As development pushes toward the rural community of Cross, champions of the old ways have staked out a symbol on the edge of an empty lot at Short Cut Road and Ranger Drive.

It's an earthen oven, a community project made of natural materials. It was finished Nov. 19 and has been used to make some fine wood-fired pizza.

"The oven illustrates something bigger than just an oven," said April Magill, a Charleston architect who is pushing a more natural way of building and living. "The project shows we can actually build things with natural resources. All the materials are from the Earth, and it's hand-built."

She and several colleagues with Architecture for Humanity Charleston designed and helped build it, free of charge.

The oven's foundation was made from recycled cinder blocks and bricks. The oven is made of clay and sand. The roof over the oven was built from a pine tree on the site and salvaged metal.

Once the oven was built, a couple of dozen people helped cut wood for the fire and kept it going, then enjoyed their first meal.

"It's kind of like getting back to this idea of community participation and bringing a community together through the act of cooking, so eating and cooking become more of an event where everybody works together," Magill said. "It also creates wonderfully tasty food."

It was the community aspect of it that attracted the attention of Carlie Towne, director of the Gullah Geechee Angel Network, which promotes and preserves the African culture through art. She owns the land and has been dreaming of turning it into a camp. The oven is the first visible sign of her vision.

"I see it bringing the community together," Towne said. "Cooking brings people together."

Towne hopes to eventually see a meeting center, cabins, a theater and exhibits on the property. She visualizes cross-cultural dialogues "to find out who you are, a conversation about humanity."

Magill hopes the earthen oven leads to other projects with natural materials.

"I see this as the first example of this kind of building in this area," she said. "I think it would really be great to continue this idea around Charleston."

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.