Moon Safari!

Today (or there abouts) is a special day in that the solstice and full moon are occurring simultaneously, which will not take place again until the year 2094.  Get out there and enjoy it!!  Anyways, here is a song from Air's Moon Safari album to get you in the right mood for strolling under the lunar luminescence.  Enjoy!!


Radiance and Superinsulation.

Over the past week and a half a push has been made to get above ground and complete the footings and foundational slabs (that have radiant heating pipes in them).  On Friday we poured the final footing wall and are ready to begin framing of the walls, fabrication of windows, and start landscaping with earthbags!  Lots to look forward to over the next month.  Here are a few quick pics from Friday, but will direct you to read the slightly over the top detailed entry on our side-blog @ this link:


Well, until next time check out this speech by E.F. Schumacher on the Wholeness of Life!!  Legendary material.  PEACE!


This is a cross section of the slab that will be under the laundry room.  You can see the 100mm thick Goldfoam on the bottom and the hook ups for the washing machine. that will be enclosed in a wall.  To learn more about the radiant heat aspect please view the side blog via the first link above (aka not the Schumacher one) or on the links area on the far right hand side of the page.

 These are the shutters for the front footing.  Calipers where used to clamp to the existing C.M.U. wall and the top of the pour was slightly angled to the outside to prevent water from pooling or making it under the door somehow.  More soon!


The Big BURN!!

This is the serious woodburner that will provide us with our fire needs. Proudly manufactured in NZ, this is the Pyro Classic 'IV'. With an optimum burning ceramic firebox, this sweet thing has internal temperatures of 1500 - 2000 degrees Fahrenheit! Standing alone, it can heat a home up to 250 sq meters, cook a meal on the built-in cooktop, heat water with a 3.7kw wetback, dry clothes, and save on fuel. Hottie 'IV' comes in funky colors of the rainbow and if you tire of one color wavelength- you just can update the side panels to reflect your good mood. In times of natural disaster this baby will see you through the event on just 2 or 4 logs a day. Join us in applauding its very capable power and burn.


Tune Tuesday 6- John Lennon Shines On

In this week's post we pay homage to and salute the spirit of one of the most revolutionary figures not only in the musical world, but the world in general- John Lennon.  30 years after his untimely and muddled departure, the world is left wondering what change he might have served as catalyst for.  So in honor of John we'll share one of his songs which is very representative of his legacy, "Instant Karma".  In celebration of the continuing reverberations of John's energy and life, we have included "Two Fine Lovers" by his son Sean Lennon.  Please take a minute to appreciate and reflect on John Lennon, his passion for peace, and his effect on the world. Shine on.


Tune Tuesday #5-History Repeating

Core strength and correct lifting form was brutally tested (and proven inadequate for some of the crew) in the shoveling of around 200ish wheel barrows worth of gravel and earth.  The work was quite grueling, but a necessary evil.  With the 'buckets' of material, we were back-filling a few large trenches that had a French drains (which will be covered in next week's detailed sum up) in the bottom.  At one point we had to move the large remainder of a massive pile of gravel (more like fist-sized rocks), and we all put a wager down on how many wheel barrows of it was left.  Keeping tally on the footing with a pencil (pictured below), Doug was dead on with his guess of 63 full barrows.  Burn out.  In slight relation (we gotta try to tie it in) to our repetitive filling and emptying of the ever useful wheel barrow (as well as the fact that we were covering a French drain which has been in use for over 200 years), Propellerheads' "History Repeating" seems to fit the bill.  Bonne ├ęcoute! 



Adventure in NZ is magnetic! On the 27th, two AltShift team players participated in the 75.4km mountain bike event that challenged about 300 riders at the headwaters of the Nevis River. Fording this river about 25 times and gutbusting up to Duffers Saddle, the highest 'public' road in NZ, Travis and Doug plunged down the final 8km. Finishing together with a time of 4 hours and 37 minutes, they proudly tied for 125th place with huge smiles cracking their mud-plastered faces. Spectacular landscape, narrow gorge sections, deep water crossings and songs that they sang - are now their new energy-threads.

