Leslie Jackson
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Natural Building

The Turtle House, Oakland, CA

The Turtle House was built in the Lake Merritt area of Oakland, California by a couple of fresh graduates of a ten-day Cob Cottage workshop. They were inspired to build what they described as a "sea turtle, creating an open window into the earth and to the past and future, an island in the electric sea where you can get off the grid and express and decompress. " (See Arias Beardslee and Bernard McKenna's article in CobWeb #11, Winter, 2001). It had a head big enough to enter through, fins that formed benches wrapping around the outside, back feet, and a buttress supporting a deck which could be accessed from the loft. The footprint without the head was about 16 feet square. The house's new owners, Zus and George, have asked me to alter it to better fit their needs. They love the story about it and are delighted by the shapes of a sculpted monkey, unicorn and elephant. Having this strange creature in the back yard of their new duplex on Lake Merritt has introduced them to the world of natural building and, little by little, they are beginning to see the possibilities.

When I got to the building, the owners had removed the enormous head, leaving a gaping ragged hole. My first order of business was to remove the tarps, some were attached to the building in a neat set of bamboo poles that formed a structure for parachute-like material. Then let it rain for the longest time it has rained in Oakland since the 1930's. The turtle house got wet, and made the job of demolishing the "second storey" that much easier.

Here is it after months of head-scratching, dirt-hauling, pick-axing, re-shaping and laughter and friendship, culminating in a lovely two-day plaster workparty. The exterior finish is a plaster made using the clay from the head. The window detail is a mortar clay, chopped straw and light colored sand, with inlay of hand-made tiles that the owner, Zus made.

The Turtle from the right rear. Note the second storey window.

...after a little help from its friends...

What the owners were looking to have was a little hobbit-like play-house. Something to honor the history and hard work of the old turtle house, while giving them some room for a little planting in their otherwise small yard.

I hope that we've achieved that. It certainly looks less like an embattled sand-castle after a big wave. Welcome back to life, Turtle!

Stay tuned for the floor pour workshop, and another plaster workparty on the interior, expected in either Fall or next Spring. If you don't already receive my email announcements, please send me your info, I'll put you on the list!

This page was last modified on Monday, September 18, 2006.