Interview: Brian "Ziggy" Liloia on How to build your own Hobbit House


9 Responses to “Interview: Brian "Ziggy" Liloia on How to build your own Hobbit House”

  1. Raines Cohen says:

    (literally) dirty hippies!

    No, seriously, I’ve visited Dancing Rabbit and was quite impressed with not just the variety of building methods employed (and the web of embedded expertise chronicled in the article that makes it possible) and the extremes of affordability (even among intentional communities, DR has relatively low barriers to entry and ongoing costs).

    What really inspired me was the gumption of a bunch of Stanford EE grads among the founders who were both willing and able to relocate to the middle of nowhere (about equidistant to Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City) for next-to-nothing and build from scratch while continuing to earn CA consulting fees through telework.

    The amount of leverage you get from a move like that is amazing – it is kind of like outsourcing yourself, no passport required. The resulting carbon profile/net environmental impact from the community they’ve built, with the relative quality of life, is a ratio you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world – it goes way deeper than the “sticks and bricks” of green building. And the personal effort and time that might otherwise go into paying for all the accoutrements of mainstream living becomes available for personal development and community connection– and doing so in group process means there’s always ongoing opportunities for growth (meant here in both the positive and negative/euphemistic senses of the phrase).

    While I recommend a visit to DR if you’re in the Rutledge, Missouri area (there’s now a regular-walls-and-all B&B, Milkweed Mercantile, featuring a noted SF Bay Area chef), you can also meet several folks from the community in Chicago the weekend after next at the Art of Community one-day conference in Chicago 5/21 (I’ll be speaking there, then bringing back a report to Maker Faire/San Mateo on Sunday 5/22 – hop on my roving Cohousing Coach quadricycle for a ride around the site). And in September at the main Art of Community gathering in the woods in the North San Francisco Bay area– mentioned now because early reg. is about to close. Learn more about both at .

    My own community-building work is primarily with folks choosing more-conventional paths to weave community into their lives: cohousing condominium neighborhoods built with experienced developers by ordinary contractors (although as green as we can find), with traditional materials, financed by the same mortgages everyone else is carrying, from the same lenders, paid for by the same jobs. But every innovation painfully pioneered or rediscovered at Dancing Rabbit helps us all, sooner or later, on our journey to living once again in sustainable community.

    Raines Cohen, Cohousing Coach & Community Organizer
    Planning for Sustainable Communities (Berkeley, CA)

    Full disclosure: I volunteer as a board member for Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), the national umbrella nonprofit supporting all sorts of communities nationwide through the Communities Directory and Communities Magazine, alongside folks from DR and other nearby communities. But this represents my personal opinion, not necessarily that of FIC.

  2. JonStewartMill says:

    It’s a shame Brian didn’t check this out before concluding that cob construction isn’t appropriate for colder climates. There are many ways to alleviate the low R-value of cob, so-called “bale cob” being just one of them.

    Some friends and I are planning a cob house in central Ohio. The Hand-Sculpted House is the most useful resource we’ve found so far.

    • sorbapple says:

      First of all, Ziggy’s blog clearly shows that he’s read The Hand Sculpted House.

      Secondly, solar insolation only goes so far in making a cob house livable in cold-winter climates. Ianto Evans himself admits that cob isn’t right for all areas (page 36 of The Hand Sculpted House). He also discusses ways to counter climate effects using insulation.

  3. TFox says:

    It sounds a lot like sod houses, which were built by settlers in the northern prairies. These worked fine in -40 winters, but were halfway underground, which helps.

  4. tamgoddess says:

    Hi, Raines! (It’s me, Liz, from Southside Park Cohousing) You’re so very awesome.

    I feel like all of the work those of us living in intentional community have put in over the years is really paying off for the greater good of everyone. Our knowledge and experience is creating a morphogenetic groove for those of us who are finding that regular employment and a huge mortgage are NOT going to be sustainable (for the masses) forever.

    Next big step is getting zoning and codes changed for alternative building methods and smaller house sizes. Is anyone making any headway there? I see only isolated folks. We need massive zoning reform!

    • Raines Cohen says:

      Hi, Liz! (blushing) long time no see! I count you and your community experience among my inspirations for doing this work, every day — so your work is definitely paying off.

      The National Cohousing Conference is coming up next month in DC, and we’re taking advantage of the location to organize some lobbying and partnering with aligned organizations to do some education and outreach among policymakers. The more books like the one referenced in the main post here that demystify and document the movement, and the more research that quantifies the benefits, the stronger our case for change becomes.

      Next year’s national cohousing conference will be here in NorCal, and I think there’s opportunity to work on statewide issues in the meantime right in your Sacred-Tomato hometown. Because so many condo-buyers have been defrauded by developers or fight through their homeowner associations (HOA’s), and lenders have been caught holding the bag in the last crash, increased regulation and tightened lending criteria have made it more challenging to create more of the communities you and I love and live in.

      Because so many pioneering intentional communities over the past half century developed and survived “off the radar” and were able to innovate through absence of enforcement rather than engagement with their surrounding counties and neighbors, it has been hard to find strong examples willing to “out themselves” and join in the movement pushing for change – with cohousing’s visibility and mainstream enmeshment being one notable exception.

      The small/tiny house movement has been covered on this very blog, but by and large it remains a tool used in isolation, or at best for in-law cottages, not in community. Ross Chapin’s new book “Pocket Neighborhoods” makes a beautiful case (visually speaking) for the potential of living smaller, lighter, richer lives in community.

      The new documentary “Happy” (directed by Roko Belic of “Ghengis Blues” fame) features cohousing in Denmark in a matter-of-fact way as one of many paths to better living, no chemistry required. Here in the Oakland/Berkeley area, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) is hosting many events for this “Affordable Housing Week” weaving the linkages between green and permanently-affordable intergenerational and senior housing.

      Raines (off to register a domain based on a phrase you used)

  5. Anonymous says:

    unbelievable! Boingboing has managed to be hyper-relevant for me again, even 10(?!) years after I first started reading it. My partner and I just returned from a 3 week visit at DR yesterday and we can verify that it is totally awesome and inspiring and we are doing our best to figure out how to move there ASAP.
    Ziggy’s house is beautiful, it is a shame there isn’t a real photo of it in the interview.
    For people who are really serious about doing something radically awesome towards sustainability and a sane way of life, but don’t have the bucks to hire a developer/contractor/architect or whatever to build something green, this is the most achievable way we have found (we’d be happy to hear of any others)

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