Abrazo House is an educational project located in the Aras Valley, Voto. Cantabria, northern Spain. Since 2006, hundreds of volunteers from all over the world have come here to get
their hands dirty and to learn about ecology, natural building and sustainable living.
Behind the Abrazo House project is a philosophy. We like to call it ecological design, though it has had many other names and been practiced by many other people (famous or
anonymous) since time immemorial. We would define it as the art and science of working with nature. Some of its main elements could be summarised as follows:
- Keep it simple. The simplest solution is usually the best. We don’t like to rely on complex designs and machinery.
- Money is not wealth. True wealth lies in health, happiness, good relationships, life’s diversity, and meaningful activity, not in money. It is true that you do need some money in order to
live — but a lot less than you might think.
- Slow and steady. It’s better to go slowly in the right direction than quickly in the wrong direction.
- Work with what you’ve got. There’s no point in trying to be pure in an impure world.
The Education Centre is about learning in nature focusing in build-ing with natural materials and growing a food forest.
It started in 2006 with Building our grand design. Starting small and slow with Snail Cabin. It is a small house designed as a tem-porary home for a couple with two small children, and
for subse-quent use as a guest cabin. It has stone foundations, a load-bearing cob wall, and a reciprocal frame roof of green oak. It was built in 2006-7 with mainly volunteer labour, at
a cost of around €6000 in materials. Building Snail Cabin was an intensive learn-ing experience which allowed us to make mistakes on a small scale before starting to build the main
house. We learned that it was possible for inexperienced builders (like us) to build our own house for very little money and have fun into the
The next building, the main house- Abrazo House: a crescent shape floor that creates a sheltered patio to the south and gives the building its name — Abrazo (“embrace” in Spanish)
House. The load-bearing main wall is built of solid earth (cob) on the first floor and on the second, straw bales with thick earthen plaster in-side and out. Most of the wood in the house
is recycled, including the main beams which came from a 100-year-old demolished build-ing. The house uses passive solar design, with large areas of south-facing double-glazed
windows; our hot water comes from the solar panels, too. In the winter a wood stove is enough to warm up both the house and the hot water.
The Play House.Small is beautiful. While building the main house we often felt under great pressure from such a giant building pro-ject. One remedy for this was to do a small, quick
and easy build-ing project. For a long time we had thought of building a play-house to gain extra space, and one day we realised we had most of the necessary building materials left
over from the main house. With help from friends, we built the structure in two days (one for the foundations and another for the walls and roof) at a minimal cost. Later we used the
building as a test-bed for techniques to apply in the main house, in particular the interior (gypsum) and exterior (lime) plasters. The roof is made of recycled shuttering boards, using an
octagonal design inspired by the roofs of the Navajo Indian hogans (you could call this style “post-industrial Navajo”.). The tiny (10 m2) house has been used as guest accommodation,
for meditation, storytelling… and for playing, of course!. The Roundhouse, a space for meditation:In May 2018, we started a new project: a small roundhouse, designed as a small, lowcost
(around €30 per m2), low-impact, relatively easy building to demonstrate the techniques we’ve been developing over the years. It has a roundwood reciprocal frame structure,
green roof with central skylight, and straw bale-cob walls. After approximate-ly eight weeks’ work, we inaugurated the still unfinished round-house as a meditation space in October
2018, but construction still continues with layers of cob, gypsum and lime plaster, and a wooden floor.