Stu­dents use an­cient tech­nique to build home with raw ma­te­ri­als

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Claire Os­born

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.

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