Project Statement/Proposal

Athena Steen and Josh Sarantitis
Touching the Earth, 2021
Earth, clay, straw, wood, fire
40’ x 40’ x 14’

Touching the Earth is designed by Athena Steen and Josh Sarantitis to encourage Camden residents to reconnect with natural materials in the creation of a public green space initiative. Using elements including clay, earth, wood, water and fire we will manifest a safe space for residents, children and families to congregate, relax, and socialize within a beautiful environment.

Touching the Earth utilizes traditional methodologies for working with clay and straw combined with woodworking and modular design principles to create a holistic environment. A central clay oven will be interspersed with natural seating planters and play space.

The design includes several large totem-like earth and clay elements that will bring architectural movement to the space. The clay will be naturally excavated from the earth and wooden planters will be constructed locally as well.



Athena Steen comes from a family of well-known Native American potters, sculptors and artists.  She grew up building with clay and adobe, and loves sculpting spaces and walls like giant pots.  Connecting function and form, she plays with texture, color and line to create beautiful pattern  and design. In the early 80’s, when in college, after building her first small, off-grid, passive  solar house out of straw bales, believing she invented strawbale construction. Her influence in  the world of natural building has been wide-spread.  

For over 25 years, as directors of the Canelo Project, a non-profit organization, she and her  husband, have been teaching and hosting workshops in strawbale, natural plasters, earthen floors,  earthen ovens, straw-clay blocks, domes, vaults, cob, etc. While incorporating many  commonsense tools and techniques from other countries, their focus remains on simple, low cost, low-skill methods that build community.  

When Athena does not have her hands in the mud or teaching others, she is busy designing small,  sensible houses for others. A co-author of several books, including “The Straw Bale House,”  “Small Strawbale,” and “Built by Hand,” she also publishes and designs other books. 


Josh Sarantitis is an internationally acclaimed public artist. His work is visionary in its  scope, and transformational in its inclusivity. Collaboration and intention are what drives  his artwork. 

Sarantitis has created over 50 mosaics, sculptural installations and murals in cities  throughout the US and abroad, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland,  Tucson, Phoenix, Memphis, Minneapolis, Seville, Berlin, and Paris. Sarantitis was born and  raised in New York City. After attending Oberlin College, he moved further west to Arizona  and then settled in Philadelphia and then St.Paul MN. In 2012, he relocated back to New  York and currently resides in Brooklyn, where his studio in the Navy Yards overlooks a  century-old dry dock. 

Seamlessly working with architects, engineers, government agencies, students and  residents from diverse ethnic, cultural and socio-economic communities he has  been instrumental in transforming community mural art into a mainstream  movement. Highly collaborative projects include: a Tucson gateway bridge overpass  comprised of plasma-cut steel elements and illuminated columns that illustrate the  life and influence of Cesar Chavez; Legacy for the Mural Arts Program of  Philadelphia that transformed 4,000 square feet of glass tile into a photorealistic  mosaic and invited public- school students from throughout the city to help place  the one million glass pieces; and Peace is a Haiku Song, a collaborative mural with  Sonia Sanchez, and co-artist Parris Stancell in Philadelphia. 

Sarantitis recently completed a 2.5 year position with the MIT Media Lab’s Social  Computing group led by Sep Kamvar. During his time there he helped to develop an agile  portable and modular parklet system to be deployed throughout urban areas bringing  permaculture principles and edible foods to inner-city areas devoid of parks and green space.