The Revolutionary Mud House Movement

First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Directed by David Sheen (2010)

Film Review

First Earth is about the growing movement to build homes from wood rather than word or concrete. The film is divided into 12 segments, providing an intriguing glimpse into the 50% of the world who already live or work in mud structures. A growing number of third world leaders are highly critical of industrial society’s efforts to colonize them by destroying their cultures and dragging them into a cash economy.

Part 1 Intro Any civilization that continually consumes its non-renewable resources will eventually destroy the land base that supports it. According to the US Department of Energy, wood and concrete buildings consume 40% of total global energy and 40% of the raw materials the world consumers. In North America, 75% of the trees felled are used in construction.

Ravaging our forests in this way is responsible for approximately 200 species extinctions every day. Replanting trees is ineffective in preventing extinctions because it doesn’t replace the delicate forest ecosystems which have been destroyed.

Part 2 African Earth visits a Ghanaian village where every member knows how to build their own house from free locally sourced materials.

Part 3 American Earth explores the history of Pueblo architecture, based on adobe bricks and plaster, and the US permaculture movement, which is studying and teaching how to build homes out of cob.*

Part 4 Why Earth argues that cheap energy has allowed westerners to move building materials long distances. Building with locally sourced mud is far more sustainable, as it requires no fossil fuel energy and produces no end of life waste. Mud is also an ideal (free) insulator for homes relying on passive solar heating.

Part 5 Empowering Earth describes the history of the cob building movement, which started in Oregon and now offers courses across North America.

Part 6 Another Earth is Possible discusses the ins and outs of obtaining building permits and mortgages for a cob home.

Part 7 European Earth describes the spread of the cob movement to the UK.

Part 8 Arabian Earth describes the long history of earth building in Yemen, which uses mud bricks to construct high rise buildings and has mud brick structures standing that pre-date Islam (600 AD).

Part 9 Urban Earth explores how the earth building movement and similar experiments in sustainability are helping Portland residents improve civic engagement and regain their sense of community.

Part 10 Inner City Earth explores how African American activists in Oakland are fighting gentrification by engaging community members in earth building projects.

Part 11 International Earth is about bringing the cob movement to Thailand, where it’s reducing local villagers’ reliance on cement. The move 30 years ago to cement (from traditional bamboo and thatch) has caused a massive debt crisis in many areas of the country. Thailand now has 18 earth building centers teaching around 600 people a month how to build homes out of free, locally sourced mud.

Part 12: The Future of Earth – epilogue.


*Cob is a natural building material made of subsoil, water and some kind of fibrous material (usually straw)

8 thoughts on “The Revolutionary Mud House Movement

      • YES YOU COULD. ONE MAJOR PROBLEM WORLD WIDE, IS THAT HOUSING IS ENORMOUSLY EXPENSIVE, IF HOUSING WAS MUCH LOWER THAN IT IS NOW, THEN THE RESULT WOULD BE A MORE SURVIVING POPULATION. I DO BELIEVE THAT COMMUNITIES SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEMSELVES, AND NOT GOVERNMENTAL RED TAP, WITH REGULATIONS THAT DO NOT ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING. THIS WOULD MEAN DOING AWAY WITH MAJOR CORPORATIONS, AND ALLOWING SMALL PRIVATE COMPANIES TO BREATHE. I ESPECIALLY THINK THIS SITUATION IS TRAGIC FOR ELDERLY PEOPLE, AND PEOPLE WHO ARE DIVORCED AND NEITHER ONE OF THEM CAN AFFORD HOUSING FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN AND VISITATION. WE REALLY NEED TO GO LOCAL AND BE VOCAL. I PERSONALLY THINK THAT IF PEOPLE WANT TO BUILD THEMSELVES, IT GIVES THEM A SENSE OF SELF WORTH, INDEPENDENCE, AND FURTHER MOVE FOR AMBITION IN LIFE.

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  1. This would actually be quite beneficial because it would reduce flooding since concrete is what enables flooding. Remember what happened in South Carolina recently with regards to what has been called, a ‘historic flood’. There was so much concrete that nature had nowhere to go when the rains came and so dams broke and the overflow devastated huge swaths of South Carolina and the regions still have not recovered. The sad fact is they will probably not learn from their mistakes.

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  2. Pingback: The Revolutionary Mud House Movement | The Most Revolutionary Act | AGR Daily News Service

  3. Excellent point about concrete, Shelby. I’m really encouraged by all the young people I encounter (like the ones in this film) who are committed to farming and living in a sustainable way. Like you say, it turns out that products and processes that are more in harmony with nature are much healthier and safer for human beings as well.

    I really like the point the emphasize in Part 2 African Earth – how all the hazardous, wasteful man made materials and structures were foisted on us when people were separated from their land and forced to participate in the cash economy.

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  4. Pingback: Radical Voluntary Simplicity | The Most Revolutionary Act

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