As someone who has spent a good deal of time visiting various permaculture/back-to-the-land projects, I've seen a fair number of cob, straw bale and rammed earth homes and buildings. From Ben Law's stunning woodland home to an endangered "hobbit house" in Wales, it seems like buildings created with these techniques are almost always exceptionally beautiful.
But I confess that I have sometimes wondered whether natural building would always remain confined to the quirky "hippie" niche, in terms of the mainstream building industry. There are signs, however, that things may be changing.
From ultra-efficient (and conventional looking!) prefabs with straw bale insulation to Europe's largest rammed earth structure, there now appears to be a good deal of crossover between natural building techniques and at least some elements of the modern construction industry.So what better time than now to revisit the basics. This video from the Living with the Land series explores some of the various techniques that make up "natural building." Alongside explaining the difference between rammed earth, cob, straw bale and timber frame, the video also makes a solid case for why these techniques are important—namely they've been used and refined over thousands of years, and hence we know many of their advantages and limitations already. That doesn't mean they can't be combined with "modern" technological advances. But it does mean we shouldn't abandon them for our newfangled (and decidedly imperfect) model of resource intensive building that has dominated the last century or so here in the West.
For your information, this is the same video series from Permaculture Magazine which also brought us segments on vegan organic agriculture, holistic planned grazing, a stunning forest garden, no-dig market gardening and permablitz garden make-overs.