Natural Building Course

A modular, 3-Part Natural Building Intensive, focused on learning multiple earthen building techniques

Have you been dreaming of building your own natural home, re-modeling your house or just want to have a natural building immersive experience?  Then come for this 16 days intensive hands-on course!

 At Terra Alta we aspire to live off-the-grid and aim to build homes that are appropriate for a humid coastal climate. In the past years we have been actively researching and experimenting with the most functional techniques to provide comfortable housing using natural and locally available materials. Using Permaculture as a tool, we design our structures to work harmoniously with the landscape while being both beautiful and functional.

The project will be to build our guest Vermicomposting toilets utilizing a variety of natural building techniques including timber framinglight clay straw and earthen plastering. This project is designed in a way that one will learn and understand a variety of natural building techniques in its application and exploring together systems for waste water treatments. It represents a wonderful example of a natural building project meeting an appropriate technology. Along the way we will dance in the mud, play music around the stone circle, and go for a walk to the beach to fully enjoy being at Terra Alta.

To accommodate for different interests, we will organise the course in modules that can be taken individually or as an entire experience. Terra Alta will be hosting the event and giving tours of the already existing natural buildings and permaculture systems. We are inviting professional natural builders and facilitators to share these techniques in a three module set with an emphasis on hands-on learning while being complemented by classroom/theory time.

The workshop is designed to be accessible, interesting & challenging for a both the intermediate and unexperienced natural builders.

Since we expect a variety of nationalities the main language will be English, but both Portuguese and Spanish are spoken fluently by the facilitators.

You can take the course as a whole for a discounted price, or choose a week depending on your interests.

For more information and to register contact Henrik at the following:

Date: 8th June to 24th June 2017

Course Fee (all 3 modules included) – 795 € (early bird until 1st April – 750 €)

*includes camping accommodation and all meals that are delicious and homemade with a focus on organic and local

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Module 1: Timber framing structure 

Date: 8th June (Arrival with afternoon Intro Session) to 15th June

Course Fee: 495 € ( early bird until 1st April – 450 €)

Lead Facilitator: Ruka

In this module we will explore the details of designing, selecting timbers, laying out and cutting all the joints necessary to complete and raise the frame. Mostly, it will be simple mortise and tenon joinery with some variations and options for the connection of specific members (i.e.: dovetail and scarf joints). Both power and hand tools will be used, with an emphasis on learning how to properly use a sharp framing chisel and mallet.

The main focus will be to accurately lay out and execute the joints, making them not only functional but also beautiful. Working as a team we will build up individual and collective confidence. We expect that as a result the participants will feel empowered to engage on a timber frame project of their own. Most importantly we aim to share a systematic and comprehensive method. The frame will be joyfully raised on site and donated to the host family.

When all the pieces come together, the joints fit and the frame is up due the combined efforts of the raising crew, there´s an indescribable feeling of  reward and joy, pure joy. One must experience it to understand it!

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Why Timber framing in the Natural building movement?

Timber framing is special craft. Not only is a secular form of building (some of the oldest timber frames are 1000 years old), it combines the working with timbers, fine execution, creative design, the raising of useful structures with an inherent culture branched out throughout the whole planet.

We believe that the versatility of design, structural strength, timeless aesthetics and durability are great assets of Timber Frames. Additionally they provide long lasting structure that can be combined and in-filled with a variety of natural materials & techniques so embedded in our culture (earth, adobe, wattle and daub, stone masonry, light-straw-clay and so on. In fact, this has been done with proven success all over the planet for many centuries, including Europe, Asia, the Americas…

We aim to cultivate the mind-set that the possibilities are infinite, and through the promotion of building beautiful, natural and sound with timber, we can also reactivate the good sense of replanting diverse well managed forests for future generations. These are the reasons why we are fully committed to develop a critical mass of fine artisans, promote and build beautiful, good quality, healthy and sustainable buildings that will stand the test of time…

 For more detailed information about this module click HERE


Module 2: Ecological Sewerage Treatment – Vermicomposting Flush Toilet System

Date: 17th June – 18th June 2017 ( weekend course ) 

