I don’t consider myself an “apocalypse prepper” or an environmentalist, or a hard-core minimalist for that matter (although my wife and I might differ slightly on the definition of minimalist). I’m just an ordinary industrial designer who lived for a few years (with my wife and two children) at a self-made bush camp on the banks of the Zambezi River and in the small “city” of Livingstone in Zambia, Africa. I’ve also traveled quite a bit and have experienced a variety of cultures. So while spending time in other countries (like China, Guatemala, Romania and others) and living in Zambia, I learned some big lessons about what’s really essential for life. I came back to the states with a passion to take what I had learned and practiced and put it to use, not only here in the U.S., but elsewhere as well – to what I can to to make the world better.
That’s why I formed Mud Hut Lab. I wanted to set up a design / testing / consulting business to help ordinary, like-minded people create and establish more sustainable and interdependent lifestyles. I wanted to explore and combine technologies – both new and ancient – that are the best fit for a client’s environment and situation. Generally, I see my business offer appealing more to those with a definite interest but no time, knowledge, or confidence to brave a venture like this on their own. By sustainable I mean “the ability to maintain a certain healthy lifestyle no matter what.” And by interdependent I mean “the healthy exchange that happens within a community of people.” Neither dependence nor independence is very smart. Neither is conducive for a sustainable life. The truth is, I just don’t like our general over-dependence on centralized, corporate or government-controlled food and public utilities (water, gas, electricity, sewer). It makes me uncomfortable to be at the mercy of an unsustainable system. What happens when there’s a hiccup in that system, even for a short time? And I don’t like the idea of complete independence either. A miserly hoarding mentality will never work. Community cooperation is where it’s at. I know this from experience.
Here’s just a brief description of my background. I am an industrial designer by trade. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it means that I’m a 3D designer; more akin I suppose to an architect than a graphic designer. An industrial designer’s job is to create useful, engaging, and beautiful experiences with any product, packaging, exhibit, stage set, furniture, lighting, etc. Besides my early love for thoughtful, balanced design, I think I was first awakened to sustainable living when I visited The Land Pavilion at Disney EPCOT just after high school.
During design school days I developed a further interest in the whole “green living” genre – things like appropriate technology, permaculture, organic gardening, natural building. I traveled to many different workshops covering various topics like solar design and installation, building with cob, building with clay slip / straw, building with earthbags, building adobe ovens, and so on. But once I moved to Zambia, these interests really came to the forefront. My brother and I had to figure out how to design and develop a bush camp on thirteen acres of land on the bank of the Zambezi River. We sat on that rocky hilltop looking out on the beauty of the blue water below (and I do mean blue!) and started at square one evaluating what we needed to carve out a home on a small scale in the bush. Other ex-pat friends of ours had done the same thing before we ever arrived. One family who operates a safari lodge just up the river had been there fifteen years before we ever showed up. Another couple lived about three hours further north and had lived there for seven years. All of them continue to be an inspiration to me and their insight at the time was critical. So, back on our land, I had to evaluate and create a list of necessities in order of importance. I looked at the lay of the land and took stock of what it had to offer, and then developed a comprehensive plan to maximize and manage it responsibly. Without really realizing it, I was practicing what Australian, Bill Mollison, in the early 70s, dubbed “permaculture” (a process of designing and establishing a permanent culture).
After our work was finished, I came back from Zambia with a more focused, informed interest. Now I want to apply that same mindset that I was forced to use to set up a self-sustaining bush camp on the banks of the Zambezi River to dwelling places anywhere in the world; whether the context be urban, suburban or rural; in a developed country or developing country; and in every climate possible. Do I have a dream challenge? You bet. It’s to be dropped anywhere in the world (in true British SAS, Bear Grylls fashion of course – just kidding) and over the period of a few weeks, follow the same exact steps for designing and securing the essentials for a sustainable and interdependent lifestyle as I did in urban and rural Africa. These essential components that I’m talking about are so basic they’re primal. Water, food, shelter, fire / power (the ability to cook, warm yourself, and power basic machines) are foundational to even the most basic form of civilization. It wouldn’t matter if we were talking about a highly developed metropolis, a collapsed urban environment, an undeveloped rural area, or a wilderness area – the essentials for life remain the same.
Lastly, living sustainably shouldn’t be a haphazard, junky-looking thing. It should be beautiful and well-ordered. It’s good for the soul (and good for the neighbors who have to look at it). A compound system that helps provide your basic life essentials that’s also aesthetically delightful requires a tremendous amount of research, planning, and creativity. I believe that’s what I have to offer. There are plenty of others out there doing what I do. But, hey, the world is a big place full of a lot of people that need help and inspiration to live sustainably in an interdependent community. Nobody shares my exact combination of experience, perspective, and creative ability. That package was a gift to me – I can’t waste it. That’s why I created Mud Hut Lab and that’s what makes this company unique.
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