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Natural Building Intensive

July 10, 2021 ∞ 9:00 am - July 24, 2021 ∞ 5:00 pm

$1 – $1750
– Cob
– Straw Bale
– Light Straw Clay
– Slip and Chip
– Ricecrete
– Mushroom blocks
– and more!
Instructors: Michael G. Smith, Colin Gillespie, Blair Phillips
Learn skills, techniques, and design theory to create your own beautiful, durable, energy-efficient home from local and site-harvested materials. Most of each day will be spent practicing a wide range of hands-on natural building systems, some ancient and time-tested, others experimental. This workshop teaches a wide variety of techniques that you can choose depending on your climate and local material availability. We will also give you the theoretical knowledge to design a regionally appropriate passive solar home. Lectures, slide shows, demonstrations and tours will cover many topics including: sustainable forest management; ecological harvesting of timber and clay; overview of round pole timber framing; practical tests for soils and earthen mixes, manual and mechanical mixing techniques for earthen building; passive solar design; thermal and structural properties of natural building systems; hybrid natural building design; design for weather and durability; working with codes and permits; integrating art and sculpture; and natural plasters and finishes.
Located 20 minutes from Willits in the heart of Mendocino County, Abuela Gardens is a working demonstration site dedicated to helping the growth and healing of all beings through a continued dialogue with nature, water, food, and medicine. This approach is accomplished by incorporating community, music, healing arts, and silence within a multidimensional design strategy. Our action plan is to communally care for the Earth by growing as much of our own food and medicine as possible, regenerating the forest and aquifer we depend on, building with earth and regeneratively harvested materials as well as developing habitat for a diverse interface of wild and domestic creatures including bees and hummingbirds. This workshop will enhance the infrastructure of the center by constructing a focal point for meeting and eating as well as cold storage for seeds, fermentations, roots and other food.
Three meals a day will be prepared on site, largely from local organic ingredients. Camping is also available on site. Access to the land is somewhat challenging due to our steep unpaved road. Participants will park nearby and be shuttled to the site. Guided morning yoga asana practice will be offered 2-3 times a week, with space available for your own practice the remaining mornings. At the end of the first week, we will take a field trip to the coast where we will visit other local natural buildings and receive a final gift of wood from the mama ocean.
Michael G. Smith co-founded the Cob Cottage Company, along with Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley, in Oregon in 1993. He helped organize the first Natural Building Colloquium in 1994. He wrote “The Cobber’s Companion” in 1996 and co-authored “The Hand-Sculpted House” (published by Chelsea Green, 2002) and “The Art of Natural Building (2nd edition, New Society, 2015).” He has experience with a wide range of effective low-cost, low-tech building techniques including cob, straw bale, and many lightweight natural infill systems. He has taught hundreds of hands-on natural building workshops, ranging from one-day earthen oven builds for children to 12-week professional trainings. He enjoys consulting with owner builders to help them design and build successful energy-efficient natural homes. He is also on the Board of Directors of the nonprofit Cob Research Institute, which wrote the first building cob for code in the world and successfully advocated for its adoption into the 2021 International Residential Code. With his partner and children, he stewards a 20-acre organic farm in Yolo County. Learn more at strawclaywood.com.
Colin Gillespie has worked in the construction trades for over 20 years, with previous experience in integrative landscaping and sociology. He has dedicated himself to the study, mindful practice, and teaching of Natural Building, Permaculture Design, and Regenerative Forestry through numerous trainings and homestead development projects. Son of an architect and a physicist, his attention to detail coupled with a passion for creating beautiful and wholistic infrastructure and landscapes has inspired him to produce exemplary structures combining ancient and modern building techniques. Many of his projects feature elegant round pole timber frames coupled with thermally efficient straw bale, coated with robust contoured cob and plasters. Familiar with many systems of construction from stud frame, wood joinery, masonry, and several clay based mediums, Colin thrives on utilizing local natural resources, often straight from the building site. He champions keen observation, considerate visioning, thorough planning, all tempered with good humor and adaptability to allow long term efficiency, functionality and beauty to emerge naturally.
Blair Phillips, founder of Abuela Gardens, has a BA in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Agroecology and education. He is a certified permaculture designer and teacher who has studied with the best teachers including Dr. Elaine InghamGeoff LawtonDarren DohertyPenny Livingston, Brock Dolman, Ian Davidson, Steve Gliesman, Michael G. Smith, and Michael Flynn. Blair is also the founder of Common Vision, (www.commonvision.org) a nonprofit organization responsible for planting thousands of fruit trees in California, many of which were planted on school campuses by a waste vegetable oil powered caravan of earth educators. Blair has worked internationally to propagate an additional 7000 trees in Guinea, West Africa, and to build a superadobe dome structure for a school in Dogon country, Mali. Settling into the hills of Willits in 2012 inspired Blair to develop an intimate relationship with the watershed, designing his farm and homestead based on a regenerative relationship with the surrounding environment. 


July 10, 2021 ∞ 9:00 am
July 24, 2021 ∞ 5:00 pm
$1 – $1750
Event Category:


Abuela Gardens
4649 Bear Canyon Rd.
Willits, CA 95490 United States
707 272-2929


Blair Phillips
707 272-2929
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