One Build, One Heart: Fuerteventura, August 2015

I think what keeps me so IMG_3340fulfilled in leading these workshops and builds and what keeps people coming is the “one heart” community that is created, nurtured and cherished from the beginning.  The first giggles and smiles appear on people’s faces from the moment theyIMG_3339 touch the mud, roll up their pants and stomp in their first squishy, welcoming cob burrito.  No matter where in the world, I am learning, the results are the same.  And what a joy to see international groups, language differences notwithstanding, singing and dancing together like kids again as they do the cob hug circle dance I’ve seen time and time again.  I mean look at their faces!!!!!

The Fuerteventura Cob Workshop was unique in that I arrived to a partially-built gorgeous rock house that would require cob fill-in.IMG_3034

Yeah! Something new and different, yet the walls were 50cm thick!!!! Yikes!!! And we were destined to finish in 2 weeks, the walls that is.  Sylvain and Miltiade had gone for the old-fashioned Euro-style thick-walled look.  We dubbed it the “Rock’n’Cob House” and ploughed forward with hungry motivated IMG_3395cobbers-to-be.  Luckily the warm windy weather that dominates on this island would allow us to go up 30cm a day if we so determined to.  Anaïs cooked up the greatest menus IMG_3343which added to the motivation.  As usual our students were from all walks of life: surf instructor, mason, biologist, administrator, Reiki healer, masseuse, conventional builder, pre-school teacher, organic farmer and recycled bag maker.

During our one-week workshop we were treated to the first August thunder and rainstorms in 100 years! Shocking, yet everyone got a chance to see COB in action!  Yup, that’s right, it gets HARDER after it gets wet and dries again. What? Yup, those clay-sand bonds tighten up with each evaporatory event.  Touch it!

Our second week saw a small, hard-working and very committed group of student builders and this nugget got really tight.  Showing up at 8:30 on the dot while Claudine was still makin’ it to the site, they rolled out those tarps, got the cement mixer—-oops, I mean feet warmed up, and off they went getting the first 6 mixes done.  IMG_0358Truth is we did try out some larger-scale cob production mechanical equipment that was handy on the farm.  Miltiade was especially motivated as he would be left to finish the tops of the walls alone with his children Loic and Anais.  The final verdict was that the human hands and feet were fastest and best….yet in order to ease up on the heavy work we let the cement workshop fuerteventura_110mixer do the mixing as we hosed down and watched it go round and round.  The tractor never quite got the mix perfect and then scraping it off the tarp or ground ended up making the whole thing take double time.

In the end the LOVE among this group of novice builders became so STRONG that tears were almost shed in saying goodbye, though we all know that it’s never GOODBYE with COB…just until the next time.   Oh and thank you Loïc for documenting the whole two weeks in time-lapse which I will post a clip preview of on the site. Stay tuned for his full-length instructional and time-lapse video to come of the workshop, en español and in english….of course!

workshop fuerteventura_18


Found a Cobber on São Nicolau, Cabo Verde, July 22, 2015


Serginho building his new place with a local cob plaster…just his soil with flour paste.

Well I finally found an authentic cobber from Brazil, Serginho, living in Praia Branca on the West coast of São Nicolau.  He has been trying to set up a cob training in Cabo Verde while running a guesthouse, building a new place with cob bunglaows, adopting a son and preparing for a child with his Cabo Verdian partner who is also a cobber!  Serginho has been training his helpers to make adobe bricks, cob plaster and cob floors.  He has found the perfect recipe for his cob plaster over concrete blocks (his first building in order to get it upIMG_2672 quickly) using his own site yellow clay soil (ready mix!) with flour plaste.  When I touched it it was as hard as stucco and appears to be quite water-resistant.  While the locals have been watching with curiosity and also humor, not trusting the cob will hold, Serginho keeps moving forward happily finishing up his projects.

