As a founding director of the Endeavour Centre, a local sustainable building school, Jen Feigin has spent almost a decade teaching the skills of ecologically friendly construction to students in Peterborough.
In addition, Feigin has worked to make the construction trades more accessible and supportive for women. She regularly leads two-day carpentry workshops for women, and, based on the positive feedback she’s received from those, she’s running a more ambitious course this summer. Called “Constructions Skills For Women,” the course will guide participants through the construction of a 9×12 foot shed over four weekends.
“The women-only spaces are really important,” Feigin says of the workshops she leads. “From all the feedback I’ve had, about 90 percent of the women say they wouldn’t take the courses if they were co-ed, so that really reinforces the importance for me.”
Feigin says that because the construction industry is so male dominated, not every woman who wants to give building a try feels comfortable doing so. But as more women join the industry, she says the culture will begin to change. “When you have a balanced gender crew, everything shifts,” she says, “whether it’s the workmanship or the conversations that happen on site.
“I know a lot of guys who worked on only-guy crews and they are really happy to have women on their job sites now. They really appreciate it.”
Feigin herself originally trained in the fine arts, but she says she was always drawn to more functional art-making. One summer, when she was biking through British Columbia, she came across a lot of straw bale buildings, and, in her words, “that was the end of fine arts for me.”
Since that summer, Feigin has dedicated herself to learning, and now teaching, the craft of sustainable building, but she still incorporates some of her creative and artistic sensibilities into her construction practice. “I fell in love with artistic buildings,” she says. “I think a lot of our buildings are boring and we don’t really connect with our homes or think of them as expressions of ourselves.”
That disconnect has health implications, Feigin says. “Occupant health is a huge concern. Tonnes of the materials that we use in buildings are toxic, and with all the subdivisions we’re putting in people are experiencing sick building syndrome.
“I don’t think a lot of people know what it’s like to live in a really healthy building.”
Healthy buildings make for healthy communities, and by encouraging women to build ecologically friendly structures, Feigin is making sure we have both.
Photo courtesy the Endeavour Centre.