Today we visited the site of a West Oakland camp under the highway. This particular spot is being developed by Cob on Wood to provide community buildings like a kitchen, restroom, free store, raised garden beds and a cob oven. The buildings are constructed with free wood pallets and covered inside and out with cob. All the work is done by community volunteers. Today they were finishing up a cob bench that encircled a fire pit.
Emma and I took the bus all the way down Grand and walked over. We had collected items from arond the house they needed like old clothes, shoes and toys. We really wanted to help out and were given paint brushes and a bucket of lime wash to paint one of the buildings with its final protective layer. Emma loved the experience and asked if she could help out every day. The lead builder said they would soon begin building a workshop so there was still work to be done.
Housing insecurity is one of Oakland’s biggest struggles and everyone knows the pandemic is only exacerbating the problem. This year I have really enjoyed reading more about permaculture and eco friendly housing. The idea to utilize cob in this way is so brilliant and I was eager to see it in person. It is beautiful and cheaply done. I am so glad to have shared the experience with Emma! To learn more visit their instagram and donate here.
Lately I have been reading up on house building techniques and have become enamored with plastered straw bale houses. The practice began in the U.S. in plains of Nebraska in the nineteenth century out of desperation for there were no trees to build housing. Straw bales homes were fairly simple for folks to construct and it turns out the bales were very insulating. It saves on heating and cooling costs as they keep a very consistent temperature year round. The neat thing about straw bales is that they are fire resistant. A plastered wall does not contain enough air to keep a fire going. Also they are good materials to build with in places of high seismic activity. When these simple walls are plastered on both sides they become air tight and keep out moisture and critters. With a good foundation and roof to keep out the elements they can last a very long time. The bales themselves are by products and should definitely be adopted to make low cost, efficient housing as they are in abundance and could be composted back into the earth at the end of their lives. With growing climate change concerns and a cost effective way to build in California I hope the practice becomes a more popular choice!
People say that inside the thick walls feel cozy and quiet.
I have have been mildly obsessed with cob houses for a while now and Pinterest has been a great jumping off point. Tonight I found videos on YouTube and went down a rabbit hole of glee. I think the pinnacle in cob house construction is certainly this place in Japan, which combines cob building techniques with traditional Japanese wooden construction. The home melds together these processes beautifully and with such care to the land that is built on. The architect Tono Mirai calls it “Future House.” Check it out! Video by Kirsten Dirksen is here.