Yesterday I happened to be eating lunch surrounded by the mayor of Tarrafal and other local officials, architects and engineers and, as always happens, they wanted to know my story and next thing you know I am driving around with the Mayor, Jose Freitas, going to look at potential building sites to help families in need of “healthy” shelter (asthma issues).  Tomorrow I will meet with the technical staff and organize a training workshop for next year!  I tell you things manifest quicker and quicker…people are interested…and as soon as the first model houses go up…more will follow.  As a matter of fact, the Mayor suggested a whole neighborhood of cob houses if the first one is a success!  Bring on the cobbers!!!


Stone & Cob on Santo Antão, Cabo Verde, July 1, 2015

Here in the Cabo Verde archipelago the traditional house building material is stone with a cob mortar.  There is lots of clay on these volcanic islands, however there is more rock and it’s everywhere and, like the Basque people, the Cabo Verdians on the mountain & IMG_2221valley island of Santo Antão climb and descend large distances carrying large loaIMG_2203ds daily.  When I inquired about all the physical labor they poo pooed it saying that they enjoyed it and it keeps them healthy.  This is their health insurance .  The old stone and mortar homes I found to be located often on dangerous-looking precipices, cliff edges, and mountaintops with great views.  Many of them are now roofless and unihabited but the walls remain vibrant and ready to house new tenants at any moment…with a good roof!


Fontainhas, an hour walk along the mountain face from Ponta do Sol, as seen from the path and overlooking a farmer and his breathtaking terrace view!







Gratitude for Why I am Doing What I am Doing…June 25, 2015, Santo Antão, Cabo Verde

Learning to build cob houses has been an unexpected gift in so many ways.  The joy I see on people’s faces at my workshops when they roll up their pants for the first time and stick their toes in the cool soft mud, IMG_1833IMG_0913the laughter and heart-to-heart conversations ignited while mixing and building with a partner, the meditative concentration of working on a sculpture, the satisfaction of stepping back and seeing your beautiful trimmed wall section, the excitement at embedding bottles and sculpting an art window, the bliss of relaxing with good food and a cold beer after a full day’s building in community, and the gratitude of leaving confident in starting a dream project….are why I do this work.  Over and over again, all over the world, cob building creates childlike joy, love, community, and empowerment.  It has shown itself to be much more than a building technique.  It is a remedy for a better Life on Earth.  It creates Happy People living in Happy Houses. Ho.


Everyone wants COB! São Vicente, Cabo Verde, June 20, 2015

It was hard to leave SIMG_1363enegal.  SO much LOVE!  From everyone.  And in my last weeks there I built two more ovens with my Senegalese students and connected with 5 more landowners, Senegalese and expat, that all want COB buildings on their land.  Sick of concrete blocks, concrete and cement damaging the beIMG_0790autiful landscape.  Half-finished buildings everywhere, waiting for money, motivation, materials.  With COB, the materials are practically free, only requiring collection and transportation.  For our 2 ovens, we got the material cost down to $25, for the digging up and transportation of the clay soil and transport of sand (by horse and cart), collection or purchase of straw and purchase of oven bricks.  People loved them and we were swamped with interest and demand for more ovens.  I did not come to Senegal to start a cob business but rather train the locals with the skills to do so.  Now the motivation needs to come from them. Teach someone to fish, don’t just give them tIMG_0949he fish.

