|Posted by Stuart DiNenno on November 17, 2012 at 4:30 PM|
Masonry, by its most universal definition, is a method of building that involves assembling individual units and binding them together with some type of mortar. A brick chimney. A tile floor. An ancient stone wall. It is not hard for anyone to call to mind several examples of masonry construction.
Images: Esparta Palma, Elliot Brown, and Kavjin
For good reason, the materials that are traditionally selected to serve as masonry “units” match the mortar in terms of durability and organic content. Whether they are chunks of rock, ceramic pieces, or sun-dried clay bricks, the most desirable building blocks are inorganic so they will not rot and mineral-based so they can stand up to the elements.
Mankind, though, is not always blessed with the ideal resources for such construction techniques. Sometimes we simply have to work with what we’ve got.
Image: Syzygy Salvage
Cordwood masonry has gone by countless names, including log-butt, stackwall, stovewood, and even “Depression building” construction, but its penurious nature leads me to believe that this mode of building was more often than not employed without a formal name. Cordwood masonry sprang from basic necessity in places where humans needed to build shelter, had a decent supply of mortar, but lacked a resource for inorganic building blocks. Rather than use brick or stone, cordwood builders use short logs – much like what you would put into a crackling fire – between the mortar joints. Some believe that the earliest instances of this building method were born in the 19th century in central Wisconsin, where ancient glacial movement had left generous deposits of limestone (the first ingredient of lime putty mortar) but little more than cedar forests for masonry units.
Images: Paul Comstock and Akkodra
In more recent decades, cordwood construction has seen something of a revival. Celebrated for its earthy aesthetic, its flexibility of form, and its moments of unparalleled, beautiful detailing, cordwood masonry has been brought into a modest renaissance by Rob and Jaki Roy, who have centered the movement from Earthwood, their Upstate New York property. As of July 2012, there were an estimated 1,500 existing cordwood homes (with more than 200 more under construction) in North America alone. The Roys and others offer regular workshops, books, and videos to promote this unique architectural style.
While not everyone might jump at the chance to live in such a rustic, unconventional structure as a cordwood house, gardeners everywhere should consider incorporating cordwood masonry techniques into their landscape projects. The materials are inexpensive and readily available, the techniques are easy to master, and in the mediums of wood, glass bottles, and mortar, a gardener’s creativity can truly thrive.
Images: Paul Comstock and Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP