March 2017 - November 2017 Northern California

The 2017 building season in Northern California consisted of a greenhouse, cob oven, child's playhouse, a 120sq. ft. earthen cabin and some smaller side jobs.  

The greenhouse was a fun recycled, salvaged material project in Arcata, California.  We used cob and bottles to fill in spaces that did not have windows.  All windows were from a local salvage yard and clay for the cob was harvested on site. 

Below is an earthen oven project on the same property in Arcata, California.  The client wanted two ovens; one for larger parties and one for his own personal use.  The base is made of cinder blocks, infilled with rocks and rubbish, finished with a lime plaster.  The counter has bamboo framework and cob. 


In May 2017, I started a 120 sq. ft. earthen cabin project in Potter Valley, California.  The client wanted a small dwelling with a loft for someone to rent on her property.  The North, East and West walls are strawbales and the South wall is made of Cob.  The over extended roof overhangs will serve as covered outdoor space for the future occupant.  Multiple work parties made this project come to life, 5 weekends-2 of which we had over 20 people attend.  Work parties are a great way to get the bulky work done with many people, many hands make light work.  The project is finished with earthen plasters, American Clay interior final plaster, Clay paint, a potassium silicate mineral paint on the exposed south wall and an earthen floor. It was completed over the course of 10 months. 


June's Playhouse!

Throughout the summer I also built this tiny playhouse for June!  Small stone foundation, cob walls, reciprocal green roof.  Super fun and primitive.  Playhouses are a great first project to get your hands dirty.  They are also a fun kids birthday party addition, host a work party setting to get cob mixes ready and the walls raised.  







December 2016 - March 2017 Koh Lanta Yai, Thailand 3 Month Natural Building Experience

I traveled back to Thailand to host a 3 month Natural Building Program,  3-Day workshops and some fun Muddy Mondays. 

This 3 month long term stay specializes in natural building and is structured like an apprenticeship as you become an integral part of the community.  While assisting with daily skill sessions and multiple intensive natural building workshops you learn a broad range of skills and various building methods like adobe and cob. The curriculum is designed with 25 education hours each week.  This includes a minimum of 3 hours a week of the learn by teaching method, where you will guide visitors in practicing a natural building skill. We welcome you to take advantage of the opportunity to teach based upon what you have learned as well as other skills you may have and want to share.  You get to utilize our library, facilities and network. Participants will leave with a full spectrum of knowledge on numerous construction and environmental design techniques. And will have had the chance to ground, connect and recharge.
The majority of your learning is from hands on building experience. The curriculum includes theory and a design project geared toward the climate of your choice.  This will all be aided by books, videos and presentations. 
Have a specific building site in mind? Utilize this program to develop your designs and get your questions answered.

May 2016 - July 2016: Northern California and the Wall to Wall Workshop Series!
Location: Ridgewood Ranch, Willits, Ca

An Introduction to the art and science of natural building. The whole series consisted of 5 workshops, covering 10 different versatile construction techniques that can be used alone or in combination to make nearly any kind of structure in almost every environment.

I joined renowned builder and author Michael G Smith in teaching this workshop series.  Each day included 6 hours of building and 3 hours of lectures.  The information taught throughout the series built up to being advanced training appropriate for professional designers and builders as well as first time owner-builders.

We constructed a multi-purpose pole-barn studio, blending all of the building techniques into a single structure. Wall to Wall Workshops included; passive solar hybrid design, earthbag foundation, cob,, strawbale, light straw/clay, cordwood masonry, clay plasters, earthen floor, natural paints and other fun new experiments! Check it out!
Stay tuned for W2W2 Summer 2017!

January-May 2016: Back at AsaLanta with 5 week long Natural Building Workshops!

