April 18, 2016

Scaffolding Necessary to Complete Dome

I took a day to arrange the scaffolding in order to work comfortable at the top of the dome.  The photo may suggest a precarious situation, but actually the platforms are stable.

The dome has changed everything with respect to the architecture and imagination of the structure.   And the inside ceiling of the dome will open possibilities for finishing renders and lighting.   I hope to complete the dome before the summer monsoon season around the beginning of July.

January 18, 2016

Dome Progress Update

Work on the dome has finally resumed after a failed well-pump needed a few months to order and install.   As the dome rises and the cob needs to be hauled up scaffolding, progress takes longer, but the winter days here in southern Arizona are beautiful - sunny in the low 60's - perfect weather for cobbing.

I'm using the rebar skeleton as a guide to shape the exterior of the dome. It's all by eyeball. The thickness of the dome wall is approximately 1-foot thick.  When shaping the dome, I parallel the rebar.  But as I near the top and the angle change is more pronounced and the challenge to shape the dome uniformly increases.

December 15, 2015

View of South Side


With winter here and leaves off the trees, a photograph of the south side of the studio can be taken.  Progress on the dome (top-left) has stalled due to a problem with the well pump; but hopefully it will be resolved soon!

September 13, 2015

Dome - Mid September 2015


I took a moment to photograph the dome as the late summer's monsoon season continues to resurrect itself  into September. I took these images for a status update on the dome: But now that I look at them I noticed the light and an approaching storm in the sky

July 28, 2015

Bond Beam & Dome Progress

A section of bond beam was poured (see photos below) on the wall supporting the east side of the dome.  This was a necessary step since the size/shape of the dome on the east side extended slightly onto the bond beam (photo below)


As can be seen in the photo above, the 12-14" thick 'cob'(clay/straw) walls of the dome provide incredible strength.  As the dome rise the walls will be made thinner and with more straw to reduce weight.

The photo above shows the freshly poured bond beam on the east side of the dome.

July 12, 2015

Cob Dome - July Update


The 2-inches of rain so far kicking off the monsoon season here in southern Arizona has barely put a scratch on the progress of the cob dome.  Work makes slow progress in the summer due to unpredictable thunder-showers, heat, mosquitoes and mud.  

The photo above shows preparation for a 'bond-beam' pour for the wall making up the room to the east of the dome (not shown).  The photo shows the rebar in the trench where the concrete beam will be poured.  Note the 'form-in-the-sky' shown to the left in the photo, has a strip of flexible 'Masonite' board as the left side of the trench.  The Masonite is held in place by wood - short 1"x2" (wood stakes) and 4"-deck screws.  The cob holds these long course-threaded screw really tight.  So much so that it's going to be retaining the concrete as it's poured in the form.

Once the bond-beam is poured.  I'll be able to use it as a working platform for the east side of the dome construction.  

Just a note that the thickness of the wall on the left side of the photo between the main room and the dome is a massive 3-feet (lots of cob!).

May 17, 2015

Dome Rising

Took advantage of temperatures dropping to 70-degF to work the dome.  With the assistance of Nick Dunn whose currently over at Forever Yong Farm in Moyza; we hauled over 1,000 pounds of cob up scaffolding on Sunday, to add another layer.


Photo above showing the dome's outlined shape - structured with rebar. 

Close-up detail of sculpted cob rising off a concrete bond-beam base, curving in parallel with the dome-shaped rebar.

January 25, 2015

Next Step - The Dome

I took this photo after thinking about the 'dome building' phase of the project which I plan to work next.  The dome is a shape that's captured my imagination in studying Middle Eastern and early cultures.


January 22, 2015

Exterior Render

I have been amazed at the resiliency of cob to hold-up in the rain.  In Arivaca, the rainfall totals on average per year are about 15-inches.  This past year (2014) we had over 20-inches.  Some of the walls of this studio have been exposed to the elements for 5-years and the photo below shows a typical section of exposed wall.  


The downfall with the traditional lime-plaster here in Arivaca where temperatures fluctuate more than 40-50 degF a day, is that it eventually separates from the wall due to differing rates of thermal expansion between the plaster and cob wall.  And thus every couple of years the entire building requires new application of lime plaster.   

So I'm developing an experimental method, I hope will be over time will require only light maintenance. 

