Michael G. Smith, Natural Builder and Cob Construction Pioneer
Read all of Michael’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.
Occupation: natural builder, designer, consultant, workshop instructor, author, and organic farmer
Residence: Capay Valley, Northern California
Background: Michael grew up on a construction site with an architect father and a social activist mother. After getting a degree in Environmental Engineering from MIT, he volunteered in the Costa Rican rainforest for two years on a sustainable forest management project. Returning to the States in 1993, he helped found The Cob Cottage Company, the first group to reintroduce cob construction to North America in more than a century. He also helped organize the first Natural Building Colloquium in 1994, and has been instrumental in improving communication and coordination within the natural building movement.
Michael has taught hundreds of hands-on workshops ranging from one-day earthen oven workshops to three-month professional trainings, and has designed or built close to 100 natural-building projects using many different techniques, including cob, straw bale, straw-clay, wattle-and-daub, ricecrete, earthen floors, natural plasters, and many more. Energy efficiency, passive solar design, empowerment of people through simple, accessible techniques, and the regenerative use of locally available materials are always the focus of his work. He finds writing and teaching about natural building to be an excellent way to empower people to make positive changes in their lives and for the planet. He enjoys sharing his extensive experience — including the many mistakes he has made himself or seen others make — with owner-builders to help make their projects more successful and enjoyable.
Michael wrote The Cobber’s Companion, the first how-to guide on cob construction. He is also the co-author with Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley of The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage (Chelsea Green, 2002) and co-edited with Joseph Kennedy and Catherine Wanek The Art of Natural Building: Design, Construction, Resources (New Society, 2nd Edition 2015).
He serves on the Board of Directors of the non-profit Cob Research Institute, where he has helped draft and promote the first cob building code, recently accepted for inclusion as an appendix in the 2021 IRC. Find out more at cobcode.org.
Michael spent 11 years living and teaching at an intentional community in Northern California, and the communities movement is dear to his heart as an important laboratory for environmental stewardship and social experimentation. With his partner, Cathy, and another family of dear friends, he owns and manages a small organic farm in Northern California, where he is responsible for five acres of diverse orchards and a small flock of laying hens. Parenting two young children gives him a lot of hope for the future.
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