By Moriah Slade
In a world that seems to value the next newer, bigger and faster idea, some dedicate their life to historically tried-and-true methods of living with our environment, instead of against it.
One of these pioneers is architect, CEO and designer Monika Brümmer – a biomaterials designer and builder and founder of a hemp brick company based in Granada, Spain. I had the pleasure of interviewing Brümmer via email in late 2021.
Brümmer holds a Ph.D in Architecture and is the CEO of Cannatektum Habitat and Material Science in Spain which focuses on architectural projects, production and distribution of Brümmer’s custom designed Cannabric. Cannatektum also does deep research into various hempcretes and other hemp building materials.
Brümmer said she wanted to bridge the gap between research and practice in hemp building materials.
“In the course of my PhD and already before, I saw the need to get hemp out of the laboratory into practice and bring the practice of hemp building into the laboratory,” she told HempBuild Mag.
In 2019, Brümmer led a team that created the off-grid solar powered hemp “SUNIMPLANT” roundhouse home for the 2019 Solar Decathlon Africa (SDA) with local hemp building materials from a cooperative in Central Rif, Morocco.
The project included hemp concrete on a vertical facade surrounded by a spherical skin of bio-composite hemp fibers, affixed with semi-flexible photovoltaic panels.
But Brümmer did not originally get her start in architecture. Her focus was clothing and fashion design.
“Both studies are similar, we are talking about our second and third skin, both very important for our wellbeing and health,” she said. She went on to explain, “hemp can be a part of both and is highly responsible for hydrothermal comfort. Synthetic materials are airtight and do not allow for the same comfort.”
Brümmer is also the co-founder and president of Adrar Nouh in Morocco. She explains, “Adrar Nouh is a Moroccan cooperative focused on [exploring the economic value] of agricultural waste (hemp) for the purposes of rural socio economic development, as well as research projects using traditional hemp.”
“The geographic situation of (Granada-based) Cannatektum opened the opportunity to build a bridge of hemp architecture between two continents and cultures,” she said. In addition, “there are historic links … including the entry of hemp technologies in Southern Europe over the silk route.”
In 2013 she said she was asked, “to collaborate in the development of Morocco’s historic hemp farming region, to build with hemp in Nord Africa. We started with nothing in a very remote region of a complex historical context, and socio-economic issues,” she said. The work was low-profile because “hemp culture was illicit there in the first seven years of my contribution.
Her work in Spain and Morocco continues. “At present we are building a crowdfunded rural cottage in a remote hemp farming region in Nord Morocco,” she said. “Materials are collected almost exclusively in the immediate surroundings of the construction site, basically hemp-stalks, cedar wood, quartz stones and clay, and almost all our processes are manual.
“We produce hemp bricks directly on the fields with help of the local farmers,” she added.
Despite many agro-industrial applications, Monika said, stalks for decades have been considered an “agricultural waste.” Members of the organization are trying to change that perception.
“I wait for the day that the local Berbers and regional authorities discover the comfort of our hemp made building in an area known for extremely harsh winters with intense snow falls,” she said.
A new era is hopefully starting now, framed in the new cannabis law that passed this year in Morocco, she said, although with many barriers to eliminate yet.
With all the barriers still left to be toppled within the industry, I asked Brümmer what inspired her to continue her work everyday.
“Cultural curiosity and sensitivity, research and creativity; those things are driving my interest,” she said. “I started with hemp more than two and a half decades ago, when nobody jumped on the boat yet for economic interests, it was pure passion and entrepreneurship. No path was yet created. That’s the kind of circumstances I parted from more than once, in different countries, taking into account local resources and needs.”
“If you could wake up tomorrow,” I asked her, “and have one thing revolutionized in your industry, what would you want that to be?” Her answer was crystal clear… “Stop environmental disasters created by the building industry and by the energy drain of unhealthy buildings and come back to plant-based and local materials and bioclimatic design strategies,” she wrote.
As a German, she added, “I like innovation and plant-based building materials derived from hemp. This gives me the chance to address contemporary needs of energy efficiency, biogenic carbon sequestration, life-cycle management and health preservation in building.
“I know I can’t better this world substantially, but I feel responsible because I’m part of it and try to give people access to the best possible solutions,” she said.
Moriah Slade holds a Masters in Public Health and is currently a student at the Institute of Functional Medicine Coaching Program.
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Originally published January 31, 2022 on Hemp Building Mag