The Living Centre - Eco-Spiritual Education Sanctuary

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Natural Building Workshop

Daily Flow
Dates & Registrations

Natural Building:
Focus on Cob & Cordwood Building 

Natural Building is an approach to building that uses minimally processed materials from nature to build durable buildings that are healthy and have a nurturing feel for those lucky enough to live in them. Rather than trying to make conventional construction techniques incrementally less damaging to the environment, natural buildings start with questions about how to use minimum impact to create a beautiful and long-lived structure, and are often designed to be built by their owners, their families, and their friends.

This two-day workshop integrates hands-on practical learning, with integrated learning sessions laying the foundations for success with your future natural building projects. As well as learning with your mind, you will be learning with your body, as you mix cob through dancing, and build a ‘kitty toolshed.’ By the end of this workshop, you will be completely comfortable working with cob and cordwood, and well on your way to making your own mixes with cob from easily sourced materials – often from the site you’re working on.

What is Cob?

Cob is an ancient building technique used in many parts of the world at various times in history and pre-history. A basic mix of clay, sand, and straw is combined, then applied in courses onto walls to build them up. It is similar to adobe, which is the making of blocks using a similar mixture, baking them in the sun, then constructing buildings from the blocks. Instead, cob is plopped onto walls, then smoothed in with the builder’s hands, and dried in place before the next level is applied.

Incredibly strong, cob is not only easy, but soothing to work with, and can be plastered with various finishes on both the inside and cordwoodoutside - for both protection from the elements, and beauty. Beyond dwellings and other buildings, cob is perfect for building outdoor ovens and rocket-mass heaters. Rocket-mass heaters are (typically owner-built) wood stoves designed to burn small amounts of stick-wood to heat spaces (and cook on). They are very safe if installed correctly, and allow the heating of a building with small amounts of fuel and near total combustion of their fuel – so effectively no emissions beyond some water vapour once the fire is going.

Note that cob can be worn down over time if unprotected from direct contact with water, so we will talk about strategies to prevent this danger, such as effective roof coverings, foundations, and earth plasters.

What is Cordwood Construction?

Also called stackwall, cordwood is a natural building technique also used in many parts of the world. Pieces of cordwood take on a role like bricks, with cob (or other masonry mix) taking on a role like masonry. Cordwood adds a beautiful visual element, and saves on the volume of clay and sand required for a building, since in many cases wood is a more abundant and easily sourced material. Learn some of the best practices for working with cordwood, and in what situations it is best used. 


Natural Building begins with a philosophy. Buildings should be places of beauty that hold and nurture their occupants. They should also be designed to use a minimum of natural resources that have been processed in as light a way as possible, and are available as locally as possible. They should use materials that are non-toxic, and have a long history of use in regions with similar climates to the one you are constructing in. There should be careful consideration to the needs of occupants and the use of the building to make sure all needs are covered, and buildings don’t end up needlessly large – which leads to excessive heating and cooling requirements.

Conventional construction techniques lead to heavy uses of materials that have been heavily processed, and transported thousands of miles. Buildings are built to the industrial scale, not the human scale. Furnaces are installed as if natural gas were in endless supply, and hydraulic fracking was not a controversial issue. Asphalt shingles are consistently used – despite the short lifespan of this material, and its tie to oil production (again, something with limits imposed on us by nature.)

How do we break out of these patterns of building, especially when many of the resources and rules around us seem to limit anything but this mainstream status quo?

This workshop will address this question, as well as providing a deeper introduction to two particular natural building technique: cob and cordwood construction.


What happens

Each day will begin with dancing. Yes – that’s right. The best way to mix cob on the human-scale is to dance the materials together with a partner. About half the course will be devoted to learning practical skills.

Practical Skills you will learn

  • How to mix cob
  • Making an ideal cob mix from materials on site
  • How to test a cob mix by feel and other testing methods
  • Build a cob wall
  • Add doors, windows and other features to cob walls
  • How to select cordwood for walls
  • Build a Cordwood wall

In sessions between your hands-on learning, we’ll go deeper into your learning about cob.

Integrated Learning you will gain

  • Overview of various methods of natural building, and when to use which methods
  • History of Cob and Cordwood as a building materials
  • Uses of cob beyond building (ovens, benches, rocket mass heaters, sculptures)
  • Introduction to structural systems in natural buildings (walls, roofs, floors, windows, foundations)
  • Basics of Heating and cooling natural buildings (passive solar, annualized thermal inertia, rocket mass heaters)
  • Overview of freshwater systems for natural buildings
  • Overview of wastewater systems for natural buildings
  • Red tape: natural building and building codes; insuring natural buildings

Who would benefit?

design for cob home

This workshop is intended for those interested in making a natural building or home in the future, and those who want to deepen their physical and mental understanding of cob as a material. Natural building is a large field with a lot of detailed concepts, and this workshop will help you feel more comfortable as you pursue further experience and training. After the workshop, you will feel comfortable working with cob and cordwood, and will be immediately be able to get started on a project yourself. Building a structure for human habitation requires more training and experience than this workshop will offer.

making cob

 Daily flow

Saturday  – Focus on Cob Building

9:00 am - Why Natural Building? An introductory presentation

10:00 - Intro to Mixing and Cobbing and 

Cordwood Construction. (hands-on session)

11:00 am – Break  

11:15am – Introduction to Cob and Cordwood Construction (About cob, history, qualities of cob, when to use it and when not to.) 

