Barefoot Building

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Forget treated timber, fancy equipment and rigid housing plans. The ancient art of cob building is making a comeback, and all you need is teamwork, guidance and muscled calves. Cob, also known as adobe, is a natural building material made from just four ingredients: sand, clay, stones and straw. Used for centuries to construct houses in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Central Europe, these strong, solid (built to earthquake-proof standards), inexpensive and sustainable buildings use chemical-free, locally available materials and allow for curved-lines and creativity.

The owners of Mangawhai’s Tara Retreat, Glen Crofskey and Nicola Bradburn, first discovered cob houses through YouTube. Whetting his appetite at a one-day introduction run by the Earth Building Association of New Zealand (EBANZ), Glen met natural builders Rosa Henderson and Brento Freeman. They provided guidance (and the secret recipe for the cob mix) at a group workshop held at Tara Retreat last November, when keen cob builders came together to learn the craft and build an earth cottage in the grounds.

Creating the beautiful clay guest-house was no mean feat and took some 1500 hours. The majority of the building was carried out at the workshop, with 21 people stomping six hours a day for two weeks. This was followed by more building at the hands (and feet) of Hans the German WWOOFer, and help from Glen and Nicola’s children, Matisse and Riley.

Complete with recycled doors, windows made from multicoloured glass, and untreated macrocarpa beams that provide structural support, the house will have a final rendering in March - once it has dried.

Despite the workload, Glen and Nicola are keen to repeat the process, with plans to build a pizza oven and a sauna. “If you can rustle up enough people to help, they come to represent a strong and unique building, crafted with love by many hands - and that’s a beautiful thing!”

THE ART OF COB:

Take 4m3 of clay; 4m3 of aggregate (3mm stones); 2m3 of sand and 4 bales of barley straw. Stomp generously (with the aid of music) over two weeks. Add organic food, yoga, dress up competitions and beach breaks. Leave to dry for three months. Render. Repeat.

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