Mark Goldman Inspires Students to Build Healthier, Cost-Effective Homes

June 28, 2023


Photos by Enrico Trujillo
Mark Goldman’s Construction Technology students work on building a green, sustainable healing center at Veterans Off-Grid in Carson. 


Stationed just outside of Taos at the Veterans Off-Grid (VOG) property in Carson, Mark Goldman, the coordinator for the UNM-Taos Construction Technology program, recently shared his view about sustainable building practices and the transformative power it holds for both aspiring builders and the environment. Goldman wants to see more affordable, hybrid and natural building methods used locally while preparing students to be able to design and build their own sustainable homes, one project at a time. 

At the Carson construction site, Goldman explained that the current undertaking by UNM-Taos students is the building of an off-grid healing center for veterans and the general public, intended to be a peaceful space by offering yoga, meditation and outdoor healing services. Additionally, it will serve as a community center. 

For Goldman, the project holds great significance. He emphasizes the importance of showcasing an affordable and natural building method that benefits the environment and is also okayed for building permits. The construction uses a highly sustainable approach, employing natural materials and alternative techniques that adhere to OSHA safety standards. Goldman highlights the significance of avoiding hazardous building materials, commonly found in standard construction sites, and promoting healthier alternatives. 

“In a conventional American construction site, you have a lot of materials with volatile organic chemicals,” Goldman says. “There’s not a lot of chemicals here.” 

The materials used in this project are a testament to the program's commitment to sustainability. From timber to mud and straw, the construction embraces a range of natural resources. Goldman explains that the term "natural" refers to materials that are minimally processed. For instance, the foundation utilizes gravel obtained on-site, reducing the need for excessive concrete, a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The clay used for insulation and plaster is also sourced from the site, creating a local and eco-friendly building process.

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council is the most widely used green building rating system. Goldman explains, “You get full LEED credit for using a local building material if it’s within 500 miles. I think the vast majority of our materials are within 500 feet of the building site.”

It’s not only the environment that benefits from these sustainable practices; students at UNM-Taos gain the invaluable knowledge and skills to build their own homes using affordable, natural materials. Students undergo a one-week intensive course where they excavate the foundation, form the walls, and complete the finishing touches—a truly immersive and transformative experience. 

The students enrolled in the program come from diverse backgrounds and hold a range of aspirations. Goldman is pleasantly surprised by the changing demographics in construction, with more women entering the field. 

“The students don't look like the stereotypical conservative male construction workers. I do know women here today that are planning construction careers.” Goldman says. “We are getting as much interest from students in building their own houses as those who want a career to build for other people.” 

The high cost of buying a home these days leave many people feeling they won’t be able to afford the American Dream. That’s another reason for increased interest in this program. 

“Students today are learning that if you can't afford it right now, you can build it,” Goldman says. “We’re in a time and a place where it just makes so much sense; the window is open.” 

The UNM-Taos Construction Tech program is not just about constructing buildings; it’s about constructing lives. Through hands-on learning and the use of natural materials, students gain more than practical skills—they gain the ability to take care of themselves, build economic stability and develop a foundation of self-reliance. 

“Building a house doesn't just build your house. It builds your confidence.” Goldman adds. “It’s a lot of hard work. But instead of it being a labor of love, it’s a love of labor.”