Cob Jobs

Miss M and I have just returned from a memorable road trip round the top of the South Island which culminated with a drive through the DOC administered Molesworth Station.

Its 180,787 hectare area makes it the largest farm in New Zealand. There are several active fault lines transecting the property causing horizontal jolts often triggering landslides and rockfalls. Hot and dry summers are followed by harsh winters. Snow may fall at any time of the year, some years covering the entire property for up to eight weeks in winter.

In this challenging environment delivered up by nature, there are two significant human interventions.

They are the Acheron accommodation House at the southern entrance to the station, built in 1862 by Ned James.

And at the northern entrance, the Cob Homestead  built in 1866 by John Murphy.

These buildings have a lot to teach us, and they raise a lot of questions in my mind.

I got to thinking about just how far we have come in the last 150 years.

The buildings follow passive solar design principles, are human scaled, with low and thick protective walls, beautifully proportioned openings, a verandah to the north, and no overhangs and they enclose  snug and cozy interiors.

They were both built without Planning or Building Consents and without the assistance of either BRANZ or the Department of Building and Housing.

John Murphy knowledge of construction is expressed in his quote ‘a good building has to have dry feet and a warm hat’. 150 years later, do we still have this simple knowledge and a level of craft which has led to such extraordinary durability in such an environmentally hostile environment?

Builds today are primarily determined by a hugely complex and contradictory network of overlapping regulations, the administration of which is in the lily white hands of beaurocrats and technocrats.

Not a Ned James or John Murphy in sight.

The great irony of course is that these wonderful 150 year old buildings which have achieved a durability that our current regulations can only fantasise about, would  today, not be able to obtain Building Consents.