What a great season at ASALANTA! The projects are endless, check out what's happening next season December 2016-January 2017

Workshop #1: We worked on a hybrid wall system; building with adobe bricks and wattle & daub. Exploring bottle and window placement brought about creativity.  An earthbag and cob bench was built next to the hybrid wall as an opportunity to practice different building methods.  The workshop finished with base and final plasters, natural paints and finished and a dirty mud mask spa session. 

 Workshop #2: ASALANTA needed a new toilet room for the Organic Teahouse guests.   This focused on every step in the adobe building process.  We started by making mud bricks and conducting soil tests.  The students got right to it, building 5 courses in just one afternoon.  I also introduced earthbag and cob techniques during the week.  We finished the week with plasters and a lesson on natural finishes.  Every workshop includes time for theory presentations, question and answer sessions and a movie.

Workshops 3 & 4:  Our lovely yoga instructor Angie is moving to the jungle!  The end of the building season focused on our new extension to one of our existing earthen homes.  Techniques practiced were; adobe, cob, plasters and finishes.  We also experimented with built-in earthen shelving, window pane placement and tested various finish recipes.  

October 2016 Update:
ASALANTA team has spent the rest of the year planning our new website and Education Park.  There are many more teaching and building opportunities starting again December 2016.  Natural Building programs that I am offering Dec 2016 - May 2017:
3 Month Natural Building Experience
3 Day Natural Building Workshop
Muddy Mondays
Visit the workshops page for more information!

*In October I was featured on Marywood University's blog - my alma mater. This was a great honor and makes me very proud to share my experiences and journey! Click here to view the Blog.  For the more detailed interview, click here

March-June 2015: Building a Community Center for the Asian Sustainability Academy

AsaLanta is an earthen village community on the island of Koh Lanta in southern Thailand.  Currently they are in the process of building a school.  There are two bamboo classrooms and an adobe community area that are near completion. 

I arrived in March very eager to get muddy.  The adobe walls were not finished yet, lucky for me.  So I was able to obtain great experience working with adobe.  As the walls progressed up to the roof, some extra strategies need to be taken.  The mortar for the adobe bricks was used on top of the final course of bricks below the roof.  We waited a few days for the material to settle, showing an opening between the adobe walls and roof.  We then filled the opening with a cob like material to prepare the wall for plaster. 

 By this time, I had come to assume the role as project manager.  There was no set recipes determined yet for the different stages in the building process, so I was able to conduct many tests.  There were two different soils being used at AsaLanta during my time there.  One was pure clay from a pond area and the other was delivered from another property, which worked very well for plastering.  The climate here during March and April was very dry and hot.  Things dried very very quickly, making sand an important ingredient in the recipes.  Also, straw is not readily available on the island so other fibers were used.  For example, the adobe bricks and mortar were made with wood chips, chopped straw-like grass (from roof panels) was used in some plastering, and bamboo leaves were used in a wall assembly and sawdust in the final coat of plaster. 

In the middle of April, I taught a week long Intro to Natural Building workshop.  Check it out here.

Plastering began in April and continued on until June.  It is important to shape the walls as you build them.  If you are able to get everyone on your team to help in doing this, it will save you a lot of time later on.  Before plastering here at AsaLanta we spent a bit of time filling deep indentations in the walls and also shaving protrusions.  Even after, there were still a lot of very uneven areas.  This was a great learning experience.  When plastering began, we were also using the plaster to fill some gaps which you should not do… this creates cracking.  Again making more work to go back and fix deep cracks.  We did two layers of plaster and there are some areas where the final coat has superficial cracking.  I believe this is because the plaster was not applied in an even layer.  Plaster wants to dry as one whole layer, if some of that layer is thicker in some areas than others – this will cause cracking.

