Building Materials going "Brown"
There’s more to building materials than just wood, and Miguel Elliott is hoping to raise awareness of that with the debut of his documentary, “Earth Building: Adobe is Alive!” on Saturday, Feb. 12 at Boulevard Cinemas.
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12
Where: Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C St.
Admission: $10 general, $5 children
“I wanted to let people know that natural building is happening and that it’s alive and well, and possible right here in Petaluma,” said Elliott. “I also wanted to remind people about the kind of adobe natural building heritage that Petaluma has. The soil we have here is rich and fantastic for building.”
Elliott’s business, Living Earth Structures in Petaluma, specializes in building structures out of a mixture of sand, straw and clay, called cob, a material also used in Petaluma’s historical adobe structures.
Cob can be used to build all sorts of things, from homes and benches to ovens and art. It differs slightly from adobe in that it is not made into bricks.
Elliott was first inspired to learn more about adobe structures after seeing General Mariano Vallejo’s adobe when he was 10.
Many years later, while he was working at an alternative high school in Eureka, he decided to tackle his first cob project with students.
“I had heard about cob and had seen a video about building with the earth,” said Elliott. “I showed that to the kids and said, ‘Let’s build.’ We dug a hole, got the clay, sand and straw and started stomping on it and doing our little mud dance. We built a bench and it turned out to be a fun, sculptural thing. I thought, ‘This stuff is amazing!’”
He spent the next 10 years learning more about cob and traveling to Argentina, Guatemala and Thailand, where he helped build homes in the wake of the devastating 2004 tsunami
After returning to the United States, Elliott went to Chicago, where he built a nightclub completely out of cob — the biggest earthen sculpture in the world, at 1,200 square feet. The nightclub took 10 months to build.
Now, back in his hometown of Petaluma, he’s been crafting a number of projects around the county, from pizza and bread ovens to buildings, and has set his sights on creating a documentary about his work and using the earth as building material.
He added that the film’s purpose is to inspire people to get involved and to educate themselves on the possibilities of natural building, and to show how fun the process of natural building can be.
“Earth building can be a great way to build community and to have experiences of building structures for ourselves,” said Elliott. “It can be satisfying, rewarding and affordable, since it uses locally available resources. I’m excited about the idea of community ovens and the prospect of having a community oven in every city and town so that people can gather around and bake bread and pizzas together.”
In addition to his hopes of inspiring people to check out natural building, Elliott is interested in bringing it into schools.
“I would love to see natural building in the school curriculum,” said Elliott. “The children would benefit so much from having the experience of creating something functional for themselves and the school.”
“Earth Building: Adobe is Alive!” will be shown at 11 a.m. Saturday at Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C St. Admission is $10 general and $5 children. For tickets and information call 762-7469.
(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@argus courier.com)