Price: 125 € ( early bird until 1st April – 100 € ) 

Facilitator: Wendy Howard & Vera Filipa Ripley

This last module will cover ecological sewerage treatment methods, focusing mainly on the theory and practice of installing a vermicomposting flush toilet system. This system combines all the ecological advantages of a dry composting toilet system with the user-friendliness and convenience of a flush toilet. It has a 20-year history of trouble-free use by the system’s originator in the USA. The simplified version of the system developed here in Portugal requires minimal maintenance compared to dry systems and has significant environmental advantages over conventional septic tanks. It needs no energy input or machinery and utilises low cost components, many of which can be sourced from existing waste streams. It can now be used in approved housebuilding and renovation projects in some areas of Portugal under the provisions for “septic tank with drainage”. The workshop will also cover other methods of ecological sewerage treatment for situations where a vermicomposting system may not be so optimal.

The practical part of the workshop will involve participants in the installation of 3 new vermicomposting toilets for Terra Alta. We will also show how the system can be retrofitted to existing septic tank sanitation systems and include grey water processing.

For more information on this course please visit :

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Module 3: Light Clay wall technique, Earthen Plastering  

Date: 19th to 23th June

Course Fee: 250 € ( early bird until 1st April – 225 € )

Facilitator: Henrik Ellerbrock & Pedro Valdjiu

In this module we will be making infill walls in a space saving yet insulating manner, using a technique called light clay. For this technique we use loose straw, toss it in clay slip, and fill in the framework. Since we are not in a cold temperate climate, highly insulating straw-bale walls are not needed. Light clay walls can also be thinner and take up less living space. Light clay is a very fast technique and makes a great building method in a Mediterranean climate.

Further we will explore different earthen plaster techniques and their recipes. You will learn how to mix and apply the plaster to your exterior and interior walls to beautify and protect them. Earthern plasters are incredible rewarding since you can sculpture it how you want it and provide a healthy, non-toxic, soft and organic finishing touch to your wall surface.

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 The Host Site

Terra Alta is an aspiring off the grid holistic education host site and gives you the chance to be immersed in a landscape of learning. It’s located in between Almoçageme and Ulgueira, two quaint villages just above the sea and situated for easy access to the amazing beaches called Praia da Adraga and Ursa. It’s easy to reach from Lisbon and Sintra and gives access to our amazing sunset cliffs and beaches. Terra Alta offers a wonderful example of small-scale intensive systems working towards being off the grid. Because the site has had several years of Permaculture management, it is easy for students to immerse themselves in the principles of landscape development and holistic infrastructure development. The following Permaculture elements and functions are on display amongst others:
  • Small-scale Earthworks to capitalise on impervious surface runoff
  • Extensive Food Forest of subtropical, temperate, and Mediterranean species corresponding with the earthworks
  • Hot & Cold Composting (Vermiculture) systems for boosting soil life, picking up on waste streams, and cycling nutrients
  • Food Preservation and supporting local economy of food production
  • Small Intentional Community focused on adult education through Permaculture courses but more importantly holistic, Waldorf and Permaculture inspired education for the children of the local area
  • Natural Building techniques utilized for dwellings and outdoor cooking and social spaces
  • Renewable Energy technology featuring solar panels


During the courses students get a chance to experience a permaculture garden more intimately by camping on the land. In a semi-wild area, we have created level terraces among the trees, mushrooms and stones for people to pitch their tents out of view from the rest of the garden.
There is also the possibility for some students with their own bus/camper-van to stay on the land, although space is limited; so if you are interested in bringing a bus, please get in touch and we’ll do our best to accommodate everyone!


From the outdoor communal kitchen, we provide 3 meals per day, breakfast, lunch and dinner included in the cost of the course (except Sundays when the students are free to feed themselves!)
Prepared with love, the food is always diverse, fresh, healthy, homemade and vegetarian. By that we also help to stimulate the local food economy by purchasing what ingredients are not grown at Terra Alta from the local organic “Cooperativa” and other local producers and processors.

Videos from past courses