• Synergy Pervades a Journey Home in Oshara Village

    It couldn’t have happened to anybody, but it happened to my friend Diego Mulligan at a new-urbanist village called “Oshara.” One minute he’s on a backhoe excavating a two-foot-deep footer for his solar dream home. The next minute he’s digging a nine-foot-deep hole for the ceremonial kiva that he’s always wanted.


    So what if such a diversion wasn’t on the plans?


    A kiva is a cylindrical hole in the ground with a roof on it. Used by Pueblo Indians of the Southwest for centuries, you typically enter and exit a kiva via a ladder.  Embedded within the Earth, a good kiva will exude healing powers while providing spiritual strength to those who enter.


    Getting final approval for the addendum to his plans cost Diego countless hours of sweat equity, but in the end he and his wife Jen were able to have their kiva for a mere $10 per square foot. I had a wonderful experience touring their unfinished house and kiva the other day. Down in the hole, you feel a profound vibe. The acoustics are remarkably soothing, gentle and powerful at the same time. Then, in the quiet, calm protection of the place, my soul suddenly felt grounded and clear in a way that’s mostly unfamiliar to me.


    The couple named their future home The Synergy House because it is designed so that every component serves multiple functions. From the solarium and the root cellar to the composting toilet and the cistern, this affordable home may be one of the most ecological structures I’ve ever seen (and as an ecological landscape designer, I see lots of structures). Perhaps more importantly, it looks as if the house might become one of the most comfortable structures that I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.


    When their home is complete, Diego and Jen will broadcast their popular afternoon drive-time radio show from a circular studio located directly over the kiva. “The Journey Home” can be found at www.ksfr.org or from 5:00pm to 6:00pm on the FM dial (at 101.1 anywhere between Taos and Albuquerque). I’m sure it will be a challenging journey for both of them as their building site evolves into a famous eco-home, but now that their kiva is complete, their personal journey home will have a reasonably dependable fountainhead of inspiration—thanks to a bolt of creative confidence and the strength to follow through.


  1. Unknown says:

    Glad you groked the kiva. A small correction: the footing depth was originally 4 ft. and I dug down another 3.3 ft, making for 7ft 4 inches in headroom, with a 14ft by 16ft oval (inside diameter). After the fact, I drew up a reinforced concrete compression ring with a new footer to support the pressure from above, had my engineer look at it and beef it up, stamp the amended plan, then got that approved by the NM CID & building inspector. I spent almost as much money on that part as I did on materials for building the kiva.

    Yesterday evening I began peeling away the forms from the kiva to reveal the walls. They look great (so far) with a gentle undulating flow where the masonite bulged out a bit between the vertical ribs. (Can you believe I got away with 1/8" masonite as a form? How? The form itself functioned as a compression ring!)

    We'd like to have a few weekend workshops this summer in which we trade people's labor (say, building a wall with earth block, or plastering for info & experience, so people can learn how to build themselves. But mainly we want to convey just how rewarding it is to build your own house, and inspire others to engage the process. It doesn't have to be nearly as challenging as our house (do most people really need a radio studio or kiva, or pond in their living room, or an innovation workshop?); but it can be every bit as fulfilling to have a hand in building your own home that heats & cools itself. We see the Synergy House more as a hothouse for innovative and integrative technologies, a physical place and mind set that's open for new ideas to be tried & tested. From this series of alternatives will come a menu of options from which to pick & choose.


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