Earthen Tool Shed, White Crane Springs Community Garden, San Francisco
A Hybrid Structure with Mosaic Urbanite Foundation, Stick-Frame Walls with Cob Infill and a Living Roof
– by Kat Sawyer
Building with earth has always ignited my imagination. Ever since childhood I've been drawn to places that combine the safety and comfort of an interior space with the excitement of being outdoors. The desire to break out of the box and create living architecture is shared by many people in the field of ecological design.
When I look back to other inspirations on my path to being an earth builder, my family's trip to Mesa Verde in Colorado was a formative experience. Walking among the adobe ruins as a teen, I could not predict how strongly I would connect to the experience looking backwards.
My love for earth building was solidified when several things aligned themselves to make it possible for me and my colleague Surane Gunesekara to design and build a cob tool shed in a San Francisco community garden.
Many hands and feet took part in the endeavor including the gardeners and their families, bay area residents with an interest in green building, our friends, and many other random people we met along the way.
Some of the most memorable moments for me involve intergenerational relationships, like a grandparent playing in the mud with his grandson. Younger kids instantly connect with earth building. Teenagers usually don't want to get dirty at first, but once they take the plunge they end up having a great time just like the rest of us!
Earth building brings people together – it is a beautiful expression of community spirit. Building with cob is hard work and very labor-intensive so it requires a group to be done effectively. Earth building by its very nature must be done with the help of others.
The real fun of community art is letting the design evolve over time and with the input of the participants… Many elements of our earthen structure changed from their original intent, including the roof and the walls. The people who helped us build the cob tool shed left their own unique marks (dare I say footprints?) on it.