Cob, More Than Stuff?

The word Cob translates from ol’ English as “lump or mass.” In my experience I’ve noticed that “Cob” is used very flexibly in conversation. Seems to mean so much more than the simple building material of clay, sand and straw. I find Cob is almost referred to as a entity. It represents a departure from conventional thinking, a freedom of form, both in shape and in spirit. It has become a adjective for a path to wholeness; living in tune with the Earth. It points to a tool for community; bringing people together. To some it’s a über-green way of living. Comfort, ergonomics, self expression, free material, hobbit homes: whimsy and fantasy, health, sculpture, nesting, home. All this in a “stuff.” I started thinking, what does Cob represent to me?

I remember back in 2001 after attending the cob cottage workshop… the feeling of empowerment. The sickly feeling of being harnessed to a job, rent, debt, otherwise known as the “treadmill” was uncorked. Hell I didn’t even realize the feeling was so pervasive. After the workshop I was enlightened with a major paradigm shift. Equipped with really simple knowledge that enabled new path ways for my synapses to imagine and create. I remember telling my friend Russell, that NOW I know how to build my own shelter. I get giddy thinking about just how freeing and exciting that time was. I don’t have to subscribe to the treadmill newsletter anymore!

Cob buildings can be built for less than a months rent. Well, I suppose this depends on how much your paying in rent and how much ‘rustic’ you can handle. Clay, sand and straw are all pretty affordable. Cob, the stuff, is very accessible. Both in skill ( you don’t need much) and in material ( it’s available where you are). If you have a lot of time on your hands but little money, cob building could be for you. Mud doesn’t want to be on a shelf at home despot. It can’t be regulated and exploited with monopolies. It’s wild and available – for free. So long as you don’t mind working your tail off.

Ever consider what you would do if you didn’t have rent or a mortgage to feed? Probably a lot of stuff. Spending time with people you love, hobbies you enjoy, education, time for reading, gardening, volunteer efforts, projects! I think this is the underlying current that opens up the possibilities of the what-ness or is-ness of our existence. With time we can explore ourselves, and our world, and become more fully who we are and who we would like to be. When and if our time is our own we have the privilege of exploring what is important to us.

Organic Architecture
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of seeing the McMansions and other modern architectural crap factories being produced in mass these days. Seems they have no regard for the subtleties… shadow and light, site, scale, form, place, alignment, energy, even people! The artist in me gets all excited when I see a shapely cob building with bass reliefs and undulating forms. It lends it’s self to our form. We are not-so-square, not in form anyway. With mud we can create spaces that support us like a hug. Cob fit’s within the complex template of nature’s design in which we are a part. There’s something about the magic of wet earth formed by an artisan’s hands… Holding their motions like music suspended in space. Mud is truly a gift to those that know it’s value.

Many are attracted to the healthy attributes of natural buildings. Materials that are not-so-processed with some 80,000 toxic chemicals ‘registered for use’. Adhesives, paints, PVC, cements, plastics, textiles… It can add up quick. Chemical sensitivity is on the rise. Natural buildings can bring relief to those that suffer. We don’t need to be human filters for noxious living environments! Instead, replace off-gassing materials with toxin absorbing materials such as clay. Psychological health may be more difficult to quantify. When I walk into a hand made building of mud there is a sense of wellness that radiates from the space. A transmission of love that is hard to explain, it’s just something my cells know about.

Cob plays well with others. Playing in the mud is like being a kid again. Collaborating with people is time well spent. When we work together we make bonds similar to the sticky clay that holds the sand and straw together. Muckin about in the cob can bring great joy for the young and old alike. It’s less about the stuff as it is the bonds.

Why not build with materials that will degrade back to the earth naturally? Earth, straw, wood, metal. These ingredients are known to our earth and came directly from it. What can’t be recycled will degrade gracefully into the continuum of impermanence. Using materials that are of the earth just makes sense to me. It made sense to builders of old too. That’s what they had! We have it too. I like to think of my home composting in a pile when I or whom-ever is done using it. When it has reached the end of it’s life cycle most of it doesn’t need to be hauled off to the land fill. Recycle the metal and wood. Spread the adobe dirt and straw on the land. It doesn’t get much more ‘eco-friendly’ than cob.

An anchor for your life. A space of your own. A place for your family to thrive. The dream, the desire, it’s deep within all of us. The craving for a place that is home.
Dream on! Make it so.

What does “Cob” represent to you?

6 Responses

  • Ameena says:

    I was going to do a small-scale cob house for a school project. It is going to be around the size of a roll of toilet paper. I live in Louisiana in a big city. Besides a hardware store or nursery, where is a place to get some clay-dirt and straw for a cheap price.
    Thank you,

    • Michael says:

      It can be difficult to find sources in the city. But! Cities are built on earth too. If you have a small project buying clay from a ceramics shop might do. That would be pure clay so a lot of sand would need to be added.
      Garden supply is prolly your best bet, huh?
      Check out material yards where they have rock, sand, etc. Sometimes they have piles of dirt, that they don’t want.

      Or pick up the shovel… Make a pond in the backyard?
      You don’t have to look far for earth!

  • Conor says:

    You hit the hammer on the nail on this subject (without all the nails)… I’ve started building my own cob music studio recently. Unfortunately, I do have a mortgage on a house but I’m building this music studio in my backyard for experience and inspiration! Eventually, I would like to just live without constant expenses.

    My friend, who is helping me build the cob house, took the same workshop as you. I would take it as well, but I just felt like diving right into my own project. I love all the pictures you have posted; it has certainly inspired me to keep looking forward! I’ve noticed already from starting this project that cob-building is the most logical form of construction.

    Please keep the blog going. More people need to hear about cob! The rate that the population is growing at, cob houses will be the best way to secure a shelter for everyone.

    Well, this is a long comment… I just want you to know that strangers are reading this blog and we need more of them!

    Thank you for being the black sheep!

    • Michael says:

      Thanks for your comment. Please keep us posted on your project! I wanna see it!

  • David Reed says:

    Michael your blogs are just awesome!!