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Creating affordable, nature-integrated homes for independent living

February, 1974

Island Quarterly 
(archive - 1970's alternative community founded by Robert Bornn on an island in Maine)

Introduction and Background
Earthworm Technology and Diagram
The Scope of the Struggle

Introduction and Background
By Robert Bornn

The island has gone through many years of industrialization and now that reclamation is planned, the people of the project and those of the Stonington community will both share in the humanizing of the island and in the seeking and exploring of alternative energies.  The human dwelling environment is where we begin our personal search for a better world.  The outer environment is an area of great importance and forms a critical link  between humankind and our planet.  It deserves much study, subsequent awareness, and appropriate actions.   The inner environment (i.e., human dwelling environment) calls for immediate study as well since it is absolutely critical that houses positively reflect the people who inhabit them. 


By Robert Bornn

The main value that the island has had for us so far has been in evaluating the role of shelter in of how we live.   The housing that will follow this evaluation will be the result of a combination of structural and human needs research. 

The main idea, so far, can be seen as a new direction in housing.  A prototype would include not only an expression of ecological awareness and potential for living in phase with nature, but a possible harmony between people which has become a more distant reality daily.  The upheavals in our personal lives due to role re-evaluation and new human needs awareness have also brought forth new demands that our dwellings reflect these positive changes.  The need to be alone, to be responsible for one's own life, the sharing of time based on free desire, not environmental or social pressure, should be part of any overall design plan. 

One way this can be expressed is by construction of houses by and for the individuals using them.  Having each person have their own dwelling is the beginning of that new human potential.  Having that house designed and built with friends and in a cooperative fashion makes that idea economically feasible.  The costs, while greater for a separate dwelling than for a nuclear family style dwelling, actually diminish within the context of cooperative purchasing of materials and group building. 

The feelings brought about by such a building effort may in themselves be of a substantial benefit in learning cooperative venturing.  One question is about people's prior relations.  Will people still live together?  Even if one has built a home for themselves they will still see each other as much or as little as they desire.  Even though it is probable that the majority of time will be spent doing the same things and spending time similarly, the needs for privacy and the needs for individuation and subsequent identity strengthening will have the possibility of fulfillment.  This last set of needs is almost never met even if the people involved are cooperative with each other, due to simple limitations of space and how that space is allocated.  Someone usually ends up with a less than desirable part of the house as their territory. 

When an animal's territory is transgressed, aggressive behavior is noted; with people, anti-social behavior starts cropping up.  It is quite hard to imagine, especially if the relationships are close, as to why anyone would prefer to live alone.  Yet in reality people do live alone on this planet. Voluntary socialization is what makes people a little less alone. 

If people build their homes near or attached to others, yet completely self-sufficient, then their interdependency is purely emotional (as it should be) rather than a result of role and housing pressures. 

Freer people may evolve from individual housing.  Less anti-social and aggressive behavior and more positive interaction between men and women, adults and children, we believe will occur.  Fixed role stereotyping will diminish under cooperative and equalized housing.  We believe it's the key to establishing a better harmony between people and a consequent harmony with nature. 

Houses constantly exert a reinforcing effect on various behavior patterns.  If the total environment is planned by its future inhabitants to exert a positive reinforcement of new and freer patterns, then after a time the meaningful changes will be apparent.  This is part of what we're attempting.  Housing which evolves as it is constructed and lived in, is another goal.


Earthworm Technology
By Robert Bornn

Often it is felt that energy is simply electrical watts, horsepower, and so on.  In fact, the calories in food, along with oxygen, are the primary energy sources that are most important to consider.  Earthworm technology, as we call it, concerns the orderly, efficient, and lowest cost method (in terms of environmental impact and money) of converting what is waste to one organism into food for another.   Earthworms, by favorably altering the structure and contents of the soil or of concentrated sewage and organic refuse (sweetening and aerating it), thus provide a better grade soil.   These worms in turn become the food for fish and also poultry.  We intend to raise fish in large quantities in the vast quarry pits.  Fish eat earthworms, people eat fish.  Fish refuse will be worked through by earthworms.  Excess refuse will become fertilizer or can be anerobically digested into methane gas.  In practical terms, we feel that the most efficient system we can devise for waste conversion and high protein production comes down to earthworms.  This means we will be utilizing a single organism which produces a useful by-product, in addition to its primary use. 

We expect our first form of production of electricity to be unregulated and to be intermittently generated by wind, solar energy, tides, and water currents.  This energy could be stored as hydrogen, a product of electrolysis, in batteries, and someday in nylon flywheels.  The steady-state usable electric power will come from hydrogen fuel cells and batteries; the gas, or course, may be burned directly as stationary engine fuel or in heating plants themselves.  The production of hydrogen as fuel from the intermittent electrolysis of sea water also provides oxygen.  Oxygen in turn may be burned with waste wood in the production of methanol, which in turn can be used for mobile engines.  Hence our overall approach involves the conversion of static material (granite scrap) into dynamic money which becomes capital investment in equipment which utilizes forces which are renewable and have a low environmental impact.  They also work simply.  Earthworm technology may help us to achieve this next chapter of our conversion to a post-industrial era. 

When the scrap granite is sold, the land itself may be reclaimed.  The compost heap will cover the scars and become soil.  From this soil grasses will grow.  Animals such as goats and sheep will follow.  Grazing fills yet another space in the overall plan of reclamation.  The animals, of course, provide food and their droppings in turn, can be processed with the human "waste." 

