Just Add Water

On both sides of the Channel there is a long tradition of building with earth, called 'cob' in England and 'bauge' in France. The environmental advantages of constructing in this way are obvious; so the CobBauge project was set up to take a fresh look at this method, with the aim of creating a new cob formula that would allow a pure cob building to pass modern day building regulations without the addition of other materials. 

This Creative Associate project began when investigative artist Simon Ryder approached the Cobbauge team at the University of Plymouth, led by Professor Steve Goodhew, intrigued by the combination of low-tech material and high-tech science being employed to re-evaluate cob use. Simon's practice focuses on the interaction between technology and understanding, previously utilising radioactive isotopes, LIDAR scanning, thermal photography, ultrasound and virtual reality in his work. As 'Just Add Water' progressed, Simon's focus veered from the purely technical (infra-red photography used to assess the insulating properties of cob) towards the labile thinking that the project embodies – away from a passive inert relationship with materials to an active engagement with the living nature of earth and what that means for someone inhabiting a cob building. 

Creating the video 

Photogrammetry uses photography to reconstruct objects from a series of individual views: in some ways reversing the single perspective approach developed during the Renaissance. By analysing multiple views of a single object the software (Metashape) calculates angles and distances between views and from that infers the form of the object at the centre of this multiple perspective. 

The construction of the 3D object starts with a cloud of individual points in space, from which a surface mesh is made, before the colour and texture captured in the photos is then applied to make a 'realistic' model of the original subject. For 'Just Add Water' Simon stopped at the point cloud stage.  


Just Add Water

The ability of a solid-looking object to dissolve into a mass of points on closer inspection only to reform as something else seemed to better represent the process of cob building.
<p>Scans</p>
4 scans, 8 million 'point' 3D model
<p>2</p>
Visualisations of moisture data
<p>2</p>
Further developed moisture visualisations
<p>storyboard</p>
Storyboard version II

‘Just Add Water’ complements the research undertaken by the CobBauge Project by taking the viewer through an audio/visual representation of the process of analysing the basic natural materials used to make optimised Cob. The sounds give a more visceral impression of the moisture contents of the ingredients and the mixing process. The data point representations of the scientific information give the viewer a chance to examine the peaks and toughs of our findings. The internal scans are of the research panels and testing in the Brunel labs so directly connect with the project’s research.  Professor Steve Goodhew 


Led by Professor Steve Goodhew, a traditional building method is being repurposed through an international research project with a view to constructing a new generation of energy-efficient homes.

Cob houses have existed in the south of England and northern France for centuries; however, the construction industry has been unable to create a cob material that meets new thermal and structural building regulations.

CobBauge Wall Build 2020 at the University of Plymouth

CobBauge Wall Build 2020 at the University of Plymouth

Simon Ryder 

Driven by an innate curiosity in the world around him and captivated by how we can extend our sense of 'seeing' into the invisible through the use of various technologies, Simon's investigative practice has taken him far and wide: from cathedral crypt, to cancer unit, immigration centre, forests and wetlands, and the world of the gut microbiome. Through exploring and visualizing alternative perspectives his work offers space for renewed empathy and understanding for the natural world around us.

simonryder.info

Creative Associates

The Sustainable Earth Institute's Creative Associates projects aim to explore novel and innovative ways of communicating research and develop a portfolio of case studies of the different creative approaches possible.

Find out more about the initiatives

Image: Carey Marks/Creative Associates