Born to Build

Human Evolution. Why are we here?? How have we survived?

If you were lost and stranded in the middle of the forest, or if you were watching Bear Grylls on your television, what have we learned is the number one rule for survival? The US military survival guide says you can only survive 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. 3 hours without SHELTER!?  We modern humans, otherwise known as "Homo sapiens sapiens" are 200,000 years old, and the number one reason why we have existed into the present day is because we know how to build shelter. Seriously.

I imagine our collective genetic lineage strung heavy with codes that enable each of us to construct a shelter that protects us from the elements.  You wouldn't be reading this, you couldn't be here without it. 3 hours is all we got! However our culture has outsourced this primitive skill, disconnecting all of us from what we have been born to know, our relationships with the living spaces we inhabit as distant as the far away places the materials they are built out of come from. Its like the difference between an online relationship and a physical human to human relationship and this distance is having a negative impact on our psychological well being.  The contemporary woman and man now believe we are incapable of this most basic human skill. We have come to accept that only highly specialized humans can participate in a craft that without, we have yet 3 hours to survive? I couldn't accept this. I wouldn't. So with very little building skills I decided the best way to reunite with my "wild self," the best way for me to figure out how to build, was to learn how to do it with the most ancient building material known to man, a material that is abundant, a material that I didn't need a store to get, free of charge as long as I worked hard enough to get it, a way of building that didn't require big machines but instead my bare hands, a way of building that was intimate and required a real relationship with the materials being used, using a material that actually promoted health. I have learned how to use Cob over the past 5 years, to create regenerative, healthy and beautiful structures, and homes that actually are healthier, stronger, last longer and more exciting. 


My goal has now become to share these innate skills with as many people as possible and to expose the ill effects of a conventional building world that creates incredible amounts of waste and adds to the negative human imprint on the planet. That living in the monotony of studded wall systems, dry wall, square rooms, and forced air circulation systems deadens the imagination of the inhabitants, buildings that are "sick" leave its inhabitants more stressed and less likely to feel satisfied and optimistic. Cob Building has the potential to help heal the cultural wounds that has distanced us from the most important of our human needs, shelter building, and to re-build our relationship with the spaces we occupy.

My experience as a mental health therapist helped me recognize how interwoven our well being was with the shelter we spend our whole lives living in. I began noticing how important it was for my clients to "Build," to feel connected to space.  Cob Therapy helps connect people with their nature, building community with muddy hands, understanding the story of each of the building materials used, and unleashing our inner child to tap into the wisdom of our wild human ancestry.

Let it be known that we are "Born to Build"

Why square doesn't work in architecture?

How do I go about designing the home of my dreams? I have begun by diving deep into the principals of natural design that roots itself in a philosophy where we must include the whole environment when considering construction of any kind.

Eugene Tsui, Evolutionary Architect is one inspiring character who simply and poetically explains the inadequacies of the square box in an interview with "First Earth" Why has the square become the standard template for where home construction begins? Eugene breaks down the box! 

"One of the assumptions of human made architecture is that it has to be rectilinear. And I think that is probably the most lethal odious assumption. Because the square box is one of the worst structures you could ever invent. You notice that nature never has anything square -- there's a reason for that! If there was anything square, ever, in the 5-billion-years history of nature, it lasted maybe a minute. Because the square box is probably, from my research, the most inefficient, ineffective shape in the universe. And I'll tell you why. 

When you try to put pressure on a box, there's 2 places it'll break apart, the flat planes and the corners. The flat planes are very difficult to reinforce, so you have to put more material there to resist stress (take the standard 2x4 framing for example). So that means utilizing material in a very poor fashion (cutting down swaths of forest just to make a shape stronger than it inherently is), and the entire construction world assumes we have to do that. Another very weak point in a square are the corners. When you put pressure on the planes the corners will start to skew and break open. Which then require mores material for more reinforcement.  

A box is defenseless when you have a fire, especially because most fires are carried by wind, and if you blow fire against the side of a box, a flat surface, it'll actually create a suction, and the surface will create a target for fire, there's no place for it to go, because it's flat, so it burns, and burns. And in an earthquake or tsunami or in any kind of stressful situation, the box just doesn't hold up.

When you try to heat a box or cool it down, the hot or cold air will rise, and stay there at the top. So where you are, at the floor level, it's not getting to you. And so we wonder, Okay, we're paying all these heating bills, but where's the heat? It's up in the ceiling! So are solution is try to make energy cheaper but in reality we really need to make architecture smarter! 

Now the impact of living in a square can be quite detrimental.  Think about how we move in spaces? We move usually in arcs and curves. You never see anybody walking straight, and then a 90-degree angle turn, and then turn again 90 degrees, to get where we are going. The box doesn't accommodate our natural physical way of movement. So when you combine all of these inadequate features of this square, or this cube, you come up with an anti-solution. It's not a solution at all. The box forces us to buy more materials, consequently creating industries insatiable thirst to mine more materials from our environment, cut more trees, mine more limestone, more dredging of our oceans for sand, all to reinforce an inferior shape."  

Lets start talking triangles and circles!

Cob Building Hoop Dream

"You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance in doing what you love" - Jim Carrey

Our culture creates an extremely rigid division between work and play.  You are supposed to work, so you can earn enough money, to give you sufficient leisure time, for something entirely different called "having fun" or "play." But really? Are we seriously wanting to adopt this way of being as the standard choice? To laugh and say "you better do these things you love while you're still young because when you get older you won't have that luxury." What kind of wisdom is that and why do people insist on keeping this idea alive?...To read more click here

Clay in Cob produces Negative Ions!