The photo below shows a thin layer of cob (clay/straw/water) mixed with colored elastomeric, that I have been experimenting with as an alternative to lime plaster.  I'm hoping the exposed straw from the eroded wall will help grab and hold this thin exterior cob (clay/straw) render.  This approach is a mind-set change from the traditional lime-plaster render, that although breathable, provides a uniform 'seal' to cob/adobe buildings.  

Last summer I applied a test coat of this mix on parts of the south wall to see how it would hold-up during the summer monsoon season.  The photo below shows how the cob render with added elastomeric (about 1-quarts per 1/2 wheel-barrow of cob), did exhibit some erosion; but I don't think I put enough elastomeric in the summer test mix.   So going forward, I'm adding 2-quarts of elastomeric to the 1/2-wheel barrow of cob.

The photo below shows most of the east side of the building rendered, with the just a quarter of the building on the right side still needing to be completed.

The photo below shows the remainder of the east side of the studio with the completed render.

July 03, 2014

The Pour-In-Place Roof

The completed fully water-proofed elastomeric protected earthen roof for the north room after seven coats of elastomeric/rubber/acrylic formulations.  This approach was experimental, but when completed the result exceeded my expectations.  This roof should be extremely durability and easily maintainable.


The photo below shows a close-up of the elastomeric roof after three painted-on coats of AMES Research Maxi-Stretch. The surface looks a little rough, but that's due to the roof's clay/straw material make-up.

Close-up of drain receptacle with final coat of elastomeric (below).

The photo below show the earthen roof after three coats of Ames Research's BlueMAX Liquid Rubber.  The coats of this liquid rubber followed the application of Ames Research Super-Primer.

The first challenge of building a rubberized membrane on top of a clay/straw roof was establishing an initial coat to attempt to adhere to a clay/straw substrate.  This was accomplished with the use of Ames Research's 'Super Primer' which is a penetrating pure acrylic elastomeric plastic sealant.

Earthen (clay/straw) roof ready for the first coat of acrylic elastomeric sealant

The picture below shows the Super Primer acrylic as applied to the clay/straw roof.

A close-up of the dried Super Primer.  You can see the straw that's fixed in the clay and also adhered to the Super Primer.  Despite this whole process being experimental on my part; after this first primer coat, I had confidence the idea of building my own rubber/elastomeric roof from scratch would be a robust waterproofing solution. 

July 02, 2014

Forming the Parapet Wall Top-Cap

After the pour of the concrete top-cap, the inner forms were removed and a final layer of cob (clay/straw) was applied to the earthen roof to establish a contour to ensure rainwater would be directed to the drain.


A hang-over "Lip" was established for the top-cap on the parapet wall during setting-up of the forms by placing strips of 3/4" foam-board on either side of the wall. 

The photo below shows the strips of flexible Masonite board 2" over the top of the parapet wall forming the top-cap.  The Masonite is holding the foam-board in place and itself if fastened by 4"-deck screws that secure into the cob wall - solid.

The photo below shows the completed form all-around including reinforement bar.

Below, a close-up of the south side of the north wall where the thickness has increased to 4" thus transitioning to a bond beam for large main room of the studio.

The south side of the north wall all has metal straps that will be used to secure the vigas (beams) that will eventually support the roof of the main room.

View of the north side wall of the north room.  The use of the Masonite to create curved forms was a real innovation for this curvey structure when pouring bond beams and top-caps.

June 17, 2014

North Roof - Parapet Wall & Drain

Work on the north room roof continued with the of building a parapet wall around the perimeter of the earthen roof. Providing for a drain from the north room roof across to the south where the natural pitch would move the water away from the building.

About 14-ft of 3"-dia ABS pipe was required to establish a drain-path along the wall separating the large main room from the circular dome room.  I had to design the drain inside the wall in order to efficiently move the water from this north roof to the south side of the building to take advantage of the natural grade of the land which slopes to the south.  I had to use a pick to curve-out a channel in the cob of the existing wall.  It's incredible how hard a basic clay/straw mix can be. It took several hours to carve a simple trench to accommodate the pipe.

In the photo below A 90-deg elbow and drain collector was attached to the north end of the pipe in order to act as the collection point for the north roof.

A found an old plastic battery enclosure in my resource area (aka 'the junk pile') to use as framework for a mold for the drain box in the parapet wall. The photo below shows enclosure on top of the drain and the cob wall built-up around the box to act as the outer form of the mold.

