Houses and buildings are the "nuclei" of any site, through which the majority of energy and resources flow to be either wasted or maximized for best use. And yet, most permaculture courses barely touch on physical structures! We here at Atitlan Organics think that your house and other structures deserve more attention as integral and essential parts of your overall permaculture design. That is why we offer this one-week course grounded in the permaculture principles offering a deep dive into the art and practice of Natural Building. From stone to cob to natural plasters, you'll learn a wide range of natural building styles and technique which can be put to use in any climate or region of the world. Learn how to reduce your footprint and maximize your efficiency all while creating beautiful, durable structures! We like to think of it as "Permaculture for Zone 0."

Each day is split into two parts: a hands-on practical in which you get the chance try out different techniques in natural building, and a classroom session which delves deep into topics such as stone foundations, building with cob, and troubleshooting design flaws.

A dynamic adventure awaits. We can't wait to meet you!




Regenerative Design and Natural Building

We are psyched to be offering a new two-week collaborative course on Permaculture and Natural Building! Week 1 of the Foundations of Regenerative Design course is 40+ hours on Permaculture design and practice, and week 2 is a full Natural Building course. Participants may register for the full Regenerative Design course, or choose to join for just one week.

what is natural building?

Natural Building is many things. Broadly speaking, it is use of natural and renewable materials to create shelter for ourselves: something humans have been doing for millions of years. Natural building helps us to connect to the ecosystems we are a part of and ask what resources are abundantly available around us for creating structures. It allows for endless creativity with the raw and minimally processed materials that nature provides. Each bioregion on earth has historically developed a building vernacular that was based upon available resources. There are many styles of natural building that we utilize: cob, adobe, straw bale, rammed earth, wattle and daub, wood, bamboo, and stone work to name a few. But beyond the techniques and materials used, natural building also means connecting deeply with the place you are in; valuing and honoring the ecosystem to which you belong. It gives us the opportunity to build with consciousness so that our homes do not contribute to planetary destruction but rather the regeneration of the environment. Through the permaculture framework we begin to understand that our homes can aid in the reduction of waste through the use of recyclable and renewable resources. We can create homes that are healthy living spaces not utilizing toxic materials or requiring large amounts of maintenance and upkeep costs. Through these modalities we are able to create energy efficient designs that require less energetic inputs while offering us a beautiful, unique structure. By turning our gaze to the homes and buildings which surround us, we discover huge potential for a more sustainable and regenerative lifestyle!







  • Class is a balanced mix classroom activities presentations, hands-on work, and excursions and workshops.

  • Kick off with an introduction to natural building modalities, revisioning of home activity, and working with the elements.

  • Learn how to handle and build with several different traditional natural materials, including adobe, cob, rammed earth, bamboo, light clay straw, bajareque, and more.

  • Lessons in building structures from foundations to roofing systems.

  • Natural building walking tour of Tzununa and San Marcos with builder Charlie Rendall.

  • Work on a variety of sites throughout the community, interacting with the local community and exploring a variety of way to incorporate natural building into any site.

  • Learn how to enhance your space with natural plasters and finishes.

  • Create and present your own natural building design project.



Your Stay

During the course participants will stay in the Bambu Guest House, a super beautiful eco-hotel in the indigenous village of Tzununa. Built from all local and natural materials, the Bambu embodies the principles of Permaculture and Natural Building. All guest rooms are big and bright, and come equipped with private bathrooms with hot water, wifi, comfy beds and balconies with hammocks and amazing views of Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes. The Bambu’s farm-to-table restaurant is supplied by Atitlan Organics and other local producers and serves 3 fresh, delicious meals a day plus snacks, dessert, tea and coffee. The Bambu Guest House proves that luxury and sustainability can go hand-in-hand!



weekly schedule:

introductions natural building

Day 1 : Orientation

  • Orientation & Introductions

  • Overview of the Week

  • Introduction to Design Project

  • Revisioning Home Activity

cob natural building

Day 2 : site analysis & The elements of Design

  • Site Analysis/Design Introduction

  • Presentation: Introduction to Foundations

  • Introduction to Natural Building Modalities

  • Practical: Working with the Elements

rocket oven natural building

Day 3 : Exterior Wall Systems

  • Presentation: Exterior Wall Systems

  • Practical: Adobe/Cob/Rammed Earth

  • Community Tour to Experience Wall Systems

  • Practical: Bajareque Garden Wall

plasters natural building

Day 4 : Interior Wall Systems

  • Presentation: Exploring Wall Systems Continued (Light Clay Straw, Slip Chip, Hempcrete, Straw Bale, Cordwood)

  • Practical: Light clay Straw

  • Presentation: Intro to Appropriate Technology

roofing natural building

Day 5 : Plasters and finishings

  • Presentation: Intro to Plasters

  • Practical: Mixing Plasters and Application Techniques

  • Presentation: Natural Paints and Finishes

  • Presentation: Intro to Flooring

project design natural building

DAY 6 : Plasters and bamboo

  • Base coat plasters

  • Presentation: Intro to Roof Systems

  • Field trip with Charlie Rendall of Return to the Forest

  • Presentation: Wood and Bamboo Framing

last day natural building

DAY 7 : project presentations

  • Recap

  • Project Presentations

  • Course Conclusion


Daily Schedule

Natural Building Schedule



Our Introduction to Natural Building course is offered as the second week of our two-week Foundations of Regenerative Design course. Participants may take the full 2-week course for $1,195 or may sign up for Week 2 only (Natural Building) for $695. We encourage you to register early to save your spot!


Ashley McDonell, Lead Facilitator, Foundations of Regenerative Design, Natural Building Course, a 2 week course in Permaculture and Natural Building with Atitlan Organics in Tzununa, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, Central America 2019 2020 2021

Ashley McDonell


Travel and Logistics

The course starts on Saturday afternoon. Participants are expected to arrive by 4pm, but are welcome to come and check in at the Bambu Guest House any time throughout the day.

Once the course starts, all food, lodging, training, and travel is covered and included in the cost of the workshop. 

The course ends Friday at noon, following a big brunch, student presentations, and goodbyes. We can help arrange shuttles to and from the airport, Antigua, or anywhere else. Just let us know if you need this service.

Upon registering for the course, we will send an email with lots of course info, FAQ and a food allergy questionnaire. We can accommodate almost all requests including vegan, gluten free, and vegetarian diets, etc.

directions to the bambu guest house