Earth Building Course


Our re-visioned earth building course explores the value and practice of building with natural materials as well as the environmental and social benefits of earth building, and thinking around sustainable building in different contexts. We use Permaculture design principles and Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language as guidance for building design.


Berg en Dal offers living models of diverse approaches to natural building and sustainable living practices which you can interact with. As we are a Permaculture training centre, the buildings are part of an ecosystem which supports and provides for humans needs without compromising the needs of the ‘natural world’. In other words, buildings are living and connect with the environment around them in a beneficial manner.

The location

Berg-en-Dal, home of the Klein Karoo Sustainable Drylands Permaculture Project (KKSDPP) was founded in 1999. It is located in the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains outside Ladismith, in the Western Cape. Situated on the edge of the Western Cape’s fynbos biosphere and the Karoo’s dry semi-desert, the training environment shares the beauty and challenges of both regions – with hot summers, cold winter nights, extreme rainfall patterns, grand sunsets, superb star-gazing opportunities and rich natural biodiversity. A wide range of natural building approaches has been utilized to ensure a sensitive yet dynamic interaction with this surrounding environment.

Who should attend this course?

This course is aimed at anyone who would like practical natural building skills and a better understanding of natural building materials. It would suit owner-builders, architectural technologists, engineers, sustainable development practitioners and many others. The course will provide a good understanding of the potentials and limitations of earth building, as well as explore questions around sustainable living. During your time on our training farm, you will explore different examples of natural building, green technology and other applied sustainable solutions. You do not need any prior experience, just a reasonable level of physical fitness to participate and form part of a team.

Course description

Our approach to training is rooted in participatory learning practice – this means that we draw on the collective knowledge of the group, while guiding the course to achieve its specified outcomes. We will work with a range of materials, and also on small projects that people can take home and implement immediately to shift their practice practically towards sustainability.

Materials you will work with:

–          Cob

–          Mud brick/Adobe

–          Rammed earth

–          Rock

–         Wattle and Daub

Course content:

– Exploring Permaculture principles around existing homes

– Site layout – techniques and low to high-tech tools

–  Passive solar design

– Understanding the materials and their functions

– Foundations – options available

– Walls -materials and approaches

– Openings – windows, doors, niches and special spaces

– Roofs and how to work with them

– Services – low-tech approaches to solar power and plumbing

– Appropriate technology

– cob bread ovens and water heaters which you can build at home

– The last layer – plasters, paints and wood finishes


This course will provide you with the basic understanding and skills necessary to:

–          Assess a site for the appropriate application of natural and sustainable building

–          Decide on the appropriate natural material(s) to ensure a lower carbon footprint of the  building

–          Apply basic design and layout for the building to produce, capture and store available renewable energy

–          Test the local materials for their suitability in a natural building

–          Assemble and combine a variety of natural materials into a building

Course facilitators      

Neil Smith

Neil started working on sustainable buildings in 2001. He moved to Berg en Dal in 2006. He has engaged with building community-based training  centres,  non-profit building work, contract work and self-builds, as well as advising and building for owner-builders. Neil has also been involved with the Sustainable Built Environment Conference (SBE). He is currently focused on the continued development of a homestead at Berg en Dal for himself and his wife. His other work incorporates Permaculture design, water infrastructure work and new smallholder developments that align with EIA processes. He has recently run a compost toilet building course in Spain.

Alex Kruger

Alex has been involved in Permaculture since 1993, and lived at Berg en Dal since 2006. She has worked on smaller earth building projects and brings the design processes to the course.

Costs This ten day course costs R7000.00 per person.

Course costs include:

–          All generous vegetarian breakfasts, lunches, dinners and teas.

–          A pre-loaded memory stick with technical data on building

Accommodation is not included. Accommodation options will be provided to you upon request of a booking form.

Course duration The course takes place over ten full days, with a half-day off on the sixth day.

Check-in: Sunday 22 April 2018 before 5pm  

Check-out: Thursday 3 May 2018 by 11am

How to book Please email us at the address below for the booking form. To confirm your place, pay your deposit of R3500.00, and 50% of your accommodation costs. Your accommodation costs may be external, so please confirm beforehand where you would be staying.

Please note that the course is limited to 12 people! Along with the booking form you will also be furnished with accommodations options as well as a list of things you will need to bring with you on the course. We deal with applications on a first-come-first serve basis. Your place on the course is only confirmed on receipt of your deposit.

The cutoff date for bookings and deposits is Monday 26 March 2018. Should you cancel after this date, we will retain your deposit, unless we can replace your space on the course.

Should we cancel after this date, we will refund you in full.


1. Please email for booking forms or further information about the course.

2. Alternatively sms/WhatsApp Alex on 0722411514 and leave a message with your name and number for the EBC, and we will call you back. Please note that email is the most accessible form of contact for us, and that we may take several days to return your call.


I find it incredible to work with earth in the making of buildings. By being physically immersed in the clay and soil you get a new perspective on the energy involved and the possibilities of the tactile that exist to enrich the design process and product. Hermie (Architect and Senior Lecturer – CPUT)

I was pleased to feel that I gained a good overall understanding and practical exposure to so many different techniques. William – Structural Engineer (October, 2012) 

I loved the cobbing, as that was main reason for being here; and the plastering was great. Getting to know the participants was wonderful; and the food was excellent. Victoria – Owner-builder (October 2012)

I learnt that a house can produce its own energy. Tahlia – Student (May, 2012)

I learned an incredible amount in such a short space of time. I know how to identify and judge soils for my mixes. I know how to make cob, CEB, straw-clay and how to ram earth. I can assemble these materials into a home. I feel empowered with this knowledge. Aneil – Student (May 2012) 

Natural Building is really awesome. The hands-on approach to making a building go up is really fulfilling. I also learnt that I’m extremely passionate about sustainable building. Matt – Designer (May 2012)

Photographic credits: Elizabeth Kruger, Marlise Maritz, Neil Smith, Mark Watermeyer.