The string-line shown in the photo will be the finished height of the parapet wall.  The final height was established using a surveyor's level to ensure height uniformity.  The photo below shows concrete poured in the mold to create the drain box and some concrete to establish a solid collection area for the drain.

The photo below shows the formed concrete drain-box with the plastic battery-box framework removed. At the entrance of the drain collection area, a concrete floor area was added as robustness, for water that will drain into the box from this specific north roof.  

Finally, an overall of the north roof, showing the finished cob parapet wall, earthen roof and drain area at lower-left of photo below. 

I found a section of fired-clay pipe at a salvage yard and it sliped over the 3-inch ABS pipe.  Even though cob (clay/straw mix) would cover the pipe as the walls continue to rise, you can see in the photo I bent into a "U" shape a piece of rebar and pounded it down into the cob wall to secure the clay pipe in place.

The clay pipe shown below extending a couple of feet out from the south side of the building.  The cob wall is now shown built-up above the pipe.

Note: The next steps will be to pour a concrete top-cap and waterproof the earthen roof with a rubber membrane.  Those steps will be posted next as completed.

April 21, 2014

Overview and North Roof

A southeast view of the studio showing some recent 'cobbing' around where the dome will take shape (right-side).  And the North roof parapet wall of cob freshly built-up (dark clay-left side).


Photo below: Shaping cob on top of the north wall, beginning the formation of the parapet wall. 

This roof construction will continue so keep tuned for future updates.

March 31, 2014

North Room Roof In Progress


The above photo shows the current progress on the building, in particular the North room roof which now is covered in 5-inches of "cob" mixed with less clay and more straw to make it lighter. 

This roof will require the addition of a parapet wall , proper water-proofing and drainage that will be discussed in future posts.

February 15, 2014

North Side Roof Line

The room on the north side of the studio will be for the solar power electrical equipment and the battery bank.  The room will eventually be separated by a wall with the other half for storage.  Since this space is essentially a utility area, I decided to make the ceiling corrugated metal for cost and ease of assembly.  You can special order heavy-gauge corrugated metal sheets from a building supply store. 


I like mixing-up the materials in this building.  The metal is not ancient Anasazi architecture for sure, but I was unable to locate the aged wood planks I originally wanted.  This building is not about "intention" in design anyway.  Rather the point is rather that the building is becoming its own eclectic style from the decisions made for various reasons along the way.


The photo below shows about 5-inches of cob in a lighter mix (mostly straw to reduce the weight), that will be part of the evolving roof structure you will see posted in the coming weeks.


January 30, 2014

Time Has its Own Pace

The Photo below of the studio was taken standing southeast, looking Northwest.  Friend and fellow filmmaker Scott Griessel of Creatisa stopped by with his wife Anna for the afternoon and we took some creative time to snap a few photos.  

if you want to see some nice artistic shots of the studio that Scott took on his visit, click on the following link to my "Outpost" blog on Tumblr.  


The photo below was taken looking up at a portion of the southeast room as seen in the photo above, protruding-out.  Notice the band of concrete making up the room's 'bond beam' at ceiling wall height. I plan to finish that exposed concrete with a tile of yet unknown design. 

The drain pipe was recycled from a construction dumpster. Then at the top notice the thin band (2"-thick) of colored concrete as a top-cap to the parapet wall. The top-cap will eliminate the need for re-patching lime plaster in the future (lessons-learned from my adobe outbuilding project). In addition, it will assist future roof maintenance in the future by being able to walk-along and place tools on the top-cap with worry of damage to the wall.

September 23, 2013

North Room Roof Underway

The North side will serve two purposes once the studio is completed.  The room will be divided in two with one half being the battery and electrical room for the solar photovoltaic power; and the other half of the room will be storage for equipment.


I used 6'-Ponderossa Pine vigas to span the narrow width of this 4'-wide room, set roughing 1'-10" apart.  The vigas are 8"-diameter.  As shown in these photos, I then 'cobbed' to the height of the vigas in preparation for the roof decking.

As can be seen in the photo above, the landscape has 'greened-up' from the summer rains.  A protective covering of tar paper was placed on top of the walls for protection from the rains. Now that the fall is approaching, rainfall will be minimal for several months and along with the temperature drop, it will be a good time to work.


(Photos above) A view looking-up from inside of the North room just after the vigas were placed and secured using metal straps imbedded in the concrete bond beam.