Dear Hemp Building Fans
Yet again, it has been too long since I wrote to you all but at last I have the time to sit down and bring you all up to date with things in the Hemp Building world.
The first item is to mention the Best Practice Guide which has been well received in it’s first incarnation. More work will be done as the year progresses as it will need to be added to constantly initially. It has raised certain issues which I will address later in this newsletter. All those who are up to date with their memberships will have already downloaded a copy but as a reminder to those whose memberships have lapsed it is a good reason to renew!!
This year started for me with a re connection with Dhiraj. K. Shah of Shiv in Nepal. Having invited him to our Symposium in Germany last year to tell us of his plans for the rebuilding of Nepal after the earthquakes, Dhiraj asked me to come out to Nepal to see things for myself and to help him plan his next moves. I was last in the country 30 years ago and so of course the place had changed considerably. The main changes around Kathmandu were due to population growth and the resulting urban sprawl over what I remembered as fields. This is a phenomena common to all cities but when there is a gap of 30 years the changes are all the more visible.
I didn’t have time to see much of the city when I first arrived as we were soon heading North into the Himalayas where the earthquake had hit hardest. There we visited the village of Sana Palati, home to one of Dhiraj’s employees Puja Chalise. The house belonging to her family was among the many destroyed by the earthquake last year and the plan is to start with this house to rebuild it as a Hemp House and duplicate it, first in the village and then in similar situations in the region.
We also met many other villagers who showed us their cracked houses or piles of materials that used to be homes. Just before I arrived in Nepal there were more aftershocks and this continues the atmosphere of fear experienced by the local people who, as a result still sleep in tents at night and in the day shelter and cook in shacks made with remnants of their old homes. They live with the constant fear of buildings collapsing and were horrified when I went into one of the damaged house to take some photos.
To say the region is remote is an understatement. It took us 4 hours of driving up into the mountains from Kathmandu, up over one ridge and along the side of another valley where rivers ran below us, small streams now but waiting for the spring thaw to swell them to raging torrents. The whole geography of this area is in constant turmoil. Even without the recent earthquakes the dramatic terrain is torn apart by landslides caused by the combination of monsoon rain and the ruptured rock of the constantly colliding mountain range. We passed a massive landslide that was about half a mile deep and quarter of a mile wide. This massive collapse of the mountain onto the river bed had created the most incredible vistas of tumbled rock and clay through which the road had to be re-carved and the complete destruction of a hydro electric station down stream that had felt the full force of the debris washed into it.
Once in the area of the village it is also apparent how difficult it is to move around the place. A neighbouring village might only be a few miles away “as the crow flies” but in reality it entails decending and climbing large distances with a large amount of effort. When every journey entails ‘trekking’ it is not so much fun for those surviving there.
The source of the Hemp for building will be the wild and in some cases cultivated hemp from areas where it is gathered and processed for textile fibre. The material Dhiraj is presented with, would amaze most people in the Industrial Hemp world as the stems, stripped of the outer fibres are stuffed into large sacks in lenghts of about 40 cm. The diameter of these stems ranges widely from those we might be familiar with of around 2-3 cm to those of 8 or 9 cm !!! These we were unable to process as we had no machine at this point.
I was there to demonstrate the Building technique and this meant traveling on The B.P. Koirala Highway a dramatic new road built by, according to the several plaques I saw “donatations from the Japanese people” on the road to Janakpur where Dhiraj’s family originate and where his father Dr Ram Shah is building a new trauma hospital.
Traveling the 250 km or thereabouts to Janakpur via this highway at near top speed in a hired Jeeptaxi is not a recommended way to get there but despite requests to the driver to slow down he only occasionally responded. Whatever the speed the views were again spectacular as we climbed up out of the Himalayas and down onto the Indian plain near to the border.
The new hospital has been offered to Dhiraj as a site to test the Hemp Building system with locally obtained materials. The plan is to build onto the existing structure a waiting room and 4 accommodation rooms for staff. We first had to process the stalks that had been sent from the textile fibre growers. With no machinery the only way was to chop the stems manually which was quite a task but one that was taken on cheerfully enough by the guys who had nothing else to do. It took them 3 days to chop 100 kgs enough for us to build the first section of wall to a height of nearly a metre.
After we had tested a few different mixtures for a binder using both brick dust and clay as additives to the hydrated lime as well as purely Hydrated lime we settled on brick dust as an additive for the first layer and a pure lime mix for the subsequent lifts.
SHIV have now invested in a small decorticating machine and some plastic shuttering panels to make the process faster.
After returning to Kathmandu we visited some Hemp textile manufacturers where we saw Hemp fibre being spun into yarn and woven into cloth and also visited the factory where items of clothing and bags were being made. It was very sad to see the damaged temples etc in Dhurbar Square. We can only hope that UNESCO who have taken control of the restoration work have the exquisite carved timbers of these precious structures safely stored!!
