Miriam Waltz

Earth and the City

Daphna Yalon at work. (Dorian Levin)
Daphna Yalon at work. (Dorian Levin)

Earth and the City

Earth-based artist and teacher Daphna Yalon is bringing earth to the city.  She is what you would call an ‘earth mother (mudder)’, a central force and ‘bringer together’ of people from and for the earth-building field in Israel. With more than twenty years of direct experience working and teaching with earth, in and out of Jerusalem and Israel, all the while she has been longing to live by what she teaches. Finally, as she puts the finishing touches to her modest and homely earth-plastered studio in the German Colony, she can say that she has brought ‘land’ to her ‘home’, as she smiles with glee, “in the center city of Jerusalem!”

Home and Homeland

Made in the Congo, born in Jerusalem, Daphna spent her childhood between Korea, South Africa and Brazil before returning again for high school in Jerusalem. She trained as a ceramic artist at Bezalel, established a ceramics workshop working with special needs children and ran courses with the David Yellin College of Education.  She reconnected with Kibbutz Lotan as part of the core team experimenting with earth and eco-building in 2000; returning to the place she had first encountered as a youth in her years with the ‘garin nachal’ youth movement.

Soon after, she joined the Lotan delegation from Israel that went to help in the aftermath of the earthquake in Gujarat. Tal Bashan and her late brother Yuval Amir led the group to a small village called Tundawand, one of the few, in the face of the invasion of the concrete businesses, that took up the government’s offer to receive double funding if traditional building methods were used. It was apparent that the traditionally built earth buildings held up better in the earthquake than the modern concrete ones, and allowed the villagers the easy access to materials to be able to self determinate their village’s reconstruction. The two traditional huts that they built, served as the workshops for the women who were to spearhead the rebuilding of the village.

With this communal and spatial experience resonating in her, the subsequent three years she spent on a Master’s in Australia expanded her earth research to something involving more than just ‘object’ but also people, public space and community, with projects such as “House, Home and Homeland”, “The hearth of the matter” and “Sensuous earth”. This laid the groundwork for her further deep, artistic collaboration with the Vertigo dance company in Netiv Halamed Hei.

‘Sensuous earth 3’, Alice Springs, Australia

Adamahi; Essence of life

An urge to reconvene the earth building pioneers, to reignite the fire and sense of purpose, and call others to join, led to the first Adamahi conference in Netiv Halamed Hei in 2008 with over 100 delegates. With this first conference emerged an understanding of the need for a physical, central, meeting point. Daphna’s subsequent collaboration with Muslala on the “Mirpeset” in the Binyan Clal in Jerusalem is where this central, urban meeting point became a functional and organized reality. The rooftop represented that ‘other layer of ground’ in the urban fabric, connecting the face of the city with the face of the sky. Jerusalem became the setting of several further conferences and refound itself as the home of ‘Adamahi’. Adamahi intends to grow its activities in a way that emphasises the connection between city and earth; community and the bounty of nature.

First encounter with earth; gratitude circle

 A feminine approach, and a seamless aesthetic

A quiet and soft-spoken person, with a precise and direct drive, Daphna believes in and researches a feminine approach to and through earth. Her connection to her work and her teaching method is very personal. She feels that when you bring out your work in an honest, integral and intimate way you see that it’s not just you, and that’s where the conversation with others evolves.  She describes, that although she never saw herself as a performer, in her practice with earth, slowly, a sense of ritual started to emerge from hours of experimentation. “ Suddenly you find yourself physically part of it. Your whole being is essential in the thing, in the way you dress, bring yourself, talk, think and act. Part of the image that you have becomes embedded.”

In parallel to her emphasis on direct experience she espouses the utmost importance to organization and presentation. As well as wanting to ‘sell’ earth connection even to the dirt phobic, she feels that neatness not only helps her to breathe, it also gives her the ability to zoom more clearly into the details, mixtures and methods. This gives her the tools to transform and mesh the materials according to her vision and to transmit the knowledge in a clear, simple and universal way to others. “When you look at something in nature, the beauty and the awe that you feel when you see that it is so precise, so organized, that it takes your breath away!”

Students learning to mix and form molds at Adamahi, at the Mirpeset in Binyan Clal

Teaching teachers

Learning through doing is essential in becoming acquainted with how the earth feels, reacts and shapes itself through human touch. It is an infinite world of experimentation and refinement of earth sculpting, building, furniture making, beehive making, oven making, wall-plastering and much more. Since 2016 Adamahi has been building and running an apprenticeship course to train others to a level that they are then able to train others, with the emphasis on how to guide through the initial layers of experience and knowledge.

Ru Boasson, one of the ‘mitmachim’, apprentices of Adamahi at work on her relief,earth-plaster, wall sculptures

A Common Language

Daphna sees her role in transmitting her knowledge of earth building in a wider, international context. As the interest and ecologic urgency of earth building is gaining popularity world wide, an international earth ‘language’ is being formulated into standards and methods that will ensure that the earth building profession will increase, be taken seriously and have the chance at a substantial impact on the building industry and the education of building professionals. ECVET is a European initiative which includes 10 or more countries formulating a curriculum for you to eventually learn your ‘black belt’ in earth building; a combination of online and ‘apprentice-master’ learning with points of examination by international examiners. Amaco in France, The Center for Alternative Technology in Wales, and Basehabitat in Austria are emerging as leaders in the field of earth building education in Europe.

Learning to discern the proportions of water, earth and fiber-based materials to affect the strength and properties of the mix, at the Mirpeset with Adamahi

Earthbuilding beyond borders

Daphna will be participating in this year’s Balkan Regio Earth Conference later this month in Serbia; an important step in connecting the Israeli earth-knowledge network to the international conversation. It is her hope that the earth conversation in Israel will get louder (in a humble yet persuasive way) and that not only the government but also the inhabitants (as did the inhabitants of Tunawand) and the building industry will realize that earth building is more ecological, healthier, accessible, cheaper, safer, more peaceful and more fun for everybody, everywhere.


About the Author
Miriam Waltz made aliyah via London, Basel and New York. She is an architect that has worked in world renowned firms on various continents. Currently she resides in Tel Aviv and is principal founder of Studio Itouf. The studio designs spaces, environments and habitats that promote wellbeing, belonging, authenticity, autonomy and collaboration between mineral, vegetable, animal and human. Photo by Yelena Kvetny