Introduction & afterword: art is...

– by Kiko Denzer (to read the full text, click HERE.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Portable Cob

– story and photos (except where noted) by Janine Björnson

Last summer in Northern California, Cob went mobile. Cob has made its indelible stationary mark on the alternative building movement in the last decade, so it was time for it to show another face.

In the spirit of Portland Oregon’s City Repair Project, the first ‘Placemaking Project’ occurred in Santa Rosa last June 11th. The City Repair Project is group of citizen activists creating public gathering places and helping others to creatively transform the places where they live (see Directed by Joe Kennedy, the Junior College neighbourhood and the First Congregational United Church of Christ hosted; speakers, music, informational kiosks, and Samoan pig roast (wow!), all interwoven with the construction of an ephemeral plaza. The ephemeral plaza included a chalk intersection mandala and a cob bench.

The church was progressive enough to entertain the idea of a bench made of earth on its property, but they were not able to commit to a permanent location at the time. Therefore, the bench was called into existence but it didn’t have a home. How can we give the community this healing, playful experience of clay, sand, straw and water all gooshing between their toes without a place for it to live? Joe and I decided it was within in our reach to make a portable bench. This would meet everyone’s needs until the permanent location was chosen.

Joe and I worked together to design a basic wooden structure that a skilled volunteer could build. Made of 2x6’s, 2x4’s, Peter Crone made a strong, simple wooden foundation on wheels. It had all the necessary components: sturdy wheels that locked, eye bolts attached to the underside so it could be locked down in a specific location, a perimeter foundation made from 2x6 fir with 16d nails driven in to the top side to act as a keying element for the cob, and a seating area made from wood that would allow water drainage. It was a lovely little foundation on wheels 5’ long, 2 1/2’ feet deep and 16” high. It was a tiny bench that could be finished in one day. The bench would have a cob backrest and cob armrests.

The shape of the cob bench unfolded, as did the day. Our main criterion was to create a bench for the community that they could relate to. We did not want to alienate anyone with earth and straw, we wanted to make friends. Therefore, we chose a very simple design that resembled a conventional ‘loveseat’. Who can turn their back on love?

Thus, the cob loveseat on wheels was born. The proud builders gathered around their overstuffed creation at the end of the day to admire and celebrate this new face of cob. Cob on wheels! What next?

We were the last ones to clean up at the Placemaking Project therefore, there were only four of us to move the bench off the sidewalk and take it to another location to dry. Two men, two women, all fit and worthy, there we were hunched over this loveseat, hands on the foundation pushing with everything we had! IT WOULD NOT BUDGE.

1-2-3 Puuuuuuuuusssshhhhhh! Our little bundle of love was a wet hippopotamus and she didn’t want to move!

Fortunately, we are brainy group and managed to thread a garden hose through the undercarriage of the foundation, which acted as a pulling anchor. The four of us turned into horses and tugged until we had her going full of momentum and headed to her temporary home.

The lesson? Wet cob is much heavier than you can imagine. The glory?

The first portable cob bench!

For more information on the portable bench contact Janine at

Story originally printed in the Cobweb, Issue #22 Winter 2006

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