In a little village close to the sea, there is a house being built of straw, sand, clay and water.
Yesterday we had such fun visiting the cob house that Simric and Carey Yarrow are building in Watson Road, Muizenberg.
It’s wonderful - with curved walls, glass and warm wood, interesting windows and spaces, and tall, long. beautiful amber-coloured gum poles, harvested from a plantation of alien vegetation that was being cut down, which form the support structure for the roof.
The cob house, even as it stands now, feels like something that has grown naturally out of the earth. It was HOT yesterday, 36 degrees, but standing in the shadows of the partly built walls with the sunlight coming through the openings for the windows, it was cool and smelt of the earth.
The outside will be clad with a mixture of cob and lime to smooth, protect and strengthen the walls. They have built a small portion of wall to show exactly how it will look. It is tinted with an oxide to enhance the natural colour and it is looks fantastic.
Simric told me that a cob is the name given to a round loaf of bread originating in Devon and thus cobs are the round shapes they make using straw, clay, sand and water and that they are using to build this environmentally sensitive house.
The mixture is made by mixing the straw, sand, clay and water and STOMPING on it with feet to get just the right consistency. What a great foot massage that must be! Have you ever foot-stomped grapes, it is an unbelievable experience. This mixture is then formed into a long roll and the "cobs" cut and applied by kneading the mixture into the walls and so the building grows, lives and breathes and keeps the house cool in summer and warm in winter.
A grey water system will recycle the water they use and wind generators will power the house and so, in this way, says Carey, they want to leave a smaller footprint in this world of ours.
Their reason behind building their cob house just a few hundred metres from the beach in a bustling small village is so that other people can get involved and to raise awareness about alternative building methods. It IS possible to build a house that is eco-friendly and you can build it yourself! There are alternative methods to building than just bricks and mortar that are cheaper, can be done yourself and you will be giving something back to the world. That can only be good!
Even children are getting involved in the building process with a school that recently visited and on the last Sunday of each month when they hold their workshops families come along lay cobs and the children are having fun on this unique building site and learning something valuable at the same time.
They still have a way to go but their vision is wonderful. Simric said they hope to be finished by the end of July. Dung or another natural type surface will be used for the floor, grey water systems will harness the water they use and wind generators will power the house.
Getting the necessary permissions was not that difficult, certain guidelines had to be adhered to as it is in a National Heritage area and so the roof structure had to be adapted to fit in with the surroundings.
The biggest hurdle they have had to face though is financing the building and they have had to raise their own finance and are still trying to do that by offering workshops and for those people interested in sponsoring the project, a stay in the future in the guest room of Muizenberg’s Cob House.
It’s amazing to me when there is such a shortage of housing in South Africa that every effort and method is not being employed to address the situation! Teaching people these skills will afford them the opportunity to get involved in building communities of houses using alternative and far cheaper methods of building that will last long after you and I have left the earth. Why then can finance not be obtained to build using these methods? I really hope some enterprising and forward-thinking bank or home loan institution will GET IT - sooner rather than later.
From one trained person who knew how to cob, Simric and Carey now have four builders cobbing every day, proud of their new skills and hoping to be able to be able to use these new-found skills to build more cob houses.
Even while I was standing there people were coming past and taking photographs – there are lots of people interested in the progress of this building and so it makes me hopeful that there are those amongst use who feel the need to not keep taking from this earth but to rather use it well, use it wisely and help protect it.
There are ways you can help and be part of this amazing project. If you know about grey water systems or wind generators – please contact Simric or Carey – they would love to hear from you.
The Yarrows are also holding workshops on the last Sunday of every month to teach people how to cob and raise awareness. They can be contacted at:
Simric or Carey– telephone - 021 788 6613
Below are some of the photographs Joe took of this beautiful, interesting and gentle house with its soft curving walls and interesting spaces.
You can also see more of the actual building process with pictures of Muizenberg’s Cob House on Simric’s blog - http://www.cobhouse.blogspot.com/