by Michael Smith
illustrated by Deanne Bednar
The Cob Cottage Company, 1997
PO Box 123
Cottage Grove, OR 97424117 pages, $20 spiral bound
“To create a culture of life, ... we need more than philosophy, more than spirituality and community: we need an economics, an agriculture, a politics of liberation, capable of healing the dismembered world and restoring the Earth to life.”
Starhawk's words might seem an unlikely introduction to a book about building a house – but not if the house is a small, earthen cottage, the book is written by Michael Smith, and the subject matter embodies a decade of wisdom, invention, and Earth-conscious philosophy by a small group of natural builders called The Cob Cottage Company.
At the heart of this approach is a deep regard for nature and for the wisdom of traditional cultures. By working with natural materials close at hand (earth, water, clay, and straw), cob builders can provide their own housing at moderate cost, and their homes don't contribute to the cycles of deforestation, mining, and pollution driven by modern building practices.
The book is intended to be a companion to, rather than a substitute for, a cob-building workshop. Because earth is a variable medium, building with cob tends to defy formulaic solutions or textbook theories. An understanding of what makes cob buildings work is the basis of the book – when you know the principles, you can make informed decisions based on the writer's practical experience and your own sound judgment.
The Cobbers' Companion is a work in progress, the result of an ongoing collaboration between Cob Cottage staff and the hundreds of students and associates who have built, experimented, and learned with them over the years. Ample space has been left in the book's margins for readers to add their own notes and sketches. As additional chapters are crafted from new discoveries and innovations, they'll be made available at nominal cost so that the book can be continuously updated.
This is clearly a book that asks to be used and not just pulled from the shelf and browsed. It is the author's hope that the self-empowering act of building a healthy, beautiful, natural house will swell the movement towards an architecture that is sustainable and ultimately restorative of the Earth.
Reviewed by Robyn Budd, a freelance graphic artist and builder of cob houses.