I was not long back from Nepal when I was on my way to Morocco where I had been invited to talk at a very important meeting, The Colloque International sur le Cannabis et les Drogues in Tangiers. Organised by the Minister of the Region of Tangier – Tétouan – Al Hoceima Mr Ilya El Omari. Having been recently elected the Minister was under great pressure from the community he was originally from especially the Confederation des Associations de Sanhaja du Rif in the form of Mr Abdellatif Adebibe who has been working with Monika Brümmer of Cannabric for the last 2 years on a plan to rebuild old houses with material sourced from the waste of the Hash harvest, to change the laws .
There was a large group of people attending the meeting including politician and regional representatives, academics and many angry local farmers. It began with a media scrum as every local newspaper and TV station including Al Jazeera tried to get the best pictures. I was one of several invited experts there to give an international perspective to the subject of ways to legalise and benefit from the Cannabis plant. Other invited speaker included Michael Carus, EIHA, Martin Jelsma and Pien Metaal of the Transnational Institute Holland, Javier Gonzales Skaric of the GFPPP (Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants), Cesar Jerez Martinez Assoc, ANZORC ( Columbian Coca Producers Association) and Dionisio Nunez Tangara, Bolivian Minister of Coca (yes there is such a position) who gave us the economic, humanitarian and political perspectives.
The conclusion of the meeting was a petition to the King of Morocco to change the laws regarding the cultivation of Kif a tradition dating back a thousand years. Also to support the approach of the GFPPP at the UNGASS meeting at the UN in New York that happened in April.
On the third day of the event a visit for the invited guest was arranged to the city of Chefchouen in the foothills of the Rif Mountains famous for it’s blue painted buildings. Further colour was added to the scene as it was Spring Day celebrations and many young girls were dressed in their finest traditional clothes. On the journey up to the city Monika pointed out to me that as we entered the valley beneath Chefchouen, what we could see as green growth beneath the orchards and around the farm houses was, just a few months later, green from the Cannabis growing throughout the region.
Since I have returned from Morocco I have been busier than i have for a while with consultancies here in Ireland which is a good sign of the economy both here in Ireland and next door in the UK as confidence from the rise in property prices has created ripples that have traveled this far. In April I held my first Hemp building course here at my home for several years. Yet again I got to meet a great bunch of people some from as far away as the USA, Sweden and Iceland. There will be another one here next month if anyone is interested.
As we are on the subject of training I would like to bring up an issue we tried to address in the IHBA Best Practice Guide, that of tamping the material. I was recently contacted by New Society publishers about a new book about Hemp Building called the ‘Essential Hempcrete Construction” by Chris Magwood ISBN: 978-0-86571-819-7. I was asked to look at the proof and make any comments I thought appropriate and if possible give my approval on behalf of the IHBA. Well first I asked Chris to become a member of the IHBA and I made a few comments on the contents before giving my approval. There was one issue which Chris didn’t seem to see as important as I do especially now I have reminded myself as to why I insist on the use of a tamping tool to do the job. Both the book by Chris and other recent books have been very vague about how Hempcrete should be tamped and seem to think that the use of ones hands is sufficient. Having been at this work for nearly 20 years now I questioned myself, as I was actually building with Hemp here at my home recently, as to whether I was really correct in insisting on this. There is a presumption that if you use a tamping tool the Hempcrete will be too dense and not perform correctly to give insulation qualities. This whole issue as far as I am concerned revolves around the experience of those giving advice. It is now quite easy for me to see how crazy this advice for a builder to use their hands to compress the Hempcrete is. It is something that is often hard to describe to a reader who has never seen Hempcrete installed or in some cases those who have only seen or discovered one way of doing things. I will now make the statement that “the only way it is possible to achieve the integral adhesion of the material when only compressing with the hands is by using too much water!!”. The mix that I use contains sufficient water for the material to set and stick to itself but needs to be sufficiently and evenly compressed to produce a lasting structure, using ones hands is not enough. Having to use the amount of water need to be able to compress the material by hand especially around frame elements or at corners means very long drying out times. It was the long time drying out that nearly bankrupted the Builder of the hemp house in Florida last year and it is this aspect of Hemp building that is of most concern to many architects I have talked to. It is also quite dangerous to be using ones hands as there is a strong likelihood with the actions needed by the fingers that a tendon could break and this is particularly hard to mend. So USE A TAMPER!!! ( and a mix that dries out fast enough)
The last item on the agenda is the announcement of our next and 6th International Hemp Building Symposium which is to held in Verona Italy this year 11-12 October. Bookings are now being taken and we are also now making a call for papers and presentations from the worlds of Science, Materials, Projects and Technology.
Thats all for now,