Memory Lane: the Spring Natural Building Practicum

The Fall Natural Building Practicum will start tomorrow! I am looking forward to participating in it and working on bringing the Boathouse and the yurts and whatever else closer to completion. I am also eager to see all of the independent projects that the students will complete. During the Spring NBP I was delighted by the variety and creativity of the projects and can only assume that the same enthusiasm will be displayed this autumn. It was a pleasure to be introduced to such a catalog of skills as well – from cob to dry stone walling to timber framing to plastering to working with light straw clay to pouring earthen floors…so much valuable information. Tomorrow for some a whole new world will be opened up to them, and for others the joy of playing with mud and building forts will continue. I’ll be sure to report here on what we all get up to!

For the moment, how about a quick tour through the spring practicum, to get the cob balls rolling?

Putting fresh cob on the wall, March

The dry stacked stone retaining wall that is the foundation for the next part of the cob garden wall, March

A little “Pride Rock” reenactment…! (All of the stone for the retaining wall came from the site of the Playhouse)

Interior base plaster in the Playhouse, April

Light straw clay “bricks” to be used as ceiling insulation in the Playhouse, April

Working on the yurt (which was started during the 2011 Shelter Series), May

Adding bamboo weaving to the reciprocal roof of the yurt, April/May

Fun and games during the exterior finish plaster at the Playhouse, May

Cob detail around the window, April/May

Laying the earthen floor in the Playhouse, finish pour, May

The yurt, looking like a cupcake, with the daub applied to it’s wattle and it’s canvas roof, April/May

Lime plaster detail on the Playhouse, May

The cob, frosted with earthen plaster and looking tasty!

The timber frame for the new loft in the workshop, April/May

Nurya working on her independent project, a cantilevered deck for the yurt

My independent project was a “waterfall” foot stool

The Playhouse (mostly finished by the end of the spring NBP, and more or less completed later in the summer)

I hope that wets your whistle. There will be plenty more to learn and build at Apro before 2012 bows out. It’s a good year for playing with mud!

The Boathouse takes shape

On Monday morning of week 4 of the Shelter Series, faithful Brownie pulled up to our building site and let out a small polite groan. She was half buried in strawbales, which we were very happy to relieve her of.

Erica Ann Bush, natural builder extraordinaire and owner of Day One Design, also pulled up on Monday morning, and she quickly set to work teaching us about wall systems.

First we flung up a strawbale wall on the north and northeast sides of our hexagonal structure. There were some tricky cuts and custom bales to make, but overall the walls went up quickly. We then spent quite a bit of time and energy chinking the cracks with a heavy straw clay mix and getting the walls a little more flat and even so that they will be easier to plaster.

We then set to work on the southeast side. Batches of clay slip were wizzed up and many “salads” of slip and straw were “tossed”. Forms were attached to ladder trusses and we climbed inside them and tamped batch after batch of light straw clay down into them. Seemingly endless amount of the mixture disappeared inside, but slowly something rose up until late one afternoon I found myself standing on top of a rather splendid bit of wall.

This wall, like the strawbale walls, awaits several layers of plaster (and unlike the strawbale wall, this one will be a breeze to do!)

Moving right along, we turned our attention to some cob details around the front door of the Boathouse and on the south wall beside the timber frame where the french doors will go. On the french door side Erica Ann used wire to provide more framework for the cob, so we were able to build higher with it than the usual 18 inches per day.

Note the dry stacked stone beneath this cob detail that Erica Ann just threw together in about 3 minutes…!

We also started working on the southwest wall, which is composed of slip ‘n’ chip, or in our case slip ‘n’ plainer shavings. We tacked bamboo matting to ladder trusses and then tossed the fluffy clay slip and plainer shavings mix into the cavity, gave it a quick stir and called it good. We will of course eventually plaster over the bamboo matting, etc.

The remaining wall will hopefully be made of hempcrete in some form or other, and somewhere in the Boathouse we will incorporate a single adobe brick that we made, just for the symmetry of having 6 wall systems in a 6 sided building…!

It was a highly productive week, and one that generated a lot of discussion as we explored the various types of insulative and thermal mass systems. I think we all gained a lot of new confidence and got, if it is possible, even more excited about what we’re doing and why.

And as an added bonus, the Boathouse looks a lot more like a house that a…boat could live in!