Point of View // 07.09.2013

The Cob House: Borrowed Building?

Article by Abena

Well I’ll be darned if these cob homes don’t look like upgraded versions of  the huts in which people considered poor  live as seen on sponsorship programs on TV. Take a look at this link and you’ll see what I mean:


I first learned of these a couple of days ago. Cob houses are do-it-yourself dwellings made from clay, earth, straw and water.   Sounds  familiar. I’m pretty sure I saw homes like these in various models at the Uganda Museum in Kampala. Though they were all circular as opposed to having varying curves and shapes, they too were quaint homes made of earth, straw and water. Some had distinct bedroom and living areas and built-in storage.

I like what I’ve seen of cob homes thus far. They’re simple and use basic materials that are readily available without intensive extraction or processed materials. They also have modern touches such full windows to let in more light. I know that prairie homes in western Canada used to be built directly into the sides of a hills but I’m amazed at how African these homes are in the traditional sense.

DIY and using natural items has been a long-time practice on the African continent. But it’s not because people are necessarily environmentally conscious, it’s because that’s what’s necessary to get the job done.  On the other hand, Canadians straddle necessity to be environmentally friendly and a conscious decision to do so with the latter often being the stronger factor. We have to try to eat organic, buy eco-friendly and try to live sustainably.

Seeing cob houses has made me wonder what those living in similar albeit much simpler structures out of necessity would think if they saw them. Would they think: “Hey, that’s how we build houses, we can improve ours as well.” or would they see it as a a project of the the privileged for whom perhaps resources are more available?   I can’t speak for others but I will say this:   There are many areas where we can and must innovate, but there are also numerous areas where we’ve gotten it right; knowing how to build homes from sustainable natural materials for instance.  I want us to recognize this and then to build on these areas (no pun intended).

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