Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Natural Building in Costa Rica

Returning to Vermont after spending a couple weeks in Costa Rica has been quite a change. After hanging out in hammocks, swimming in beautiful swimming holes with waterfalls, and eating tropical fruits off of trees, it was tough to come home to a cold and snowy April. To give a bit of background, I went down to Rancho Mastatal to participate in Yestermorrow's Natural Building in Costa Rica course. I traveled to Costa Rica a couple days before the course to meet up with fellow Yestermorrow intern Emily, so that we could check out the Pacific Coast for a couple days [awesome].

Sunset at Manuel Antonio, Pacific Coast

The ranch is just too amazing to put into words. If I was forced to describe it with one adjective, I would probably choose "magical". Rancho Mastatal is an environmental learning and sustainable living center located on approximately 300 acres of protected land in the Costa Rican rainforest. Tim and Robin, who started this community, are the most incredible, selfless, best examples of human beings that I have ever met in my life. Can you tell that I loved it there? The quality of life that exists on the ranch is unparalleled anywhere. So, let me correct myself... there are two words to describe life at Mastatal: Pura Vida.

The class itself was an excellent adventure, although I missed a couple days due to an intimate encounter with a poisonous fruit [I'll have to save this story for a later date]. I have experience with designing and building, but no experience with natural building. I was pretty excited to work with my hands (and feet), using all local and natural building materials.

Mixing cob

Skip and Lizabeth, the two teachers of the course, are both skilled and dedicated craftspeople who have a great wealth of knowledge that they are enthusiastic about sharing. As a group, we democratically decided to work on a new classroom space, since the ranch has a growing need to accommodate students. We came up with a very organic looking building that everyone had a hand in designing. Important elements of the design were having lots of curves, a smooth and flowing transition from exterior to interior, a meshing with the natural environment, and a cool, calming place to relax. Although we did use a poured concrete foundation (not-so-natural), the base of the building was all cob (a mixture of dirt, clay, gravel, and straw) all harvested fairly locally and mixed with all off-the-grid power (humans). We also incorporated wattle and daub into our walls.

Wattle and daub wall in construction phase, with cob bench

The wattle was made of woven local bamboo, and the daub was a similar mixture as the daub, only with a little bit of manure added in for flavor. The remainder of our building is constructed using a bamboo frame. Some highlights of out design inclue a cob bench, the first ever cob sink in the entrance way, built in shelving for shoes, and a floor that transitions from gravel to bamboo to cob with lime-plaster finish. Below are a few pictures of the space. Enjoy!

View from outside during construction

The sink, made from cob

Built-in shelves, clay mixing area

The crew.

I miss you Costa Rica!


  1. What a great trip. Kate are there any other International Natural Building workshops on the drawing board in the near future? Are you in contact with the inspiring and also wonderful Jannel Kapoor(spelling?) who is the owner/operator/human being extraordinaire for Kleiwerks natural building in North Carolina ? There site and international projects are a great model.

  2. This is a very nice project. Where can i find more photos

  3. We have another Costa Rica trip coming up in 2010, March 21-April 2. You can also see more photos of Rancho Mastatal at