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marcus swanepoel, leonar novela, roots of health, puerto princesa, vertical garden, philippines, palawan

If you were a nonprofit employee with a home termite infestation, what would your bosses do for you? If your bosses were Roots of Health, they would help build you a new mud house!

The mud house was first conceptualized by Marcus Swanepoel, a former South African educator who relocated to Palawan with his wife Ami. The couple cofounded Roots of Health to support the Filipino community with reproductive and nutritional health services. When two of Ami and Marcus’s married employees, Rhealyn Paliza and Leonar Novela, described the termites driving them from their old house, Marcus daydreamed about the rondavels of his home country; cozy, round houses traditionally constructed with mud and cow dung. “When you look at nature,” Marcus says, “objects that withstand weather best are rounded.” He turned to Ami’s brother, architect Alex Evangelista, who drew up the final blueprint: a round frame of local, pliable bamboo, wrapped with mud, and topped with cogon grass. Rhealyn and Leonar happily signed off on the design, and in April 2011, Leonar, Marcus, and a team of subcontracted neighbors got to work.

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They leveled the ground, collecting its pure, red, clay mud in the process, mixed the mud with fine sand, then added rice hulls, straw, and water in a half-drum mixer. Marcus and Ami contributed wine and San Miguel beer bottles from their household to add support and filter natural light through the walls; recyclers contributed more bottles from the local landfills.

In Palawan, new homes are usually built of un-green concrete, then topped with corrugated iron roofs. These home interiors become saunas in the tropical heat. Paliza and Novela can look forward to living in cooler confines; mud doesn’t retain high temperatures, and the mud house’s double-layer cogon grass roof repels punishing sun rays and stormy weather. The home will also have conventional plumbing and electricity; Marcus had hoped for solar power, but the local cost of panel installation prevents that for now.

With their nonprofit budget, nonetheless, Roots of Health made the mud house a standing symbol of sustainable construction in Palawan. As a final touch, they even invested in natural lawnmowers; a family of free-ranging goats keeps the lawn short, and provides manure for composting and soil amendment.

+ Roots of Health

Photos by Laurel Fantauzzo for Inhabitat