With more mud to shape and absorb, both men are back on-site today, continuing with their earthbuilding projects.


A Backbone Emerges

Witnessing the forging of the rammed earth walls over the past week has triggered an immense sense of wonder and inspiration amongst those on site. Not one person could resist running their hand over the raw elemental mass and giving it a good rap with their knuckles - these actions usually followed by a raising of eyebrows in an expression of awe and impression. Being the oldest building material in the world, earthen walls and structures seem to activate a vestigial memory and respect in our human psyche. After the final formwork was taken down for the 'keystone' piece (a technique that to our knowledge has not been put into practice in rammed earth structures) there was a certain astonishment and dream like surreality about the scene. Although the spanning section had its skeptics, the engineering seems to have transferred from paper to palpable existence. So without any further ado here are some pictures of the glory that is rammed earth:

This photo is of the 'keystone' piece nestled between its two supporting wall sections with angular and lip/notch connections. To give you a bit of a step by step here are two prior shots of the walls before the keystone and with the form work in place.

One of the most unique aspects of rammed earth, is the ability to place nooks and embed objects into the wall anywhere you like as it is being tamped. For this home's walls we kept it simple and did a few knock outs with Volume Displacement Boxes (V.D.B.'s). In the picture below are the 2 wall sections that will be what the headboard of the bed will be against in the master bedroom.

Above you can see the 3 day old wall segment on the left with its V.D.B.'s removed standing in contrast to the recently stripped section on the right with the V.D.B.'s still in place. We decided that we had to utilize the potential of the V.D.B.'s and created little spaces for 'nightstand' alcove areas on either side of the bed. Because the walls are 4 meters (13 ft.) we also decided to break up the face of the wall by adding a few more recessed spaces for candles/books/art or the insertion of a thick shelve. Below is a picture taken from the top of the form work looking inside the form's cavity (as it fills with earth). Although the photo below is a bit disorienting and confusing, you might faintly make out the top of a V.D.B. covered by a thin layer of sifted earth (one of the short ones in the bedroom wall). When trying to solve this view, keep in mind that you are looking down into the form and that the leg and foot on the left side is standing on the current tamped level of the rammed earth. The V.D.B. is screwed in the desired area to the inner-side of the panel, and buried carefully.

Along with the V.D.B. you can also see the white conduit for the electrical outlets (also implanted in the wall) on the left, and some black rebar on the right which connects the footing to the top of the eventual concrete bond beam.

For your video viewing pleasure, we have posted two new clips on our youtube channel (both embedded below) associated with the rammed earth process.
First off, is a short segment capturing a part of the mixing and preparation of the 'brew' to be put into the forms.

The 'brew' consists of earth sourced from the Cardrona Valley (30 km/19 mile away, near Snowpark) which itself is roughly 80% gravel& sand and 20% clay. This is then mixed with a 10% add mix of cement and water. The mix is kept surprisingly (at least to the novice eye) dry and then transported to the wall and shoveled in approximately 100 mm (4 in.) loose layers and tamped down to slowly build the wall. Below is a quick glimpse at some of the tamping action.

The video above was taken from a scaffold and the end pan of the site is an attempt to show the scale of the home (final drawings/plans coming soon!!), but we will leave of with a couple more shots of the two rammed earth monoliths, as well as the staple before and after shot.

And the biggest visible change yet!

If you have any additional questions or requests shoot us an e-mail at: altshiftnz@gmail.com, or post them in the comment box below. If any of you are looking for a greater amount of detail and info on the rammed earth procedure, look on the weekly detailed blog this coming Sunday. Also, Blogger has changed its photo formatting recently and the photos in this post are unfortunately as large as I can get them, but we should be able to figure something else out soon, so if you are looking for larger pictures check back in a few days or e-mail us and we will be happy to send them to you as an attachment.