Have you ever noticed how sitting by the ocean or walking through a forest produces a sense of calm and peacefulness? People spend their weekends, their vacations, any free time they have, traveling to have these experiences, to be “out in nature,” to “recharge” before entering back into the daily grind. What if we could design our home and the spaces we occupy most to produce that same sense of calm and peacefulness?  Introducing clay into our home’s interior with plasters, or better yet, building entire wall systems from the earth, is one way we can make that happen. Clay filled houses just “feel” better than others and it turns out, this isn’t as subjective as you may think it to be. 

Here’s the science: Air is filled with either negative or positive charges called ions. It's the negative charges that benefit us humans, while positive ions also known as “free radicals” are comprised of toxins, impurities, viruses and pollutants. Fresh air in places like the ocean, the mountains, forests, cob homes and clay plastered rooms contain beneficial negative ions that promote a universal feeling of well being that enhances our immune defenses and reduces our susceptibility to disease. Why is this so? “Negative ions are oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron which allows them to attract and attach to positive ions in our living space, clearing the air of dust, mold spores, pollen, pet dander, odors, cigarette smoke, bacteria and viruses. They do this by attaching to these positively charged particles in large numbers. This causes the pollen, mold, bacteria, etc to become too heavy to stay airborne, thus removing it from the air you breathe and preventing it from causing respiratory problems and other health issues" (www.earthslivingclay.com).

In today's environment there are more positive ions than ever, including things like positive ion-producing air conditioning, electrical equipment like televisions and clothes dryers, and even carpet and upholstery, “our homes have become what has been described as ‘positive ion prisons’ which “create an electrical imbalance in the atmosphere and in our bodies.” If you live in a busy town or city (which most of us humans do) the concentration of negative ions in the air may only be a tenth of that found in country environments. 

Making some simple adjustments can totally shift the scales to create healthy and nurturing indoor environments! 

Instead of painting or putting wallpaper on your walls, you can choose instead a beautiful and functional clay plaster which can generate negative ions everyday. This has not only proven to help people sleep better, but as Web MD points out, negative ions have been scientifically linked to increased serotonin production in the human body.  This mood-altering chemical can help to boost energy levels and alleviate depression, while simultaneously lowering stress levels.

Let's use the earth to make our homes more alive and to help us feel better!

Wood Fired Earthen Pizza Ovens

Wood fired cooking is being celebrated all across our country.  Enjoying what some would call a revival, more and more we are seeing wood fired ovens at restaurants in posh urban settings, at farmers markets, and on mobile food trucks at all types of events; all tapping into what seems to be an insatiable market. As much as indoor wood ovens may seem like a fad in the world of fine dining, there is a deeper genetic reason why we gravitate towards the fire. 

Open fired cooking has been woven into the fabric of human existence where stories have been passed down through the generations around the hearth, communing with meals; all with the smell of fire somewhere in the background.  This smell continues to influence us modern humans triggering our biological memory that associates the smell with food, warmth and community. When we see a chef tending to nature's most transformative element, we unconsciously become hypnotized by the crackle of the fire while we yearn for the community connection the flames have always epitomized; the food takes on the fire's allure and while we taste the raw elements in each delicious bite, we unconsciously connect to our wild human ancestry. 

Our culture has been on a fast track towards distancing us from the elements that make up our natural physical world. We are becoming more and more domesticated, technologically reliant, and disconnected from nature living a life indoors.  Yet every time I am at a market with a wood-fired pizza oven and I see that long line of people waiting, waiting not only for a pizza but for that sacred connection that is typically missing from our lives, a sense of connection around that hearth and being nourished by much more than the calories we consume. 

However, all wood-fired ovens are not created equally.  Now, I am not trying to burst the bubble of romanticism into which I have just inserted these fire-powered culinary experiences--but ovens seen at these markets and restaurants are often mistaken to be earthen ovens because of their stucco finishes, when in fact they are masonry ovens built with cement and steel reinforcement.  Sadly, it's rare to find an earthen oven (clay) being used commercially to cook food for the masses. I think the major reason behind this is because clay is a highly dynamic earth element that is hard to standardize.  The organic nature of clay requires that the chef create a real relationship with the oven. If you want an oven to respond the same way, every time you fire it (or "turn it on"), then your best bet is an insulated steel box with heat controlled by natural gas. "Building and baking in a wood fired earthen oven restores beauty, savor, and real bread and pizza by restoring the essentials: earth, water, air, and fire. And it requires you to participate. In most modern kitchens, you don't have to feel the heat, watch the fire, or grow the ingredients. Similarly, bread machines and commercial yeast require little or no attention. They take care of themselves. But if you don't have to pay attention, you can't participate, and if you don't participate, you can't know." (Kiko Denzer).

I want to know. And its this reason why both Peaches and I love building and cooking in earthen ovens.  Earthen ovens use all three kinds of heat transfer: conduction, convection and radiation.  Conduction being the direct contact the food has with the hot oven floor; convection being the natural air movement that is created by oxygen cycling in to feed the fire.  Lastly, and perhaps most worthy of mysticism,  radiant heat--sun energy that traveled the vast distance to Earth, to grow the trees that made the fire that heat the clay chamber of the oven, until it radiates back into the food placed inside.  Imagine now the space and time that this radiant energy travelled to cook the food within your oven's earthen walls-- that particular heat is so specific to the moment you are using it that it can never be exactly duplicated, and the resulting flavor is rich, complex, and uniquely timeless.  

"Radiant heat is fundamental to our very existence- from it we have sun and seasons, photosynthesis and weather, food and shelter, and of course, wheat and bread."