12:30pm – Lunch - To build the community spirit we are inviting everyone to bring your favourite vegan/vegetarian dish for a Potluck Lunchfest. 

1:30pm – Cob – beyond buildings (Rocket Mass Heaters, Cob Ovens, benches, sculptures)

3pm – Break

3:30pm – Small-batch mixing, testing, and sculpting with cob. (hands-on session)

5:30pm – Closing ritual

Sunday – Introduction to Natural Building/Gaining experience with Cobworkshop

9am – Mixing, cobbing, cordwood (hands-on session)

10:30am – Break

11am – Building Systems 1. Structure (walls, roof, floors, windows, foundations); Heating and cooling (expanding on the rocket mass heater section from the previous day, and talking about insulation, thermal mass, passive solar).

12:30pm –Lunch - To build the community spirit we are inviting everyone to bring your favourite vegan/vegetarian dish for a Potluck Lunchfest. 

1:30pm – Building Systems 2. Focus on fresh water and wastewater systems, and electricity. 

3pm – Break

3:30pm – Continue mixing, cobbing, cordwood. (hands-on session)

5:30pm – Closing ritual 

Recommended reading

  • The Hand Sculpted Home by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley, and Michael G. Smith
  • Making Better Buildings: A Comparative Guide to Sustainable Construction for Homeowners and Contractors by Chris Magwood
  • Cordwood Building: The State of the Art by Rob Rob (2nd edition coming out Oct 2016)
  • Building Green: A Complete How-to Guide to Alternative Building Methods by Clarke Snell and Tim Callahan


Rob Read is a certified Permaculturist and avid Forest Gardener.  Rob's passion for forest gardening and Permaculture began when he came across Robert Hart's book about his forest garden at a used book fair. This dovetailed nicely with his concern over our current food production system, and made perfect sense based on his many years as a naturalist and amateur ecologist. Since 2008 he has been enriching his experience of Permaculture through extensive research and trainings, including workshops with leaders in forest gardening, holistic management, and rocket mass-heaters. He is co-founder of Artemisia's Forest Garden Nursery, a nursery that specializes in plants suited for forest gardens. He is also a co-founder of the Carolinian Canada Forest Garden Guild, and has been a planner for the annual Forest Garden Convergence since it's inception in 2013. His desire to create an 'off the grid' sustainable homestead has let him to studying natural building techniques with his wife Julie.  

Julie Walter is a stay-at-home mother, educator and blogger.  After having her own children she decided to leave her day job as an elementary school teacher and librarian in favour of educating her three children. She has a deep rooted interest in preserving the planet for future generations, finding guidance for how to proceed in Permaculture. She aims to integrate the principles of permaculture into all aspects of daily life and parenting in particular.  She writes about her journey in her blog Family Yields ( With an undergraduate degree in Sculpture, it was not surprising for Julie to be drawn to natural building. She has gained practical experience through a natural building workshop and during the construction of a cob oven, turning now toward the exciting potential of earthen buildings! 


 Shantree Kacera D.N., Ph.D. is an author and Certified Permaculture Designer and Educator, co-founder and director of The Living Centre, a Therapeutic and Shamanic Herbalist with a specialty in Forest Gardening with over 40 years experience. In 2003 he designed and built an Earthship Greenhouse. His interest in natural design continues to motivate him in creating regenerative ways of living. He is a passionate edible forest gardener, and well known for his unique circular medicinal-wheel garden and medicine trail with over 1,000 species of edible and medicine plants and trees through the 50-acre botanical sanctuary. Since the early 1980's Shantree has been applying permaculture practices. To find out more of the skills and passion he shares check out Shantree's bio.   

LorennaLorenna Bousquet-Kacera is a Certified Permaculture Educator with a specialty in evolutionary regeneration at the personal, ecological and spiritual levels. She is the co-founder and director of The Living Centre, and the founder of Shamanu: Earth Wisdom Teachings, practices that support an earth-based cosmology, teaching visionary and practical solutions for personal and social change. Her passion to live a sustainable and regenerative lifestyle includes a keen interest in natural building. She helped in the building of her and Shantree's Earthship Greenhouse. Lorenna's bio.

Dates & Registration

June 30-July 1, 2018
Sat & Sun
9am - 5pm


$250 early-bird before June 1st
$300 plus hst
Youth 13 to 18 half price

Includes: workshop and educational material.

Transportation, tax and accommodation are not included in the pricing.


Payment can be made through e-transfer (bank-to-bank transfer) 'PayPal' below, or by certified check. 

Please make cheques payable and send to: The Living Centre - 5871 Bells Rd., London, ON., Canada, N6P 1P3

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Partial work-trade positions available click here

For questions or additional information,
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