Lastly, many thanks to Jimmy Cotter, Joe, and Shane of Down to Earth - it was great working with all of you! To have been a part of the experimentation (evolution?) of rammed earth construction with the implementation of the keystone piece, 4m. high walls, and XPS foam V.D.B.'s was remarkable and rewarding.

As always, thanks for reading and talk to you soon.


Tune Tuesday #4-Everlasting Light

Shooo-eeey! What a week of enlightenment sparked by the magic of Rammed Earth! Almost as illuminating, was the first listen to the entire 'new' Black Keys album Brothers-killer stuff. In line with all this enlightening and illuminating going on, we'll make a stretch and share a song from the album entitled "Everlasting Light". Enjoy!


Brace ya-self!

Don't want to freak you all out, but there is a train chock full of info, photos, and video of rammed earth that is a hurtlin' down the tracks of the internet towards your computer-which will most likely smash up your life. With the 'keystone' piece (a first for rammed earth construction down here!) being revealed from the form work tomorrow, there will almost be too much to handle. So rest up, and set aside a good few hours tomorrow to fully soak in all the earthy goodness we have in store for yee.
Hasta pronto!


Tune Tuesday 3!!

This week, as you may know, the rammed earth wall sections are going up, and the monoliths of compacted earth are stunning. Although we will never disrespect our rammed earth walls in the way depicted on the album cover of Who's Next, the photo does share similarities to the current scene at the construction site. So for this weeks tune we give you "We Won't Get Fooled Again" from the aforementioned album. The lyrics also carry a some messages of change which we also like to think falls in line with the project/rammed earth walls:

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me."



2010: A Rammed Earth Curiosity

Humans have made a lot of progress over the past 200 years in terms of technology, healthcare, and associated standard of living- yet the simple idea and practice of building with earth is over 7000 years old.  As we become hyper industrialized, the oft neglected building technique of Rammed Earth could be used to shelter people for much less cost than 'modern' concrete homes.  One of the thoughts occupying the minds of the Altshifters down here in New Zealand, is using appropriate materials and time-tested, simple, earth friendly, and climatically suitable construction methods.  With the help of Jimmy Cotter and his 'Down to Earth' (website: http://www.downtoearthbuilding.co.nz/ ) crew, the first section of rammed earth wall was completed today!  The process was a bit like a slow moving magic trick in which the magician (Jimmy Cotter) dissapeared into the form,  seemingly buried by the loose earth mix.

A few hours later he emerged from the cavity with his wand (pneumatic tamper) in hand, and pulled away the masking-cloth (formwork) to unveil the solid mass of the transformed earth.  It was quite the show and the result was awe-inspiring.

As we approached to feel the texture of the finished wall, we couldn't help but laugh at the similarity between ourselves and the monkeys from 2001: A Space Oddity and the mysterious black monolith- maybe we'll do a remake/remix.  (if you aren't familiar with Kubrick's masterpiece here is a clip of the aforementioned scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y15NnGZIBuM ).

Standing at 4 meters (12+ ft.) tall & 400 mm (16") thick, this wall is massive. The rectangles in the wall (above) are VDB's (volume displacement boxes) that were affixed to the inside of the form to create functional alcoves.  This wall will be what the bed buts up to in the master suite, and the idea behind the VDB is to have a 'nightstand' space.  There will be one more wall section put up next to this one which will have a mirrored alcove for the other side of the bed, and another asymmetrical VDB for books/candles.  Rammed Earth works will continue through this week with 3 more sections (and a 'keystone' like piece above a door!), so check back to see them turn out.  More beautiful simplicity on the way!


Tune Tuesday

Well hello again, and welcome to Tune Tuesday number two.  Today we have a track all the way back from 1958, but sweet sally was it groundbreaking.  It also carries some literal significance as the rammed earth compaction is set to begin tomorrow and the earth will be a 'rumblin''.  Enjoy and get ready for some rammed earth pics!