Now, I am scheduled out from mid-November through February with build projects and two long workshops in Senegal, not to mention Fuerteventura, Tangier, Tarifa and Marrakech before that.  Everywhere I go people want COB.  There is strong interest on the planet I know.  I am currently in Cabo Verde on the island of Sao Vicente.  Though I have been recuperating here and working on my website and promoting the upcoming workshops, as I start to make a little noise, once again the people come, the interest surges, people want me IMG_1375to stay and help them start their ecovillages, permaculture properties, ovens, etc.  I thrive on supporting and motivating all the individual positive cells of light and well-being all over the planet that want the right thing, the good thing, the peaceful thing.  They want to live in Harmony with Mother Nature, breathe freely in their Soulful hand-built homes, eIMG_1769at food they have planted, nurtured and seen growing, live with animals collaboratively and compassionately, make their own clothing, look at the stars at night and smile at their gratitude for having a piece of land to play with, to take care of, to beautify, and to learn from.  This is Human Nature at its most core Truth.  I am doing my Right Work and there is no other Way.  May we all know what our Right Work is and walk our talk fearlessly and with no procrastination.  The time is NOW.  Be YOU!  The World needs authentic individuals deeply connected to themselves, each other, Nature, the animals and the Spirit World.  Let’s GO!!!


An African Mystical Cob Oven, Senegal, May 22, 2015

The first week of our cob oven workshop in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal was full of a cultural diversity of 

The first batch of cob is always an amazing surprise

The first batch of cob is always an amazing surprise

human energy, world music beats, delicious large shared dishes of fish, rice, veggies prepared in a myriad of ways, story-telling, learning, good exercise, hard work and beautiful, rich artistic expression.


We had 3 young children who learned to make their own cob mix, a range of ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and languages.  In the end we were all connected by the mud, from whence we have all come and to which we shall all return.

Azadey, Ousmane and Adama

Azadey, Ousmane and Adama


After the intense and frustrating concentration of building a 6 foot diameter laterite rock foundation with cement mortar, we began to have fun preparing the mudbath for the straw.  Finally, the mud stompin’ begins.


Mbarou struts her Afro steps in the mudbath for the straw insulation


The insulation, cob base, and bricks were set with utmost precision for a level oven floor.  The sand dome was formed like a day at the beach.  Each material we work with our hands creates a new massage on the skin, a new relationship to learn between our handwork and the result we are looking for, new skills we perfect with each minute of practice.  For some it comes easily and well, for others it requires more disciplined attention and effort.  We all watch each other and learn. 

Baye massages the beautiful sand dome

Baye massages the beautiful sand dome


Time for the oven layering around the sand…a long day.  But we must complete the oven today or the sand dome will dry and fall.  One more push.  16 hands working together making mix and forming it to the dome around and around.  Finally we are starting to see the oven take shape.  Even if it looks lost on the large foundation, each successive layer of insulation, cob mix and plaster will bring it closer to the edge of the base.


Our beautiful oven shell



And ultimately, the excitement of cutting open the door and digging out wheelbarrows and wheelbarrows of sand out of the new oven.  An endless stream of sand pours out.  So much sand that we will reuse for the plaster mix.


Ousmane checks out the inside walls








Ahhhhh, there’s my oven.  Beautiful sculpted Ghanaian symbols representing “harmony”, “energy” and “Mother Earth”, as well as an African sun, an elephant, stars  and a wavy border adorn the new community oven.  This oven now has an identity. 

Ghanaian Adinkra symbols for Harmony, Energy and Mother Earth

Ghanaian Adinkra symbols for Harmony, Energy and Mother Earth


It is an African oven, a mystical oven, representing the harmony of the people working together to build it, the energy required, and the Mother with her pregnant belly made of Earth.  As always things happen exactly as they should.  Blessings on this first cob oven in this area of Senegal.  May it last many generations and cook many fine foods to be savored by all.  And may more cob ovens flourish through the land here, as an expression of love for Mother Earth and gratitude for her gifts.


Mother Earth Symbol






Finished oven with local clay pigments

Finished oven with local clay pigments











The Cob Oven Family

The Cob Oven Family


to see all the photos of the workshop!


