In the early 1990s, our community center launched a Sustainable Salt Spring Island Roundtable, including members from as many facets of the SSI community as possible. We met every week for a couple of years and published a booklet on Sustainable Development. Through our conversations, we recognized that the most effective way to initiate transformation in sustainable living would be to change how we build.
So, in 1992, we organized a Sustainable Building Conference on Salt Spring Island.
Leaders in sustainability from across the continent responded to our invitation to participate. Speakers included David Easton, the leading rammed earth expert; Malcolm Wells, the expert in underground building; Carole Venolia, a leading architect and educator for healthy buildings; and advocates for permaculture and strawbale building. It was an amazing weekend of talks at the Elementary School gym that received an enthusiastic response from the community with over 1,000 people attending.
This conference changed the tenor of building on the island for at least a decade. Not only were builders inspired, but also the building inspector, engineers, sub trades, and suppliers. Importantly, it modeled new possibilities for sustainable homes to clients who were inspired to build healthy, durable and biophilic homes using local materials and local labour.
To have so many people moving in the same green direction at the same time, is a rare and powerful thing. As a direct result of this enthusiasm, rammed earth was brought to Canada and developed here for residential use. Through collaboration with the building inspector, engineers, architects, sub trades and suppliers, excellence in rammed earth was achieved and recognized:
- Three Best Homebuilder in BC awards from the Canadian Homebuilders Association
- Dozens of other awards from the Canadian Homebuilders Association
- Featured on David Suzuki’s Nature of Things – Just Build Green
- Winner of Eco-home designation from Natural Resources Canada
- Passive House and Living Building Challenge successes
From 2008 on, we no longer built on-island as we were pulled into commercial projects off-island. As we were asked to do much bigger, complex, and architecturally challenging projects, we had to up our game to the point where we our rammed earth was at least as strong as concrete, while using a fraction of the cement. Due to this very useful trait (high strength), we were invited to participate in projects around the world with the top architects on the planet. Lots of adventures and great memories were had by those from Salt Spring Island with the experience and willingness to work in very diverse cultures. A list of our highlights so far:
- Largest project – 650,000 sqft in Islamabad
- World Architecture Festival in Barcelona (first place – holiday category) features SIREWALL
- World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam (finalist – office completed buildings) SIREWALL
- Governor General award for Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center in Osoyoos features SIREWALL
- Worked with the top architects – Foster + Partners, Gensler, Tom Kundig, Arcop, Dialog
- Tallest, longest, and strongest rammed earth in the world
- Largest home – 51,000 sqft (strictly speaking it’s not commercial, but it felt like it)
What made this all possible began with the Sustainable Building Conference, followed by 16 yrs of working out all the details with the local building culture. How do you do wiring in insulated rammed earth? Plumbing? How do you finish drywall to rammed earth? How do you trim windows and doors? How do you deal with seismic loads and horizontal rain? There were so many practical questions that needed answering. And as the first on the planet to add iron oxide colouring to rammed earth……how do you make it beautiful? All the early answers to these questions came from the innovative spirit of the Salt Spring Island building culture.
Later, when we went abroad, the Salt Spring Island ambassadors expanded our capabilities in collaboration with the top architects on the planet.
Right now at Saltspring Coffee, there is a photo sampling of some of our projects. Our intention is to thank those Innovators and Ambassadors who helped launch this now-sophisticated technology. And we want to bring awareness to the newer settlers here, that the best rammed earth on the planet got its start here. Come down the cafe to learn more. The exhibit runs until August 2nd, 2021.