VersaTerra Pro Mexico
Complete cob and natural building intensive
(includes building an earthen oven)
Waiting list: email Kyle for more information
January 13 - February 9, 2020 (28 days)
La Manzanilla, Mexico
(The workshop start with dinner on the first day and end with lunch on the last day)
Maximum class size: 12 students
Included in the fee:
Three vegetarian meals/day Monday-Friday prepared by a local chef as well as coffee, tea, and a snack (there will be optional meat on occasion).
Campsite on the beach
Our course book “House of Earth” (sent to you ahead of time)
A VersaTerra certificate
Click here for more general information on our workshops, hosting a workshop and evaluations from students.
This is the most comprehensive earthen construction workshop you can find. Decades of teaching on four different continents has helped us design this rich learning experience giving students the tools they need to become confident earthen builders.
Earth is the mother of all building materials. For millennia, and all over the world, people have used earth to build beautiful, simple, efficient and inexpensive homes. It's plentiful, ecological and non-toxic. Plus, it can't burn, won't rot and is much simpler to build with than conventional construction materials.
We will teach you how to use clay-soil to build just about everything; from strong structural walls (cob and Adobe) to beautiful floors, plasters and light-straw-clay walls. Because the materials are fireproof, they are ideally suited to sculpt ovens, fireplaces and cook stoves.
The essence of your learning experience will revolve around developing a deep understanding of how to process and combine a few simple materials: clay-soil, sand and straw. How you apply that in your building adventures is then up to you, but you will find the possibilities endless and exciting.
During this workshop we will build a beautiful cob cabin from the ground up and an earthen bread/pizza oven. This includes interior and exterior walls, roof, foundation, windows, doors, electricity, plumbing, arches, plasters, niches, roof, and artwork.
This 28-day VersaTerra Pro Intensive is designed to provide a much deeper dive into earth, natural building, and sustainable living through the construction of a complete cabin. Over the four weeks you’ll have the opportunity to get into a building rhythm where your new learning and skills can be applied and fine-tuned with the help of our three instructors. Simply put, the more time you have with the mud, the more competent and confident builder you’ll become. The extended time frame also gives us more space for discussions, exploration of design philosophy, and engagement with appropriate technologies including microsolar, composting toilets, water harvesting.
What will you learn
After this workshop, you will feel confident that you can
build yourself a cob cottage
remodel, renovate an existing home, using natural materials
build and use an earthen oven
use cob to create garden walls, outdoor fireplaces, patios, benches, etc.
design small cottages
teach a one-day natural building event yourself!
Specifically, you will get hands-on experience and skill development in the following areas:
Foundation systems, rubble trench, stem walls, earthbag construction (as a stem wall)
Identifying the right materials, screening, processing, testing, costs, calculating amounts
Mixing cob efficiently, making adobe bricks
Building with cob: strong sculptural walls, arches, windows and doors, niches, artwork and mosaics
Electricity and plumbing, how to install wires and pipes in the walls
Roof attachment and roof design
Light-straw-clay: an infill technique perfect for code-approved buildings and natural renovations of existing homes.
Natural plasters: making your own plasters and paints, tools, colors, applications, how to apply on earthen walls, drywall, wood, concrete
Tamped floors, finish earthen floors in natural buildings, earthen floors in existing homes on plywood, oriented strand board and concrete
Earthen ovens from start to finish and how to use them (with a pizza party!)
Design strategies, natural design essentials, passive solar, using cob to make models
Building codes, how they work, how to work with them and around them
Natural building costs
During every workshop we make time for specific issues related to individual situations. This usually includes a careful look at different climates and regions, living with families or in communities, dealing with the building code, physical and financial challenges, appropriate technologies and more.
The daily schedule
We are aware that students make a big investment in a workshop such as this so we honor your time and do the best we can to share our knowledge, experience, and passion. We’ll work in the mornings and break after lunch when it starts getting hot and we’re all ready for a swim. We’ll regroup in the late afternoon for a couple hours for discussions, exploring techniques in more detail, and visiting other local natural buildings. On some evenings we’ll share slide shows and films featuring our previous projects and those of other people and cultures. Believe it or not, we still like to make time for campfires and music. We always strive to make the workshop itself a comfortable, memorable, and fun experience.
8:15 ride to site
1:15 lunch & a ride back to the campsite
2:00-4:00 free time
8:00 slide shows/campfires/free time
Saturday & Sunday
We’ll work until lunch on Saturday (breakfast and lunch will be served on Saturday)
Sundays are off for exploration and enjoying local food (no meals provided)
About the site and local area
The workshop will take place on a verdant piece of land in the hills overlooking beautiful Tenacatita Bay and Boca de Iguanas beach. Alejandra and Camila, a Mexican mother-daughter duo, purchased the land in 2018 with the vision of creating a permaculture-infused travelers’ hostel and center for learning. They’ve been hard at work terracing the slope, planting scores of fruit trees, flowers, & herbs, and constructing two earthbag cabins, a ferrocement cistern, and a palapa-roofed kitchen. In the winter of 2018/19 we helped build at Mambo-Mambo and began planning this workshop.
See Alejandra and Camila’s blog here.
We’ll be staying near the small and friendly town of La Manzanilla, with plenty of restaurants and taco joints, music, dancing, and an incredible beach that stretches over 5km along the bay.
We’ll camp at a beachfront campground a short ride away from the building site. The campground has restrooms, showers, shade from palapas and palm trees, an outdoor kitchen, and beach access just steps away from your tent. Breakfast and dinner will be served at the campground, lunch at the building site. Afternoon & evening programming will happen at the campsite as well.
