What we do and why we are doing it


PO Box 942, Coquille, Oregon 97423 Phone: 541-396-1825

What we do

  1. We conduct hands-on research on natural building methods and materials, testing our own buildings by living in them.
  2. Through our sharing of this knoweldge, we help empower ordinary people to build their own houses at moderate cost and help others become professionals in natural construction.
  3. By mail and phone, and through publications and tours, we supply information, support and inspiration for people to make healthy choices about buildings.

Our inspiration comes from direct observation of Nature, and from the wisdom of traditional cultures. We are committed to deconsumerizing, to reducing the flow of cash, resources and waste, and helping others to do the same. We work with a wide range of natural materials. Numerous cob demonstration buildings all over North America are now open to visitors. The many buildings at the North American Retreat Center for Natural Building in Oregon's rainforest where we live, are open by appointment.

Why Bother?

    • A new house costs $100,000 or more and takes a lifetime to pay for. As real earnings decline, housing costs continue to rise, trapping people into 30-year mortgages. Homeowners take jobs they can't stand to pay for houses that don't suit them. We research and teach how to build very low cost, personalized houses that an owner can pay for in a year.
    • Although family size has dropped, new houses continue to get bigger -- huge boxes unsuited to their occupants' needs, costly to maintain, and inefficient in space, energy and materials. In contrast to the building industry's emphasis on size, we demonstrate quality -- of materials, craftsmanship and spaces. We believe your house should be of moderate size but a work of art, a daily inspiration and a joy to live in.
    • Modern building materials are increasingly toxic to builders and residents. We explore durable, cheap, natural materials which won't make you ill.
    • Most houses are designed to alienate people from Nature, but ours reveal the solar and lunar cycles and emphasize the character and climate of their site. Through careful placement of openings, focus on views, integrating outdoor spaces and encouraging wildlife, the residents of our buildings become more aware of the natural world.
    • The construction industry is a major contributor to deforestation, mining and pollution. We help people build gracefully with much less lumber, metal, or manufactured products.
    • Most US housing uses immense amounts of energy for heating and lighting. All our buildings are solar oriented to be snug in winter and cool in summer. They need no air conditioning, no daytime lighting, and minimal heating.
    • Industrial cartels, the building industry and government have all conspired to prevent most people from building their own homes. We help people to take charge of creating their own housing. We research and teach construction techniques anyone can learn rapidly.
    • As resources diminish, the reuse of building materials becomes urgent. Mainstream construction shows little concern for how its products will be re-used and is a massive creator of waste, impoverishing future generations. We work with organic materials which can be reused or composted, especially earth, rock, straw and unwanted parts of trees.

Section and plan of the $500 "Heart House" in Cottage Grove with kitchenette and snug space below, sleeping/dressing loft and study above. Foundation and floor are rock; beams are hand-hewn fir, madrone and oak. Note heated cob bench, massive cob walls, window seat, glasswall to south and east. Linda and Ianto lived here for twelve years.

Project Update 2012

We are more than halfway into what looks like a 30-year project. The goals are simple without humility: to transform the building industry, to make houses accessible to everyone and to put joy, meaning and integrity into people's lives. We have created in Oregon Cob an almost free building material almost anyone can manufacture for themselves. It has fluidity of form; it is healthy, non-polluting and local. The buildings it inspires are sculptural, snug and permanent. Our work with roundwood carpentry could reduce lumber wastage and add strength to roofs and woodwork, and the rockwork renaissance offers substantial foundations, floors and features. For seven years, we have been using a cob/bale combination we call Balecob, thermally sophyisticated and easy to build. Now we know how to build natural, non-toxic, beautiful houses at very low cost. We can show most people how to build with cob in a week; in a month, they have the confidence to create their own house, with their own hands and feet. Building sites are available aplenty with no need to borrow money or amass huge savings. Public demand constantly increases. Next we need to overcome the last entrenched bottleneck: the greed of corporate commerce and the vigilance of its bodyguards, the governmental regulators of how we supply our own shelter. Working or living in earth is healthy in the healthiest way. It builds physical strength and self-confidence as people realize they can build most parts of their own home, without expensive and intimidating tools, without lots of money, with minimal training. We have shared this knowledge with 3 year olds, people in their 70s, a man with one leg, a woman with an "incurable" heart condition; all are now able to build their own homes. For the first time many people see a way out of the 30-year mortgage trap. They can get out of jobs they hate, be at home more, play with their kids. They can escape from mindless consumerism. We have ventured into very cold climates, Northern Denmark and Central Ontario, experimenting with cob/strawbale sandwich walls. In 2006 and 2007, we worked in a war zone in the Armenian Caucasus, training villages in cob contruction. This past few years we have founded the North American Retreat Center for Natural Building in Coquille, Oregon where we now live and share knowledge. Our work with cob courtyard walls has expanded. In Cottage Grove we have 150 feet of completed walls 4-7 feet high with three cob buildings attached. We've helped with very large houses (2,000-3,000 round feet, in Denmark, Ireland and Pennsylvania), and research continues into the beneficial effects of living in curvilinear space. Programs in Mexico in February, July and November continue our 20-year association with the remarkable Caballero family, their 300-acre permaculture site and the wealth of traditional building knowledge in Central Mexico. We have shared our knowledge with thousands of people worldwide through hands on demonstrations and slide show presentations. We originated and have organized several national Colloquia on Natural Building; we first popularized the term Natural Building. As the main North American resource for earth building information, we manage Helping Hands, an international and bioregional network of mutual support for novice builders to get practice and for owner-builders to get help. We are the authors of The Hand-Sculpted House(published by Chelsea Green with 20,000 in print), the most comprehensive book available on cob construction, also the Cobber's Companion, Rocket Mass Heaters and Earth Building and the Cob revival.