Well Read Weekend Post-Joke Edition

Are we already three weeks in to this crazy ting called a blawg?!  Whoa.  Anyways this week's post is not so much focused on making you a more sophisticated individual in regards to literature, but more to peddle some possible additions to your lame joke arsenal.  Here are a couple New Zealand gems:

What do you call a sheep with no legs?
A cloud

A New Zealander walking along the road with a sheep under each arm.
He meets another New Zealander who says "you sheerin' mate?" and the first guy replies "naw, they're all mine"

And to close, we will leave off with an exceptionally 'Deep Thought' by legendary Mr.Jack Handley.  Have a great weekend!!

“When I was a kid my favorite relative was Uncle Caveman. After school we'd all go play in his cave, and every once in a while he would eat one of us. It wasn't until later that I found out that Uncle Caveman was a bear.”


Bring on the Rammed Earth! + First Youtube Video!

In just 8 hyper-productive working days, the majority of the footings have been poured! We have been putting the hustle on because Jimmy Cotter will be coming on site next week to put up some rammed earth walls and wanted to have it all prepped for him. Today we is an exciting post because with it comes the introduction of our youtube channel and our first youtube video (embedded below). If you have a youtube account and would like to receive notifications of when new videos are added you can subscribe to the channel which is:


(In the video Napz (in the blue shirt) brings over a laser level to show the level that the concrete should be poured to.)

Here are a few more pictures from the day showing other details, and a view of before and after the concrete pump's magic
. The following shot is a simple 400 cm deep hole in which a rebar cage has been placed to act as a base for some timber posts that will help support the green/living roof. Just behind the hole are some of the forms or 'shutters' that were put into the trenches to contain the cement and make the faces nice and flat.

Here is an elevated view (on the earth mound we have accumulated from the trench digging) of what the trenches looked like before and after the pour.

And lastly, here is a detail of the Hebel blocks (an aerated concrete block that has insulative properties) that will serve the thermal break for the base of the rammed earth wall.  The Hebel blocks are the white ones that have the rebar coming through them and in the immediate foreground you can see the face of the concrete footing which will be right next to the front door.

Thanks for reading and get excited for Friday (back in the states and already happening in NZ!). Well Read weekend post coming soon!  PEACE.


Tune Tuesday!!

In trying to make a fun weekly skedge sprinkled with regular treats, we will attempt to have Tune Tuesday.  This first song is a song we frequently play everymorning to remind ourselves what we are doing. More photos of the upper level footing pour coming tomorrow. Enjoy!


For you hungry readers

We have just created another side blog in whch we go over in a bit more detail the happenings and techniques employed in the preceding 5 days.  In the associatd links area on the right hand side of this page with the name of "Detailed Weekly Build Wrap".  Give us a holler if there any questions!  PEACE.


Surface of the earth undergoing man-imposed changes!

At the site,we are the sum of all of our parts; parts that are guided by positive thinking, gratefulness and solid direction from Brendon Holloway. His building/designing talents and wisdom - move the energy at 97 Kings. Matt shot these pics yesterday of steel rebar cages being made for the footings and the start of a foundation for a timber beam.

Paula was able to visit from Queenstown, give us her 'thumbs-up,' and share more innovative visions.

Many of us are behind the scene(s) gods and goddesses. The food delivery team (acting like burros) packs the food & beverage back to the kitchen.  Frequenting Soul Food, Mediterranean Market, and other shops daily, has given us the opportunity to meet kind clerks, who have recommended homemade ice creams (Hawea Honey is fantastic!) and good NZ vodkas & wines.

Today, we had off!! Matt even made our homemade stew 2 days ago, so we are now ready to bring in Halloween relaxed, sun-baked and smiling.

Two places we have come to respect are Wastebusters and the Salvation Army. Both recycle centers have provided creative extras in our immediate world. An interesting purchase has been the ancient Asian game of 'Go.' Several hours of diligent thought have already been invested, however, this game is more difficult than chess!