We feel that the term "waste" or "refuse" means that we have simply failed to utilize a material to its limit.  Our inability to to define everything as useful is what creates garbage and sewage.  On that note we are currently preparing to research and propose new and alternative systems of municipal sewage collection and conversion for the town of Stonington.  It looks very positive at this time.  More of that in the next issue. 

earthworm technolgy
Copyright (c) 1972-2005 by Robert Bornn.  All rights reserved.

The Scope of the Struggle
By Robert Bornn

The first issue of the Island Quarterly reaches you in the midst of a number of epic struggles. Artificial shortages of every sort plague people.  In George Orwell's 1984, a book that has predicted successfully a number of ongoing trends, shortages are linked with specific political controls for the benefit of the totalitarian government.  Orwell did not grasp at the time the enormity of the future power of the multinational corporations as pseudo world governments, which decisively regulate fuel, foodstuffs, and control development or depression of the people.  However, even this timetable falls a decade past a number of actual practices.  Although the oil regulation plans are the most obvious, the insidious food control and almost all other economic controls are imposed and accepted with latent disinterest.  "Life is too hard to struggle constantly with every power wielding specter from every devious corner"' from a machinist friend.  Hence the controls spiral upward, while people grow further from succeeding in their personal goals of a better world.  Environmentalists are now under attack as being a cause(!) of the energy problem, much as the boy who shouted that the emperor had no clothes and was the cause of the nonexistent garment.  As recycling becomes more and more acceptable, population gains wipe out any real improvements made simultaneously.  Focusing on specific issues and problems is becoming more important as time grows shorter.  It is inevitable that a number of imbalances are likely to become more overwhelming as time goes on.  Some of them appear under the guise of good luck -- milder winter weather is one such occurrence.  I feel it is something entirely different that what it appears to be.  As our project becomes more equipped to observe and record, specific relationships between environment and behavior and environment in relation to food and energy production will be clarified. 

The diffusion of the seasons is one such example.  There is a phenomena starting to become more apparent now that was first noticed around fifty years ago (perhaps even further back and is intensifying lately.  The last  three winters have proven so far to be a fairly good example of this diffusion.  Characterized in the New England area (and Northwest coast) by a snow fall followed by an unusual and rapid thaw with accompanying unseasonably mild weather for a day or so with heavy flooding.  This coupled with the loss of snow cover usually means that when the insulating cloud cover disappears the cold returns and the front has a more severe effect on the ground and soil structure.  This manifests itself with obvious pipeline damage (freeze-up).  And not so obvious soil structure changes.  The structure change in itself results in trees losing their root strength and subsequent windstorms down them in great numbers.  Recent summers have likewise shown this diffusion.  They have been wetter and cooler than normal.  Spring has brought more insect activity than usual.  Autumns have been generally warmer with more precipitation.

Using a sense of caution about all new climatological changes is wise.  Who actually can predict with any degree of certainty what sort of changes will produce what sort of long-term effects?  The point is that seasonal diffusion may be an example of a complex and often subtle interrelationship of man's specific actively aggressive efforts to survive.  As these attempts of vast population survival continue more and greater imbalances of the environment are to be expected.  Although most microclimatological changes are relatively easy to monitor, the results of these changes are often generations away.  Without sufficient data, the usual extrapolations are considered by the industrial world as unacceptable and those advocating a conservative attitude are viewed as doomsday merchants.  It is very doubtful whether there would be a change in business practice of critical industries even if sufficient data were know.  An obvious example is the mercury and heavy metal pollution related paralysis in Japan in which the responsible companies preferred to subsidize the misery as a simple cost of doing business rather than facing their more costly responsibility of protecting the environment in the first place, at the risk of greatly reduced profits.

Although there is a beginning movement of ecological awareness, the incidents of breakdown in the systems of food growing and production, the problems of energy source production, transportation and use bring new realization of the overall seriousness of these problems.  Of all the signs and hints of what is happening, perhaps the contrived energy crisis will help to show the complexity of interdependency of our life-support systems.  If one believes, as a growing body of people do that there is a sufficient amount of food and other energy available for everyone, provided that the resource management directions are in phase with natural directions, then the crises will be resolved.  This, however, presumes a certain sense of good will and a belief on the part of many, that all shortages are in fact either contrived or simply a product of archaic controls gone haywire.  This sense and belief is actually quite rare and its lack is evidenced by the hoarding (stockpile) of human strategic materials and energy supplies.  Until a basic set of beliefs is radically altered, the best efforts of all the environmentalists will be for naught, since the population and its presumed needs will far outreach the supplies as they are controlled.  Nationalism and unequal distribution of life-support products on a global basis, of course, is a part of the problem.  A part of the solution should always be full utilization of indigenous materials and energy sources no matter how "inefficient" their land use may appear in the eyes of "professional" engineers and technocrats.

Robert Bornn
Winter '73/'74


Copyright (c) 1972-2010 by Robert Bornn.  All rights reserved.


Contact Information
Robert Bornn and Laura Worth
BuildingCircles Organization
P.O. Box 2443
Vashon Island, WA 98070
(206) 463-4284



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Copyright (c) 2006-2010 by Robert Bornn and Laura Worth.  All rights reserved. 
BuildingCircles, LifeSense Institute, AdvancedGreen, and Creating affordable and sustainable, nature-integrated homes for independent living are trademarks of Robert Bornn and Laura Worth.

Renderings by Robert Bornn and Nancy Henderson, AIA, LEED, AP.
Floor plan by Nancy Henderson, AIA, LEED, AP
Illustrative Site Plan Courtesy of Barbara Oakrock, Oakrock Design Studio

Photos by Robert Bornn
Web site by Laura Worth Web Design.