Students use ancient technique to build home with raw materials
TAYLOR — Fifteen students from the United States, Mexico and Europe have paid to camp out for a month in a man’s backyard in Taylor to learn an ancient building technique involving clay, sand and straw.
They were busy slapping plaster, which included horse manure, on the walls of the 150-square-foot round house they are constructing at a cost of about $2,000 in supplies for Jesse Shockley one recent warm afternoon.
“It’s not just a mud hut . ... It’s a work of art,” said Shockley, a sheet metal worker who was busy putting a wood and metal roof on the structure. The house has windows, electrical outlets and relief sculptures of an owl and a tree plastered on its outside walls. Shockley said he’s going to use it as a drafting office for a remodeling business he also has.
The students are building what is known as a “cob” house, said Claudine Désirée, the 53-yearold Californian who is leading the workshop in Taylor after several years of learning to build the structures. Cob has been used for thousands of years to build houses in Africa, the Middle East,
Europe and adobe houses in the southwestern United States.
Désirée said she is using a modernized technique of building cob, in which she teaches students how to analyze soil to make sure it has the right mixture of clay, sand and other ingredients to make good building material. The students could not use the soil on Shockley’s property to build because it didn’t have enough clay in it, she said.
The students combined clay-based soil they bought from a nearby business with sand and straw mixed with water to build the walls.
“We build a foot a day, and it dries very quickly,” she said. “It’s earthquake-proof, it’s fireproof, it’s termite-proof and the walls breathe, so there’s no rot, mold or mildew,” she said. The structure also can withstand heavy rains but standing water will soften it, she said.
The sand acts as a cement that holds the soil together, Désirée said. She added that the horse manure, which is treated before students use it to plaster walls, helps make the structure waterproof.
Students from as far away as Spain have paid $2,000 to John Curry and his wife, take the workshop. Beatriz Kindra Welch, own an Austin Muñoz-Martinez, a 33-yearnatural home-building comold from the small town of pany called Clay Sand Straw Catadau, Spain, said she is that built a 2,200-square-foot taking her second workshop cob house with three bedwith Désirée to learn the art rooms and two bathrooms of cob building, so she can in Hays County for customteach it to other students. ers last year. The house has
She said she likes working square rooms, he said. The with other people to build company also has built a a house. cob house in Hunt with no
“It feels like a family,” air conditioning, Curry said. Muñoz-Martinez said. “When the temperature
Lesley Harrow, 68, said she outside is 108 degrees, the was taking the workshop to interior of the house is 82 learn how to build her own degrees,” he said. cob home in Arkansas. A cob house takes longer
“Who doesn’t like to play to build than a frame house, in the mud?” said 28-year- he said. It can be cheap to old Krystal Alexander of St. build a cob house if you do it Louis, another student who yourself, but builders charge was grinning as she spread about as much for it as a cusplaster on the walls. tom-built home, he said.
Mick Bartholomew, 23, The houses can last a long designed a mandala made of time, he said. One cob house glass bottles that is embedin the Clarksville neighborded into one of the house’s hood in Austin was built in walls. He said he just got a 1882, he said. degree in industrial design Living in a cob house is from the University of Roch“amazing,” said Désirée, ester and was interested in who lived in one she built but learning traditional tech- who now bicycles around the niques. world giving cob workshops
Shockley’s daughter, Jess, after raising three boys as a said she persuaded him to single mother. build the cob house on his An open house will be property because she wants from 2-6 p.m. Sunday at 651 to learn the technique to County Road 445 in Taylor. build a hostel elsewhere. “It’s all natural, it’s good for the Earth, and you can build it with your own hands,” she said.
Class members Elena Cilli (from left) of Italy, Meme Bayardo of Mexico and Phineas Ellis of Santa Cruz, Calif., help build a 154-square-foot house Monday on Jesse Shockley’s property in Taylor. Claudine Désirée is overseeing the project. The “cob” house utilizes natural materials native to the area. The technique has been used around the world for thousands of years.