The library has given us all a boost. Ian's organic farm soothed our souls on Labor Day. Looking forward to the Melbourne Cup - hoping to deck ourselves out in our best raceday finery!

Abundance and Gratitude

We have had a great start to the construction process! Brendon Holloway, our main contractor who is running the build, is a Godsend, along with his right hand man Napz, we have formed a great symbiotic team. Thanks and praise also to Paula Hugens from GREENBeing, our "eco-engineer" for her enlightened approach to sustainable building, as well as Glenn Allen from Elite Design who is doing the technical draughting and Sven and Sarah with Sol Design who are advising on the straw bale and other green aspects of the project.
Perhaps the most satisfying part is working on the site, side by side with my two sons, three nephews and some of the boy's university friends who have come to NZ to join in our quest. Special thanks to Trent Laughton, a recent graduate from the CalPoly architecture program, who has helped us go from our initial design concepts, through the many developmental steps to where we are now. Also, to my nephew JJ, who goes at it 110% with his many talents and dedication to sustainability; he simply rocks! At the end of each day we drag home to a dinner fit for patrons at a Four Seasons Resort, prepared by my CIA trained nephew Mathieson...we are not worthy! Then there is my nephew Ben, who entertains us all with his literary wisdom and musings.
I never thought I would enjoy shoveling in the earth, schlepping forms and tying rebar so much...very therapeutic and truly a bonding experience, galvanized by the intense New Zealand Spring sunshine. More soon.


Transport Mode sans d'essence

The bicycle is an amazing machine, which makes the work of mobilizing about town so efficient and enjoyable. In terms of physics, work is the transfer of energy, measured as the product of the force applied to a body and the distance moved by that body in the direction of the force. I'm just saying...how great it is to not stop by the B(eat)P(etrol) station, while getting to where I want to go. When the bicycle is your only mode of transportation, one develops a new sensibility in your daily activities, to the point of deciding what you pick up at the grocery store, to experiencing the sites and sounds of your commute to work. I feel like I am a 12 year old again, cruising down the shortcut to the beach with my only worry having to do with the pressure in my tires, not in my life. I could get used to this.

Well Read Weekend Post 2

In the book "Anarchic Harmony" (a great book about the individual's place in this crazy world) comes a quote from wise old Nietzsche-

"Believe me!  The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously!"

Don't go jumping off of buildings (or do?parachutes are always good), but make sure to put yourself in precarious situations every now and again and engage in some risky bizznizz.  If you would like to see an example of how to live dangerously (the lives of Doug Meyers and Loren Polster) take a look at the blog dfreshdesign.tumblr.com .  Enjoy the weekend and have a spoooky Halloween!


Solid Base In Place

Banging out a very productive last 3 days, we were able to pour the footings a day ahead of schedule today.  The footings poured today are for the master bedroom/study. Lots of precise measurements, leveling of form work, and double checking.  Here are some of shots of the action, as well as some Before & Afters (B&A's).

 The following photo is a nearly full view of the trenches before the pour today. The far 'island' is the bathroom which will be separated by a rammed earth wall (better detail on that section farther down).
Detail of the serious steel cage in the footing for beneath the rammed earth wall mentioned above.

Here is an example of the pump action spewing concrete into the trenches:

And here 2 B&A's:

And a westerly view from the first day of excavation to the latest:

Well that is all for tonight, but two quick tidbits/headsup for y'all.  First, if you would like to get to read about the members of the AltShift crew, Ben has conducted a mini interview with each member and posted the results on the AltShift sideblog (linked on the right of the page)-quite entertaining.  Also wanted to let you curious & insatiable readers know that there will be a new weekly blog starting on Sundays (U.S. Saturdays/early Sunday mornings) in which we will write an in-depth, and much more detailed account of the week's construction/build elements complete with explanations and insight.  Thanks for reading and talk to you soon!!


Aoraki & other various deities.