Recreation & Local Sights
The ocean water is warm and luscious and a pleasure to swim in. The waves are friendly and perfect for body surfing and boogie boarding and the sand is ideal for building sandcastles. Many locals go for long swims in the morning or take walks on the beach with the sunrise and sunset.
There are several restaurants in town with beachfront seating where it’s easy to spend an afternoon enjoying a drink, the sun and surf, and time with friends. There are taco joints in town to sample, a market day each week on the square that abounds in local crafts (textiles, woodwork, pottery...), general stores for food and gear, a few art galleries, three cafes, and even an English-language used bookstore.
La Manzanilla is also known for its “Cocodrilario” or crocodile preserve - a protected mangrove lagoon home to scores of the big reptiles (some as long as 15 feet!). There’s a wonderful boardwalk tour that ends at a croc nursery where visitors can hold young crocs. And, for birders, there are boat tours through the mangroves where dozens of tropical bird species can be seen in their natural habitat.
A short taxi-ride away is Tenacatita beach, one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever been to. There are fewer people, umbrellas to rent with light foods and drinks to order, and great reef snorkeling in a cove just around a bend.
When we were in La Manz with our family, we enjoyed renting one of the many fishing boats (with a captain) to tour and fish around the bay. We caught fish each time and saw dolphins, turtles, and even whales.
The weather this time of year is just about ideal and a perfect antidote to the northern winter. Temps average 83 (high) and 68 (low) in January & February and rain is very rare.
There are three airports near La Manzanilla: Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, and Manzanillo.
We will offer one group pick up from Puerto Vallarta (about 3.5 hours away) in a van on Saturday, January 11th at 4pm. This way, you can plan to fly to Puerto Vallarta anytime before then, enjoy the city a bit (or hang at the airport), meet up with fellow cobbers, and have a ride together to La Manzanilla.
From Guadalajara (5 hours) there are easy bus connections followed by a simple one-hour taxi ride from Manzanillo. For Manzanillo (1 hour away), taxis are easy to find and the cost is about $50.
After full participation, every student will receive a VersaTerra certificate. We believe that after taking this workshop, participants are qualified to teach at least a one-day event in their neighborhood. The certificate will also allow you to promote your event(s) through the House Alive Facebook page. By providing a certificate, we want to empower our student to become facilitators of community revitalization through building with earth!
*VersaTerra is a holistic design, building and living philosophy, celebrating clay-soil as its primary building material. Clay-soil is:
plentiful, inexpensive or free, durable, easy to maintain and modify, and endlessly reusable
non-toxic, breathable, soft, beautiful, and displays superior performance in a wide variety of climates
sculptural by nature, inviting to work with needing only simple tools and methods, and easily combines with other natural and human made materials.
By focusing on these specific qualities of clay-soil, we can make the design, building and living process a conduit for community revitalization and personal transformation, while creating housing with dignity for the people of this world.
We welcome the participation of young ones. In past workshops they have always been a welcome addition to our group and have participated in the learning process at different levels, depending on their age and interest. Give Kyle a call to discuss bringing kids in more detail. Katy and Kyle’s two boys, ages 10 and 13, will be in and out of the workshop.
Costs for kids: this varies based on age but includes camping, food, and instruction as they participate. Call for details.
In order to secure your spot for this program, please fill out the form below and send a $500 deposit to:
Be the Change
2055 McCloud Avenue
Reno, NV 89512
Checks or money orders should be made out to "Be the Change Project".
Deposits are non-refundable, unless the workshop fills to capacity.
After we have received your deposit, we will send you an email with more information on the workshop, how to prepare yourself, what to bring, more info on transportation, etc.
Lead instructor Kyle Isacksen has been been building with earth since 2010 and teaching natural building since 2011 both with House Alive and from the Be the Change Project in Reno, Nevada.
Kyle brings a unique professional background to Versaterra that mixes construction experience, teaching, and simple living. He’s worked as a framer, carpenter, and commercial roofer and is building a new “green” conventional home in Reno in 2019. He was a science teacher for 7 years, is a frequent speaker on sustainable living, and is a contributing writer for Mother Earth News magazine and blog. Kyle enjoys basketball, hiking, sci-fi books, wrestling with his boys, and herding their chickens out of neighbors’ yards.
Katy Chandler is the co-founder of the Be the Change Project, a prolific gardener, a certified permaculture designer, a former math teacher and school designer, and a talented natural builder and plasterer. She loves to dance, laugh, bodysurf, and pore over seed catalogues in the glow of beeswax candlelight while cozied up to the wood stove on long winter nights.
Kathleen O’Brien is an apprentice natural builder who has participated in multiple workshops and done natural building contract work on the side. She has extensive general carpentry experience, is a permaculture designer and talented grower, and has over 20 years of teaching experience. She is an avid reader and writer, loves dogs, and is the proud mama of “Dermot”, a fun, low-riding Cardigan Corgi.
More...In 2011, Kyle & Katy started the nonprofit Be the Change Project - an urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service, simplicity, and community engagement and is rooted in Permaculture and Integral Nonviolence. In 2013 Be the Change was honored as one of Mother Earth News magazine’s “Homesteads of the Year”. They have “earthed-out” their homestead with two cabins, interior and exterior plasters in their fixer-upper conventional home, earthen floors, walls, ovens, green roofs and more.
Check out Kyle’s articles and blogs in Mother Earth News
See the One Day Cob House video
Learn more about the Be the Change Project