Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute (PMI) should spark the interest of Global Site Plans readers interested in all aspects of sustainable living. Essentially, PMI operates as a working laboratory where new theories and ideas about sustainable farming and architecture are developed and taught to growing numbers of local residents and visitors. The site was originally purchased as a five hundred acre lot by Tim Toben in 1999. Most of the land within the original sale became protected forest land, however a portion of the site was developed into the Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute.
Part of the focus at Pickards Mountain is on developing sustainable architecture and creating models for retrofitting existing conventional housing. Volunteer Thomas Weikel described the building experiments being done as, “primarily focused on creating renewable, sustainable and also recyclable materials, and making examples of modified conventional housing.” Weikel notes that the aim is also to create appealing architecture for everyone, not just a person interested in green living.
As an ongoing project, Pickards Mountain has implemented different structures and strategies for green building. The main structure is powered by a joint system of solar panels and wind turbines. PMI houses volunteers in campsites using tents and yurts. Yurts, for the uninformed, are semi-permanent structures originating from central Asia. Early in 2011, volunteers at PMI began refurbishing an old house on the property with the help of a contractor using the latest advances in conventional green home building including lightweight modified concrete, structural insulated panels, and natural stains.
From an architectural standpoint, the most interesting bit of building going on is the continued development and experimentation with cob houses. Cob building uses clay mixed with straw and a few other materials to produce a sort of natural concrete. While producing a cob home is labor intensive, it is inexpensive, locally sourced and fire resistant. The first cob structure at PMI is a small residence for the garden manager and was built by a team of students and volunteers.
Pickards Mountain also exists as part of a larger urban planning model. Located eight miles outside of the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the dense efficiency of the city contrasts with the rural agriculture in outlying areas. Chapel Hill and its surrounding areas, including Pickards Mountain, is part of the transition town movement. This movement seeks to increase local resilience and lower the effects of climate change, peak oil, and possible economic instability.
How would you implement some of the developments made at Pickards Mountain in your daily life?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.