The Nearing’s yurt in Maine – built with help form the yurt-famous Bill Copperthwaite.

THE THIRTEEN DOLLAR HOUSE   This is probably the lowest cost to build home i have ever seen. It is located near a small town called Jefferson, Colorado in Park County, Colorado.


“His own house on this homestead defied all kinds of rules. It didn’t even have a door. To get in, you climbed into one of the windows and down a little ladder to the below ground cement floor. Not recommended for monsoon countries, like Thailand, Peggy cautioned. They called their house “The Thirteen Dollar House” because that’s all it cost to build. One side of it was bermed with earth. The roof was plywood scraps covered with plastic, then cob. On our last day we would paint it with a beeswax and linseed oil mixture for further waterproofing. The remaining sides were faced with salvaged windows. There was a sleeping loft. Tomato plants were growing in the window. Several trays of sunflower seeds sprouted on the desk. It was a green house for sleeping in. Luckily, it was too small to be the concern of building inspectors.”

In Topanga Canyon, the work of treehouse designer Roderick Romero and carpenter Jeff Casper—a copper, reclaimed wood, and salvaged stained-glass Moroccan lantern. Inside is a living room and a loft bed. The stair is made from woven eucalyptus branches. Photo by Richard Olsen.

In urban Los Angeles, about 3 miles west of downtown, 500 people live on 11 acres where priority is given to bicycles, fruit trees, greywater, veggie gardens, clotheslines, compost, shared spaces (tool shop, art space, bike shop), micro-businesses, on-site natural food coop and chickens.

The Los Angeles Ecovillage was launched over 2 decades when its founders looked to the neighborhood for inspiration. “The way in which we think about making an urban ecovillage, we have to ask ourselves the questions, ‘what are the problems in your neighborhood with air, soil and water’”, explains co-founder Lois Arkin. “And for us, in the beginning, it was discovering that the children in our neighborhood had 20% less lung capacity than children in other neighborhoods. So what could we do, we could stop driving.”

* Filmed by Johnny Sanphillippo — more of his stories about urbanism, adaptation & resilience: http://granolashotgun.com/

LA Ecovillage: http://laecovillage.org/

Yakisugi House (Charcoal House), designed by Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori. Completed in 2007, the residence is located in Nagano, Japan. It comprises a living and dining area, two bedrooms, a study, and a tea room located in the tower. The building is clad in charred cedar that was smoked in eight-metre lengths.

The term “yakisugi -ita” (Yah Kii Soo Gii iit ah) translates roughly into “burnt cedar boards” and is a traditional Japanese technique used for preserving “cladding” on the side of a house.

After working for years in Afghanistan, Jim Frasche began developing an aquaponics greenhouse in Colorado for communities in both Denver and Kabul (similar high altitude, cold climate regions) where local food wasn’t always readily accessible.

He sells his 500-square-foot aquaponics greenhouse for $25,000 (via Turnkey Aquaponics), but this is an income-producing garden. “Based on allocating a certain square footage of productivity to growing cash crops which you would sell to restaurants or food wholesalers you can cash flow a structure like this in about 2 years while still feeding a family of four.”

Turnkey Aquaponics: http://www.fishngreens.com/

Scott Henley wanted to prove he could turn the backyard of his modest Pasadena (Los Angeles) home into a working farm. To turn his 8000-square-foot backyard into a productive farm, Henley turned to aquaponics- a combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics: “This is a very efficient way to grow things in a small space. And it also produces a protein source.”

He farms tilapia because they breed fast. The fish waste is broken down in the water by naturally-occurring bacteria into nitrate. The plants take up the nitrates as food and the now-cleaned water is fed back to the fish and the process begins again. The only inputs are sunlight and fish food. It’s an inherently organic system because any pesticides would upset the natural balance of the small ecosystem.

After less tha 2 years in operation (he started in the summer of 2012), he- through Whisper Farms- now sells enough produce to restaurants, CSAs and at the local (Altadena) farmer’s market- to cover all costs and produce a small profit. His “experiment” is still not productive enough to create a salary, but he hopes that will change once he’s able to sell his fish and create more of a cooperative setup with other farms (to reduce the permitting costs for selling at farmers’ markets).