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Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

An Urban Home-Raising—and So Much More

Written by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen
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Kyle Chandler-Isacksen – Reno Chapter

We raised a 180-square-foot cob cabin that weekend, but what we really built was a beloved community.

Be the Change Project and House Alive! conducted a joint three-day cordwood cob-house-raising workshop in early May, in Reno, Nevada. “Cob” is a slow and laborious building technique, and, as far as we know, this one-day effort was a first. Interest and registrations in the months leading up to the “One-Day Cob House” event were great, and we gathered on Friday morning with 60 people and high hopes.


Friday, our set-up and skill-building day, included a tour of our Be the Change Project—an electricity-, car-, fossil fuel-free urban homestead dedicated to service and simplicity. (See the May/June 2012 NSFA, page 4, for the author’s description of Be the Change Project.) On the tour we shared the broader vision behind Be the Change and this most unusual of natural building techniques. Saturday was the build day, to start at 6:30 am! Sunday was to be a light day of cleanup, a little plastering, reflection, and goodbyes.

We had risen at dawn Saturday morning—all 60 of us—and started building at 6:30am. The workshop participants were a wonderful, interesting, and hard-working group from all walks of life: a team that builds houses for the homeless, a couple from a Jewish urban farm and education center in Berkeley, a family with three girls from the foothills of California (the girls orchestrated the Friday night talent show all on their own), older women homesteaders, young single guys just getting started in natural building. Progress had been good, about 10 inches an hour. We had assembled the roof on the ground without a hitch.

Weather Woes

But alas, the weather was against us. May in Reno is a tricky time of year with any kind of weather possible. I had checked the weather forecast daily for the past 10 days and had seen it go from good to bad to worse. While Friday, the first day of the workshop in which we did skill building, harvested clay, and gave the tour, was pleasant with sunshine and a light wind, Saturday called for afternoon rain and temperatures dropping throughout the day. And that’s just about what we got.

It was three o’clock on Saturday afternoon when I left the building site on my bike to get a line level from my house two blocks away. Five minutes later, I was pedaling my way through marble-sized hail that ricocheted off me and the road. My heart sank! I figured our ambitious effort to raise a cob house in one day was doomed.

“Ah, well,” I thought as I biked back to the site, “We gave it our best.” Our planning and organization had been outstanding; our lead instructors, James and Coenraad of House Alive, some of the best around; our group of 60 outstanding—a healthy mix of folks with cob, Earthship, and carpentry experience. “Maybe tomorrow we can get the rest done,” I thought. “We can tarp it, hope for better weather, and pile into the main house to get warm. After all, a cob house in two days is pretty amazing, too.”

But then I heard it: cheering! Sixty joyful voices were raised against the hail in a chorus of whoops, whistles, and hollers. They were celebrating the hail and the hard weather that was pushing against them. I turned into the site, leaped off my bike, and dashed to the building. Hands blue and pink from the cold were piling cob higher, muddy shoes were dancing atop batches of cob, cordwood was being handed up the walls, and people were straddling bales and barrels and ladders to get to our highest layer of wall—all with smiles. It was going to work. We were going to do it. A cob house in a day!

 Cob Building Workshop Wrap-Up

We called it quits on Saturday at about 6:30pm and considered the day a great success. We had raised walls six and a half feet high and built and hoisted, with 100 hands, a roof to top those sturdy walls. We were tired and cold but also jubilant from a good day of side-by-side, meaningful work.

Reno Affiliate Ellie Hays lends her support to the build.

The cabin will be used to host interns, guests, and maybe even a new resident to be part of our growing community. With earthen plastering, light straw clay infill of the box-beam, and an earthen floor, there is still much to do. But it will be done with the help of many more hands and hearts experiencing the joys of natural building and of a living community. It will also be an object of great beauty, something most of our modern homes sadly cannot claim.

Most folks were gone by 1:00 on Sunday, but a small group of us locals and friends remained. We were lazing about, munching on leftovers and reflecting on the weekend, still in awe at what had transpired. Someone mentioned the hand blessings led by Katy. Another shared how one participant found the workshop by Googling “Cob Party.” We laughed about the face painting and agreed the African drumming group was incredible. I remarked about how cool it was that James (of House Alive) flew to Reno from the Galapagos Islands just to be at the workshop, and wound up co-leading it. And what about those kids who organized the campfire talent show! I think all of us sitting there at that moment would have agreed with what another friend said the next day, “I feel like anything’s possible with this community.” We raised a 180-square-foot cob cabin that weekend, but what we really built was a beloved community. We feel so blessed.

 Future Builds

Next year will bring another “One-Day Cob House” build, near Reno. if you are interested in being part of our next phenomenal workshop, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Note: You will find a wonderful 10-minute video of the event on YouTube if you search for “One Day Cob House.”

For more information and to join the BDS campaign go to http://www.bdsmovement.net See an eye-witness account in Gaza:

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