Aoraki (aka Mt.Cook-elev.12316 ft.) from across the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki

The past few days have been packed with road tripping (whence the above picture was taken), foundation work, and much needed sustenance (graciously provided by expert chef Matt Jennings)+ rest.  There has been insufficient time to log a substantial posting with project info and pics, and today-unfortunately- shares a similar story.  I did want to make you all aware of a few changes & updates to this site/blog.  

Firstly, after hearing from quite a few individuals who tried leaving comments on some of the posts and had difficulties doing so- we have looked into specific settings of the site and found a 'switch' which now allows ANYONE to leave a comment rather than the previous scenario which required a commenter to have a google account. Hopefully now everyone will comment to their heart's content and we can get some mini discussions/forums going on some of the bigger development posts.  Also if you would like to follow us 'silently' without being added to the followers , you can click on the RSS feed icon (looks like 3 broadcast waves projecting up & right) in your address bar so you can receive e-mails when we add new content to this page (as the main point of this site is in spreading info and good times and we'd love if you were along for the ride in some form or another).

Second: we now have an AltShiftNZ sideblog that has been put together by our scholarly cousin Benjamin Johnson.  This new sideblog is comprised of observations, musings, and other general brilliance that springs forth from the cultivated mind of BenJAMIN' Johnson. You can find a link to this sideblog on the right hand side of the site under the 'Associated Blogs and Tasty Links' area, which is directly under the third new addition to the site:

The AltShiftNZ blog search bar. It is located on the top of the right sidebar, and will allow visitors (like yourselves) to easily find posts that contain certain keywords or related subjects one might be interested in or looking for. 

Please know that we haven't forgotten about all you loyal readers, and that new pictures of the site will be up in approx. 20 hours right after the first foundation footing pour.  For entertainment, I will leave you with this art piece by New Zealand artist Dick Frizzell who has transformed Mickey Mouse's face into a Tiki of tu meke (a Maori expression for "too much/over the top/awesome").  In the words of the mouse himself: "See you real soon!".


Wanakafest 2010!!

Because it's the weekend and no building is taking place (and feel like I owe it to you readers of the 'On the Level' post, as I didn't fully complete it due to the festivities), here are a couple photos from Wanakafest yesterday.  We are heading up to Pleasant Point to visit family friend Ian Blakemore in an hour, so will update that post from there (because I know all of you are on the edge of your seats dying of anticipation!).  
This first photo is from the Urban Downhill race.  Pretty intense biking and a few wrecks going down this 100 yard set of stairs!!
Also occurring concurrently with Wanakafest, was a Perfect Woman Contest which was full of very unique and insane competitions.  This is a snippet from one of the challenges were competitors had to carry a 40 lb. goat carcass through a course of tires, stairs and straw bales.  Madness.
Well, enjoy the rest of the weekend and look back soon for footings and foundation works happening in the next few days.  Rock n' Roll!


Well Read Weekend Post.

 Aside from photos and info on the project, we would also like to include some literary and musical treats here and there to keep things spicy.  So let us begin a tradition of "Well Read Weekend" postings which will have a bit of culture for y'all to soak in- especially as social events loom in the near future and you're banter material is getting stale.  For the inaugural posting we have the honor of having none other than novelist (and inspirational cousin) Benjamin Johnson sharing a poem entitled "Digging" by Saemus Heaney.  Benjamin has even gone so far as to give us a bit of his analysis and thoughts on the piece- here it is:


