The Hand-Sculpted House

The Hand-Sculpted House

Merge art and life by building a cob cottage

Compartmentalization has become an essential part of modern living. The biggest separation is between work and play. We keep what we do for pleasure separate from what we do for survival. Our pleasure activities are often undertaken at a financial expense, while our productive activities typically aren't pleasurable. Creative activities, like painting or writing poems, typically count for a loss, financially speaking. But even in the modern day, we don't necessarily have to divide our creativity and our survival. The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans is one guide to combining the two. 

Evans's book details the history and mechanics behind the building of cob cottages--organic houses sculpted from natural materials. By using soil, clay, sand, straw, and water mixed together in specific proportions, one can create a durable and inexpensive structure from the ground up. Not only are these houses cheap to build--a cottage outfitted with running water and electricity tends to cost a few thousand--but they bring with them the satisfaction of living in a home that you yourself sculpted. These houses are as much art as they are architecture, with smooth, rounded edges and organic designs. 

Of course, building a house from scratch requires enormous amounts of labor, but that's part of the point. These days, when we think of "building our own house," we think of hiring an architect, designer, and a team of contracted workers to do the actual work. You may have earned the money that goes toward your brand new house, but you're exempt from the details of its actual creation. Outsourcing the building of homes is another way to compartmentalize, but it doesn't offer the same rewards as performing the labor yourself. 

The construction of cob cottages is a way to merge art and survival. By sculpting your own shelter, you become inextricably linked to the surroundings in which you spend much of your time. Your art surrounds you, keeps you dry and warm. It takes the process of exchange out of our needs, allowing us to take control in maintaining our lives. It is, Evans argues, a healthier way of existing within the world.

The ideal cob cottage does take advantage of the natural world around it. As it relies on insulation to stay warm inside--no radiators here--placing windows to catch sunlight is key. As a result, even the electricity-equipped cob cottages are extremely energy-efficient. They are in harmony with the earth on multiple levels, from their construction and design to their carbon footprint.

Of course, these cottages are not for everyone. To build one, you'd need to own a patch of land and be able to devote several months to construction. But to those who have the resources and wish to escape the driving, divided pressures of modern life, cob cottages provide a lovely escape. They're beautiful little buildings, often smooth and rounded with few straight lines or hard angles. They curve to fit their surroundings. No two are alike. They resemble something out of folklore with their round windows and personal details, embedded in the woods. The images in this book are stunning--even if you have no intention to read the building tips, The Hand-Sculpted House is worth picking up just for the richly colorful photographs of these unique structures.