“L’Engouement”, Toubab Dialaw, May 11, 2015

“L’Engouement” , another alternative building/architecture paradise in Toubab Dialaw (Senegal) created by 88-year old dignified Haitian Marxist builder/artist/poet Gérard Chenet ( I walked in awe through this maze of unique edifices built from local stone, clay brick, thatch and other materials and serving a myriad of functions from refuge, artist studio, yoga studio, theater to dining hall, kitchens and giant community creative spaces. With monkeys running around and an ecological swimming pool cleaned by water plants, mango trees galore and giant African baobabs watching over…A MUST-SEE in this lifetime!!!! And Gerard lives on-site, a living fount of history, knowledge in clay-based building, and original inspirational ideas all of which he manifests.  His next project brewing in his almost century-long brain is a mud castle with solar panels, wind generator and water tower….it is all on the SOBOBADE website!



A Lunch with Earthen Builders in Senegal, May 9th, 2015

Yesterday I had the good fortune of meeting Etienne and Lalaina from CRATERRE based in Grenoble, France who are earthen workers on mission here to develop insulation panels made from the invasive reed called TIFA together with cob to add onto existing concrete block buildings to cool the interior and reduce air conditioning. A bit of a joke, right? Well they are making do with what is existing, a pain in the butt but realistic.

I also met Doudou Deme who is a young and up and coming entrpreneur who runs ELEMENTERRE who runs a compressed earthen brick outfit (6% cement for stabilization and quicker drying) and is busy building for folks.  He mentioned that his clients are not ready for COB yet, they see 100% earth as backwards and not durable.

Wait till we build the first “modern-looking” cob house and they see how cheap the materials are.  This is so important here and in all the “Third World” countries where concrete is sadly ubiquitous and seen as the only option!

Afidi's Nubian Vaults enclosed in compressed earthen bricks (laterite, clay and 6% cement)

Afidi’s Nubian Vaults enclosed in compressed earthen bricks (laterite, clay and 6% cement)


Dakar, Senegal May 7, 2015


Build Sites Everywhere

I am currently in Senegal after a month in Cabo Verde.  Everywhere one sees only concrete blocks, in piles, rows, waiting to be mortared together over and over again, boring, heavy, prison-like, costly, energy-intensive, non-biodegradable, harmful to the Earth and to the people living inside of these Soul-deadening  and sealed walls.

People wait for years to be able to afford to buy them and start building and soon enough the work stops mid-way for lack of funds. And there is old destroyed building garbage everywhere, useless, ugly.  And everywhere one sees partial concrete block structures, an eyesore for those like me that know the beauty and thrill of cob buildings.


Construction debris lines the Beaches

Construction debris in Dakar

Construction debris in Dakar

So here I am turning the locals on to renewed earthen building techniques, beyond those of their ancestors.  Why? Apparently here when they build with Earth, they use what is on site, regardless of the quality of the mix.  They may have to add some clay if it’s too sandy, but it is all done haphazardly with no testing.  Thus many structures do not survive the rainy season and some even fall down regardless of rain.  Yet this is Africa, one day at a time, and the rebuilding has become part of the culture.  Long-term permanence is not so much the norm on this Continent.  And each day is a whole new life.

I am excited to bring California or Oregon Cob to Africa.  And perhaps help embed the unsightly plastic and concrete rubble away from the eyes and the Earth.  People are hungry for learning something new.  Especially when they know it’s the new fashion in

Sobobade Hotel in Toubab Dialaw, a beautiful example of unique Soulful building!

Sobobade Hotel in Toubab Dialaw, a beautiful example of unique Soulful building!

the White countries.  Next week I will bring a group together, African and European, to build together an oven, a couch and a BBQ.  Let’s see what happens….

COB BUILDING is a silent revolution. 

Be a revolutionary, build a COB HOUSE!!!

To the right is an amazingly beautiful Art Hotel built by Gerard Chenet, a Haitian immigrant to Senegal in the 1970’s, as an example of functional wild passionate architecture.  The Sobobade Hotel ( compound has become an ecovillage of sorts, where all are drawn to hang out.  Feeds the Soul, Beautifies the Planet, inspiring, pleasing, fun.