Snail Cabin is a small house designed as a temporary home for a couple with two small children, and for subsequent use as a guest cabin. It has stone foundations, a load-bearing cob wall, and a reciprocal frame roof of green oak. It was built in 2006-7 with mainly volunteer labour, at a cost of around €6000 in materials.
Building Snail Cabin was an intensive learning experience which allowed us to make mistakes on a small scale before starting to build the main house. We learned that it was possible for inexperienced builders (like us) to build our own house for very little money and have fun into the bargain.
It began with the idea of a house growing from the earth, as simple as a snail shell. Somehow this vision – infecting, as a fluke, what I like to call ‘my’ brain – planted itself in a village in northern Spain with five inhabitants, a ruined chapel and a Zen view of the ocean. The dream came down, in fact, to earth. Earth being, as a building material, downtrodden and overlooked, yet ubiquitous, free, stable, non-toxic, sensual, and just fun.
Mud sticks; and given the number of people who stuck by us, and got stuck in, we could hardly do less than stick with it to the end. With applications of sweat and regular, if sparing, fertilization with money, the result was Snail Cabin.
The snail’s shell inspired the spiral forms of the wall and roof – a hermaphroditic union of masculine oak and feminine mud. True, work went at a snail’s pace, perhaps because we did, in fact, carry the house – twenty-odd tons of earth, wood, sand, and stone – in barrows, in buckets, on our backs.
Like the snail’s, our house is never finished, but keeps growing with us. In building for ourselves, we are building our selves.
Building with your hands, with your friends, is one way of mending our hyper-accelerated world. Shelter is our first vital need. Freedom is the freedom to build your own house.”