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Although, at least at first glance, or after the first reading of it, this poem doesn’t seem to apply completely to what we are doing down here, it came to my mind because, aside from surveying, measuring, and marking, digging is the only actual physical work that has been done on the site so far.  (To my knowledge, there are no poems that have the titles of ‘Surveying’ or ‘Measuring’ or ‘Marking’.  And if there are, I am confident in assuming none of them were written by poet laureates.)  But this isn’t just an excuse to post a really good poem on our website.  After thinking about it a little more, it does pertain to what we are doing. 
            First, I will acknowledge the discrepancies between the content of the poem and what we are doing.  There is no father digging.  Our digging is done by a tractor.  It does the job much quicker.  And the other thing is we aren’t digging for potatoes – we are digging, or the tractor is digging, to create a space in which will be put the foundation of the house, and then the rest of the house.  (However, as a side project, we have purchased a plot in the community garden, and we could very well be planting and harvesting potatoes.) 
            So how does the poem apply to what we are doing, which is, building an eco-friendly house?  What the poem communicates most to me is a sense of a connection to the land.  The first lines describe the pen in the poet’s hand; right away we are given a tactile feel for the poetry.  Then we are given the image of the father digging.  The description becomes auditory: “Under my window a clean rasping sound, / When the spade sinks into gravelly ground […]”  We can see and hear the father digging, and we ourselves can almost feel the motions he is going through and the sensations he is feeling.  We are connected to, not just the land, because that might be too general, but the earth, the dirt.
            This is really why we are here in New Zealand, to smell the fresh air, to take in Mother Nature’s landscapes, and, if we aren’t “getting back to the land”, we are at least trying to disentangle ourselves from the rush and push and web of the American culture we have all recently left. 
            The other thing in the poem that pertains to what we are doing, or pertains to why we are here, is represented by the father and grandfather, and the poet’s expression of generations transcending one another.  To my mind, the poet’s central motivation for writing the poem was to express, and therefore to exorcise, in a way, memories he had of his father.  To quote an American songwriter, “Memory is like the sweetest pain.”  And who is a grander figure in one’s memory than one’s father?  Anyway, Tom and Diana decided to move here, yes, for themselves, but also for their two sons, Travis and Roarke.  Excuse me while I state the obvious, but as one generation transcends another, we should try to leave things better for our children.  We should try to create a better world, or a better place to live, for our children.  Certainly, this is what Tom and Diana are doing for their children.  (This last point, of bettering things for the subsequent generation, isn’t in the poem; it was merely a personal dalliance.) 
            You will notice that the opening and closing stanzas begin with the same line: “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests […]”  To be honest, I don’t know what to make of the rest of the opening stanza, the “as snug as a gun” line.  Maybe he is suggesting writing can do damage, but this poem seems anything but threatening.  The last line of the last stanza, the last line of the poem, on the other hand, is, I think, perfect.  Perhaps, since he isn’t carrying on the family tradition of digging for potatoes, he had to make amends with himself for not doing this, for becoming a writer, which, to people who work at physical labor, might seem like insubstantial work.  The simple declaration seems like his fully accepting his being a writer.  And this is a good message and a good feeling for the reader, too, being content with oneself and affirming for oneself that you are leading a meaningful existence.  The other day, when we were listening to the builders and planners finalize plans for the house, Diana said to me, “I wish I had a trade.”  Her and I – I much more than her – had been doing nothing the whole meeting but sitting back and listening.  I told her she did have a trade, that she had a few trades.  Even if not all of us are moguls or celebrated much at all for what we do, we all have trades.  We all have some form of a pen which we dig with, which makes our lives meaningful. 
            To conclude, I will say that, if you don’t think the poem applies to what we are doing, at least you read a world-class poem. 

From the New Zealand Alps,
Benjamin Johnson

On the Level!

After tons and tons of earth moving, excavation is complete!  Big visual change in the site gives us a dream like sense that it's all happening.  Here are some more before & after photos along with a few detail shots.  Because Wankafest is happening right now, I will come back and add more info on the various shots and in general later- but the Urban Downhill mountain bike race starts in 10 minutes - gotta run! More soon, and if you're lucky a tune (if I can figure it out)!

