Cob is a vernacular raw earth building technique common in Europe and especially in the north-west of France and the south-west of England (Figure 1). This mixture of often siltyclayey soils and plant fibres used in a plastic state, generally with the help of simple tools and without formwork, made it possible to build the thick load-bearing walls of thousands of buildings. Apart from the archaeological remains from Roman, Gaulish and medieval times, most of the present heritage was built between the 16th and 19th centuries. This technique, along with other earth materials was subsequently abandoned in favour of industrial materials deemed to be more efficient, but cob has experienced renewed interest since the 1980s, particularly in England. The ease of implementation, the simplicity of the tools, the formal freedom that it allows, and its low environmental impact have made it a technique particularly appreciated by self-builders. A number of architects, engineers and craftspeople have nonetheless taken it up and have created several remarkable contemporary projects (Figures 2 & 3). Unlike rammed earth, which has gained an aesthetic following, the use of cob in contemporary architecture is still very marginal. While cob’s cost price is generally lower than rammed earth and is less sensitive to bad weather during the construction phase, and its use of plant fibres stores carbon and thus reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it does not seem to enjoy the same popularity and has not managed to seduce the designers.

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School of Art, Design and Architecture