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posted August 17, 2005

BUILDING THE COB COURTYARD


Cob wall, August 13, 2005. Picture by Alfred Olloqui

The cob courtyard by the wading pool is all built. Now comes the plastering, and the mosaics, and the sink installation. They say that every cloud has a silver lining and that seems to be borne out at the park, with the cob building project being the silver lining.

Late last summer, Toronto Public Health inspectors told us to get proper sinks for food preparation installed by the wading pool for this summer or stop having snacks at the playground food cart. Park friend Georgie Donais said – "if we have to have sinks, we can back them with a community-built cob courtyard and make something beautiful." With the help of a $2500 grant from the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, she set about working with many park friends to build a little courtyard around the sinks, and continuing on from there, to create an outdoor gathering-place. The courtyard walls are made with a sand-clay-straw mix known as "cob" or "monolithic adobe", which is mixed by foot and applied by hand.

From Georgie:

"The first stage of the project provides a spot for the washing station required by Public Health. As the wall extended, we built arches, shelves, a fire place for cooking, and a puppet window. Now come the sculptures, tiling, and mosaics. Native plantings will be incorporated around and within the courtyard. The project will proceed in stages, starting with this washing station, and extending further as time and resources allow."

As the project proceeded, hundreds of people of all ages helped to cob. Certain ‘lead hands’ began to emerge too – besides Georgie’s husband Alan, park friends Alfredo, Isaac and Gretel, Michelle, Heidrun, Ann, and Catherine spent many hours not only cobbing but also showing others how; Alfredo also became an expert in making windows; Patrick built the fireplace; Sylvie and Simon built the kitchen counter with their theatre-set-carpentry know-how; Lee arrived just at the moment when Georgie was puzzling about the roofing. Many children also took on leadership roles. For example, Maite and Mikel became accomplished managers, helping scores of people set up mixes and teaching them how to stomp cob.

Photo updates go up on the website often: www.cobinthepark.ca [ed. see photo gallery in the right column]. There’s now a mosaic group for people interested in working with the mosaics, whether they have lots of experience with mosaics, or always wanted to try it and never have. If you want to join that group, contact Georgie at cob@dufferinpark.ca.

The Parks and Recreation Division’s contribution to this project has been solid and growing. The plumbing for the sinks was installed by the City’s plumbers, and the electricity for the water heater required by Public Health, as well as for the snack bar cooking facilities, was put in by the City’s electricians. Parks and Recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro and manager James Dann said they would help Georgie make it happen, and they’ve been as good as their word at every step.

The added extra: this is really an open kitchen, with sinks and running water accessible to all picnickers in the park, and a generous-sized fireplace equipped with a built-in "crane" – that’s a steel arm that can swing out to hang a cooking pot, over the fire.

So now when you call your friends and family to have a picnic at the park, you can wash your hands, cut up your veggies, and rinse your dishes there too. Public Health will approve. We’ll make sure to invite the inspectors (they’re our heroes too) to Georgie’s park cob party, Friday evening September 23. More about that in the next newsletter. (Music, dancing, fire-cooked food.)


Friends making cob, August, 2005. Picture by Georgie Donais

posted May 9, 2005

The Project

Toronto Public Health inspectors have told us to get proper sinks for food preparation by the wading pool this coming summer or stop doing the playground food cart. Georgie Donais wants to build a little courtyard around the sinks, and then some. The courtyard walls would be made of "cob," an OLD way of building that's catching on again.

Georgie's proposal:

An earthen-walled courtyard will enclose the space to the northwest of the pool, creating an outdoor gathering place. It will be built with a sand-clay-straw mix known as "cob" or "monolithic adobe", which is mixed by foot and applied by hand. The first stage of the project will provide a spot for the washing station required by Public Health so that park staff can continue to serve food by the pool this summer. As the wall extends, it can be built to include arches, doorways, niches, shelves, benches, a puppet window, sculptures and mosaics, small roofs, and a lavatory. Native plantings will be incorporated around and within the courtyard. The project will be planned in stages, starting with the washing station, and extending further as time and resources allow.

Experiential workshops will serve to involve the local community in the building of the courtyard, as well as educate them about natural building techniques. The project will offer workshops for classes of local school children in June, and for the general community over the summer. We will likely have several work bees, where people can sign up to help and to learn. There will also be opportunities for participation on selected weekdays throughout the summer.

This project aims to engage all users of the park, especially the parents and children who make the south end of the park their summer home. They will be the main users of the structure once it is built, and can make sizable contributions to its creation. Adults and children of all ages will be welcomed and encouraged to participate. For children who have less interest in participating than their caregivers, we would like to offer options for supervised play while the adults build.


Georgie & Emory with Cobs

Vancouver Cob Meditation house by Down To Earth Building Bee from alternatives.com

Stanley Park Cob Popcorn Stand Vancouver, British Columbia from The Stanley Park earthen Architecture Project

A Cob Structure from www.cityfarmer.org

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