 A wall assembly experiment was done with the second floor walls.  Sitting on top of two courses of adobe bricks, metal mesh used with bamboo created a cavity for a cob mixture to adhere to.  We made a mix of clay, building sand and bamboo leaves. 
If straw were available, I would use straw.  I am also doing some research on straw-like grasses on the island that may be of use. 
We took the cob mixture with more of a squishy consistency and pushed it through and onto the metal mesh.  This creates a lot of movement, making it necessary to only do a small section at a time.  Then leaving it to dry before adding another layer.  Now we were coming into May as we started this experiment.  Rainy season was beginning.  This made the drying period much longer.  When I first arrived things would dry within a day or so depending on the method, now with rainy season this earthen wall was drying much slower.  Also, because of all of the movement with the metal mesh, there was a lot of material used to fill and shape the walls.  Burlap soaked in clay slip and flour paste was used to help the mix stick to the wood, another great technique I learned from Michael Smith’s workshop last year.  The walls ended up looking quite nice, however with the time spent and material used I would try other methods in the future.  Perhaps, a slip and chip or straw clay wall assembly. 

 I finished my three month stay at AsaLanta having completed the plastering and limewash of the community area and the beginning of a bath house that was part of the week long workshop.  I saw first hand the effects of a rainy season on earthen building.  Here in southeast Thailand, natural building must be almost if not all complete before the rain starts.  You do not want your hard work being washed away.  Also if things are not completely dry, this creates a perfect home for mold. 

There are future plans in the works for AsaLanta community.  Plans include a new earthen house for a lovely new member, an earthen oven and perhaps a rocket stove oven!  Workshops will be posted in the upcoming months.  

Check out AsaLanta's awesome webpage here.

February 2015: Building with Cob 

A straw bale home built twenty years ago in a small town within Missouri.  I worked for about one week on interior cob work. We used a cob mix as infill for the interior walls which included recycled glass bottles.  Work also involved earthen plaster for a next layer for an earthen wall. Decorative wall finishes were also created with the cob mixture.  This was a one week work exchange experience.  The house was in amazing condition and I greatly admire the age of the beautiful home.


June 14 - June 19, 2014: Building with Earth & Straw Workshop - Michael Smith 

Six full work days to continue working on the straw bale shipping container and the cob studio. An earth-bag foundation system was used for the cob studio, followed by many layers of the cob mixture and salvaged windows.  A few layers of earth-bags with a cob mixture on top was used for a foundation for the straw bales.  The straw bales were attached to the south facing facade of the shipping container, followed by bamboo reinforcements and finished with layers of earthen plasters.  This week long work shop not only consisted of hands on work days but also a local tour of natural structures, many lectures and a final ceremony to show our appreciation for our earth.  Michael Smith's intensive workshop gives each participant the knowledge to teach others and to continue on with their own natural building path.

May 31, 2014: Straw bale construction project for a produce cooler.

A full work day to provide the land owners with a produce cooler for their farm.  A concrete foundation with rock along the perimeter for the straw bales make up the base.  As a community, we worked together to get all bales in place with mud slip reinforcement.  Natural architecture contributes positively to our environment using sustainable materials while building upon community.  Michael Smith was there to instruct everyone during construction as well as share his natural building experiences.  As I continue this natural building journey it is becoming more and more evident that this is the epitome of "sustainable" architecture.

May - June 2014: Work day prep for Michael Smith's Building with Earth & Straw workshop

Shipping containers provide a recycled shell for a future structure.  The Earthbag construction is used to provide structural support for the earth around the shipping containers.  Also, wood from an existing deck will be reused for the overhangs and outdoor porch structure.  Straw bales will be attached for insulation on the south side which houses windows for passive solar elements.  We will also be constructing a cob studio with a low impact earthbag foundation.  I am participating in two more work prep days and finishing the workshop June 19th.  

May 2014: Natural Building Earthen Floor Prep & Pour

Floor prep included many wheel barrow trips of rock, compacting and placing fabric to prepare for the pour of the earthen floor.  All the clay used was on site and people from the local communities came to help out.  The pour is similar to concrete pouring method and techniques are used to ensure the floor is level and there are no pockets of air to prevent cracking.