive experience?  Then come for this 3-week intensive hands-on course!

At Terra Alta we aspire to live off-the-grid and aim to build homes that are appropriate for a humid coastal climate. In the past years we have been actively researching and experimenting with the most functional techniques to provide comfortable housing using natural and locally available materials. Using Permaculture as a tool, we design our structures to work harmoniously with the landscape while being both beautiful and functional.

During this three week workshop we will build a round-house with a reciprocal roof and utilise a variety of natural building techniques including timber framing and light clay straw. Additionally we will be finishing an existing unique cob structure with clay plasters and building a Rocket Mass Heater to bring a sense a art and sustainable heating. Through utilising two structures  you will see both aspects of starting and finishing a building project in short period of time. Along the way we will dance in the mud, play music around the stone circle, and go for a walk to the beach to fully enjoy being at Terra Alta.

To accommodate for different interests, we will organise the course in modules that can be taken individually or as an entire three week experience. Terra Alta will be hosting the event and giving tours of the already existing natural buildings and permaculture systems. We are inviting professional natural builders and facilitators to share these techniques in a three module set with an emphasis on hands-on learning while being complemented by classroom/theory time.

WELCOME TO TERRA ALTA, the holistic permaculture research centre of Portugal

You can take the course as a whole for a discounted price, or choose a week depending on your interests.

For more information and to register contact Henrik at the following:


Date: 6.June – 25.June 2016

Course Fee: 795€ (early bird discount 725€ until 1st March)*

*includes camping accommodation and all meals that are delicious and homemade with a focus on organic and local

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Photo: Jim Dobie

Module 1: Timber framing – reciprocal roof structure

Date: 6.June – 11.June

Course Fee: 295€ (early bird discount 265€ until 1st March)*

Lead Facilitator: Alan Ueland – Please check his Bio here

Assisting facilitation – Dominique Kruger

In this module the focus is on the ancient technique and modern application of how to build a reciprocal roof frame. We will start with building a smaller model so you will understand the pattern behind and then apply this technique on the larger six meter diameter structure. Use of hand tools will be covered thoroughly and then applied to build this strong and beautiful roof style that utilizes the spiral pattern. Reciprocal roofs are great choices as they are efficient with building material as they employ roundwood construction and joinery thus saving our forest from over harvesting for timber that is converted to lumber.


  •      basic understanding of  foundation work
  •      recap of logging with traditional tools and storing timber
  •      learning how to use modern and traditional hand tools
  •      layout of a reciprocal roof model
  •      history and understanding of traditional tension joinery
  •      basic mathematics (trigonometry)


Module 2: Earthen Plastering, Building a Rocket Mass Heater

Date: 13. June – 18.June

Course Fee: 295€ (early bird discount 265€ until 1st March)*

Facilitator: Eva Wimmer & Joshua Roxendal – Please check their Bio Here

In this module you will gain an extensive theoretical and practical understanding of the principles behind rocket stoves and apply it through building a rocket mass heater. This efficient heating system will make our cob guest house more comfortable in the colder months and space efficient. The mass heater provides many useful functions such as: Heating water, drying fruits, herbs, and clothes, heats the house with a comfortable radiant heat, and works as a bench even when not in use and more. It is a wonderful example of a natural building project meeting an appropriate technology. Furthermore you will learn how to mix and apply earthen plasters to your exterior and interior walls to beautify and protect them.

Content, Rocket Mass Heater:

  • Design and construction of a hyper efficient masonry heater
  • Efficient wood burning and Rocket stove principles
  • Cooking and heating with wood
  • Introduction to the thermal properties of earthen materials
  • Mixing cob for different uses and application
  • Making fire resistant earthen mixes (refractory mixes)
  • Fire safety
  • Introduction to brick masonry


Content Plastering:

  • Introduction to clay plasters
  • testing soil and making samples
  • preparation of surfaces for clay plastering
  • making a base plaster mix and apply it by hand and with trowels

Module 3: Wall techniques with focus on light clay

Date: 20.June – 25.June

Price: 295€ (early bird 265€ until 1st March)*

Facilitator: Eva Wimmer & Joshua Roxendal

In the last module we will be making infill walls in a space saving yet insulating manner, using a technique called light clay. For this technique we use loose straw, toss it in clay slip, and fill in the framework. Since we are not in a cold temperate climate, highly insulating straw-bale walls are not needed. Light clay walls can also be thinner and take up less living space. Light clay is a very fast technique and makes a great building method in a Mediterranean climate. In this Module, we will explore several other infill options and earthen wall systems and make finish plasters and paints.


  • basic understanding of wall building techniques
  • mixing light straw-clay and wall infill
  • wattle and daub using cana and clay
  • passive solar design: understanding thermal mass and insulation
  • mixing and applying an earthen finish coat
  • making your own earth based colours using pigments
  • adding ornaments like sculptures, sgraffito or plant imprints
  • introduction to lime plasters and washes

The Host Site

Terra Alta is an aspiring off the grid holistic education host site and gives you the chance to be immersed in a landscape of learning. It’s located in between Almoçageme and Ulgueira, two quaint villages just above the sea and situated for easy access to the amazing beaches called Praia da Adraga and Ursa. It’s easy to reach from Lisbon and Sintra and gives access to our amazing sunset cliffs and beaches. Terra Alta offers a wonderful example of small-scale intensive systems working towards being off the grid. Because the site has had several years of Permaculture management, it is easy for students to immerse themselves in the principles of landscape development and holistic infrastructure development. The following Permaculture elements and functions are on display amongst others:

  • Small-scale Earthworks to capitalise on impervious surface runoff
  • Extensive Food Forest of subtropical, temperate, and Mediterranean species corresponding with the earthworks
  • Hot & Cold Composting (Vermiculture) systems for boosting soil life, picking up on waste streams, and cycling nutrients
  • Food Preservation and supporting local economy of food production
  • Small Intentional Community focused on adult education through Permaculture courses but more importantly holistic, Waldorf and Permaculture inspired education for the children of the local area
  • Natural Building techniques utilized for dwellings and outdoor cooking and social spaces
  • Renewable Energy technology featuring solar panels



final circle after a day of building



During the courses students get a chance to experience a permaculture garden more intimately by camping on the land. In a semi-wild area, we have created level terraces among the trees, mushrooms and stones for people to pitch their tents out of view from the rest of the garden.

There is also the possibility for some students with their own bus/camper-van to stay on the land, although space is limited; so if you are interested in bringing a bus, please get in touch and we’ll do our best to accommodate everyone!




From the outdoor communal kitchen, we provide 3 meals per day, breakfast, lunch and dinner included in the cost of the course (except Sundays when the students are free to feed themselves!)

Prepared with love, the food is always diverse, fresh, healthy, homemade and vegetarian. By that we also help to stimulate the local food economy by purchasing what ingredients are not grown at Terra Alta from the local organic “Cooperativa” and other local producers and processors.