July 10-24 2021

Natural Building Wall Intensive

Instructors: Michael G Smith and Colin Gillespie and Blair Phillips


Straw Bale

Light Straw Clay

Slip and Chip


Mushroom blocks

and more!


Cost:  $1750 includes camping and meals. $100 discount for full payment by June 1 and for families and friends registering together ($200 maximum discount per person). Half price for children aged 5-15. Some scholarships and work exchange opportunities for those in need.


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.

The building you see above is the building we will be working on. The timber frame was built from lumber harvested on site to stack functions with watershed regeneration and fire prevention. All of the dimensional wood was milled and pond-cured on site. Walls will be built during the workshop from straw bales, straw-clay, slip-and-chip, ricecrete, and other lightweight insulating systems, with a sculptural cob wall for the Water Altar, as well as arches and other decorative design elements.

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. 

working wall.jpg
infill wall.jpg

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.

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 has worked in the construction trades for over 10 years, with previous experience in integrative landscaping.He has dedicated himself to the study and mindful application of Natural Building, Permaculture Design, Eco-forestry, and Sociology.​​Son of an architect and a physicist, his attention to detail coupled with a passion for smart buildings and landscapes has inspired him to produce exemplary structures combining the benefits of modern and ancient building techniques. Elegant round-pole timber frame with straw bale infill constructions with robust contoured plasters are his specialty and have been featured in many of the projects he has led. In addition to his familiarity with standard stud construction, he is also known for his use of a variety of natural building techniques involving local resources such as wood, clay, and rock.  He champions keen observation, considerate visioning, and thorough planning, all tempered with good humor to allow long-term efficient function and beauty to emerge naturally. www.polecraftsolutions.com

Read Blair Phillips' bio here.