Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

The Hand Sculpted House – Evans, Smiley, Smith (2002)

**The Hand Sculpted House – Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley, Michael G. Smith. Chelsea Green Publishing.**


In the work I do teaching natural building it is usually strawbale building that seizes peoples’ imaginations, and most of the phone calls I get are about it. My passion, however, is for cob building. For some reason building with mud seems to excite people less than building with straw. Hopefully, the publication of this stunning book will change that.

To put it simply, if you only ever buy one book on natural building, make it this one. It is wonderful – it’s what all the other books on cob until now have aimed for but not quite reached, and it marks a real ‘coming of age’ of the cob building movement. This book has everything, it FEELS good in your hands, it is a good size and shape, the cover is beautiful, it describes itself as ‘a bible of radical simplicity’ (which is no idle boast), it is very well laid out, well illustrated, rich in insight and practical understanding and it has a section of colour plates of what are most certainly the most gorgeous houses you will ever have seen (promise!), homes “so beautiful they make grown men cry”, according to the authors.

The authors, Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith and Linda Smiley are true pioneers, passionate visionaries with dirt under their fingernails. They started the Cob Cottage Company in 1993 and single handedly began the revival of this ancient material. They outline their philosophical basis, one of self-empowerment and freeing us from dependence on the industrial construction industry. They sum up their approach when they say “most of the buildings most of us live in are soul-less, anti-ecological and ugly. We close our senses when we are in them. But there’s another kind of architecture, one that feeds the soul and spirit, that helps us feel good, that elevates our daily lives”.

This is the complete manual on cob construction. From foundations to roofs, from plasters to checking whether you have the right kind of soil, its all here. It has the best section on making an earth floor that I’ve ever read. The Hand Sculpted House doesn’t attempt an impartial overview of natural building methods (see The Art of Natural Building by Kennedy, Wanek and Smith for that), it wears its passion for cob on its sleeve.

Buy this book and tell your friends, may it spark the long overdue revival of this greatly underrated material and signal the end of the tyranny of cement. It is no exaggeration to say that this book will transform how you think about building. It is such a compassionate, empowering and uplifting approach to creating shelter, a home rather than just a house. It does however, come with a warning – once you have read it you will never be happy until you have built your own cob cottage.