Now from across the street:
Looking to the North:
And the massive (4 shot!) sequence from the elevated perspective:



HOLY SMOKES!!  WE HAVE LIFT OFF!! Welcome, welcome, welcome to the initial broadcast of the AltShift NZ status-tracker, lowdown provider, and educational resource - a.k.a blog.  To be able to share this experience of the first AltShift home building in Wanaka, NZ is truly remarkable and an incredible delight.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Atmosphere's AltShift branch, here is a brief fill-in.  
 In search of ways to lessen environmental impact of exhibits and other business associated builds, Atmosphere Studios ventured to put forth an employee owned sister enterprise focusing on more earth friendly designs.  Dubbed AltShift, the eco-offshoot sprouted in 2008; providing earth-wise companies with a more nature-conscious option in materials and fabrication of commerce venues and interiors.  AltShift's success has since proved that there are mercantile operations out there that care about the planet.  (For further AltShift info and work please visit: http://www.atmospherealtshift.com/ ). 
Never standing still, and endeavoring to implement solutions for environmentally unsound assembly techniques, AltShift has decided to undertake its first residential project in Wanaka, New Zealand.  Why New Zealand?  Well, in 2006 by some act of fate (& a shade of foolhardiness), Tom & Diana Jennings put money down on a section of land in a Wanaka neighborhood after becoming enamored with the lake and surrounding area.   Sitting in reserve, the property has thus found its destiny in becoming the grounds for the AltShift residential launching pad.  Here is a quick overview of some of the ecological elements (all of which will be covered in greater detail as their integration comes nearer):
Oriented towards the North for winter solar gain, the home has been designed to include many passive solar components.  On sunny winter days, rammed earth floors and walls will act as thermal masses and trap the day's energy to heat the home through most of the night.  To supplement the thermal mass, there is a high efficiency log burning fireplace (hopefully masonry) with a good mass around it as well.  Straw bale in fill will be used to insulate the shady South side as well as the East and West.  The ceiling will be insulated mostly by wool as well as a large section of living roof over the living and dining area.  Also to be included are many recycled materials, natural sealants & plasters, movable window insulation, greenhouse, and Passivhaus inspired heatpumps and ventilation.
After nearly a year of designing, planning, revising, and even further adaptation, the ground was ceremoniously broken and christened on 10-10-10 by the Jennings family along with architectural designer Trent Laughton and his newly wed wife Diane.

The day after we went back to the site and marked out the general layout and spaces of the home with string and stakes (which brings us to the New Zealander vocab word of the day: stakes/pegs are said as 'peegs').   In the picture below Trent is acting like he is walking out of the front door.

Keeping in line with the 10-10-10 cosmic numbers (intentionally? ;] ) the excavation was scheduled to begin 10 days later on the 20th of October.  Although not fully completed yet, here are some before and after pictures of the current progress from the property corners.  This first set is looking towards the South.  Unfortunately one of my marker rocks was moved by the storage container (lesson learned) but you can see that the tree is in a state of limbo (a non-native species considered a weed).

This next view is looking to the East.  Again, the marker stones got run over and strewn by the placing of the container and the dump trucks taking the excavated earth away.  Keep in mind that this change happened with in a 24 hour period - the power of machines and fossil fuels is nearly undeniably necessary for such undertakings, but not totally.  

This is the view to the West, the most scenic direction towards the lake and Southern Alps. 


This is the view from an elevated position looking towards the West again (a more remote vantage that will become a time lapse shoot location).  Here you can see a bit of the lake.  The big peak in the center/left is called Black Peak (also in the blog's background photo with early morning alpine glow) and the snow covered mountain on the far left is the ski resort Treble Cone. 

Excavation continues tomorrow so check back tomorrow to see the finished dig level.  Hope you enjoyed looking and thanks for reading!  Once again, this is such a special episode and having all of you be able to share and join in a dialogue through the internet is wondrous.  If you have any questions or requests please don't hesitate to comment or e-mail us at altshiftnz@gmail.com.  Also, if you'd like to receive e-mails to inform you when we have updated the blog/added new content, you can subscribe/follow us - don't be shy!  Let the shift begin!!  Peace!!!