Kensington Children's Cottage
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Kensington Cottage Blog
Your news source for the Kensington Children's Cottage and Classroom project...learn what's happening, who's involved, and interesting events. The Children's Cottage is a natural building project at the Kensington Metro Park Farm Center near Milford, Michigan. It features natural materials from the local region, including fieldstone for the foundation, dead ash trees used in the framing, sand, clay and straw for the wall systems (Compressed Earth Block on east and west and strawbales on the north wall), and phragmite reed grass for roof thatch. This is a collaborative effort between the Kensington Metro Park, the River Raisin Institute, the Strawbale Studio Natural Building Program, the Great Lakes Green Initiative and many volunteers. The blog is being written by a group formed by the Great Lakes Green Initiative (GLGI). It includes students from the MSU School of Journalism, Mercy High School and Our Lady of Sorrows joining several members of GLGI. The purpose of our blog is to inspire people to learn more about the benefits of natural building and, maybe, even try aspects of it in their own lives. Along the way, our group of green bloggers are having fun and learning about helping the planet through writing about ways to protect it on the internet. We're using an innovative collaborative blogging approach (e.g. multiple authors for each blog entry) using wiki software. You can even get involved. Just click on the "edit" tabs and put in your question or comment. Want to know more about us?
Critters are Back!
The animals at the Kensington Farm Center are always a big draw for my kids, and every spring there are cute baby animals to see. Here are some of the animals we had a chance to visit with this summer.
The Thatching Process (7/09/07)
Click on images to see larger picture.
Work on Cottage Resumes (7/07)
Work has resumed on the Kensington Children's Cottage, and the summer has brought with it a new crew of volunteers. Amber, originally from the Traverse City area, volunteered for a couple of days last summer and enjoyed it so much that she decided to come back this year. Aaron and Matt, from Ohio, and Kristy, from New Jersey, found out about this project through the WWOOF program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) that brought us some of last year's volunteers. Brian, from Livonia, worked for several years as a carpenter and was interested in learning more about natural building techniques. He says that most workshop opportunities are on the west coast, so he was very happy to find something so close to home and is really enjoying learning about the thatching process. Deanne, as always, is on site to lend her knowledge and expertise.
More Phragmite (3/2/07)
Several people met on Friday, March 2, at the Sterling State Park in Monroe, Michigan, to continue the task of harvesting phragmite reed for the thatch to be used on the Kensington Children's Cottage roof. It was a blustery, snowy, but beautiful day and we all enjoyed learning how to cut and properly bundle the phramite reed. Deanne was, as always, very helpful in her instruction and we all appreciate her willingness to share her knowledge with us (as well as her patience!) In attendance were Don Carter, Helen Bradley, Tom and Peggy Brennan, Martha Peterson, Felipe de Arana, Deanne Bednar and Mike Neumann. Deanne estimates that the cottage roof will require between 850 and 1,000 reed bundles, so the gathering will continue, and we will keep you updated on our progress.
Cutting Phragmite (2/23/07)
Tom and Helen met Mike Neumann, Deanne Bodnar and a bunch of volunteers down in Monroe to begin cutting the phragmite for the roof of the cottage. Even though the day was cold, the sun was out, and by the end of the day they were stripping off unnecessary layers of clothing.
In case you don't know what phragmite is: it's a tall invasive plant that grows everywhere right now - you may have seen it along the freeways. The group cut bunches of the phragmite and wove them together to make bundles. The bundles will be used to line the roof of the cottage. The next cutting will be Friday, March 2, at Sterling State Park.
Work Wraps Up For the Winter (11/06)
Martha and some friends visited the cottage site in late November to find it "wrapped up" for the winter. A lot of progress was made this past summer and the cottage is really starting to look beautiful, but there is much work yet to be done. Our next outing will be in January when we will be cutting and gathering the phragmite reed for the thatched roof to be added in the spring. At this time of year, the phragmite reed has dropped its leaves and dried in this cold weather, so it will be perfect for cutting. Pictures will follow!
FitzSimons's Lend a Hand (9/1/06)
On September 1st, Martha and Caitlin returned to the site bringing Caitlin's mom, Jeanne, sister, Maura, and friend, Larissa. We started off the day sifting sand and clay from giant piles on the site which were then mixed together to make compressed earth block (CEB.) We also learned a lot from Deanne about the progress being made on the plastered walls and the techniques she is using. We then broke for a lovely picnic on the water. Deanne described how one of her goals is to train more people in this type of building so that they might continue the work on their own and she discussed with us her interest in finding grants that may be available for such projects. We then proceeded to use the CEB machine to make our own blocks. It took many tries, but we finally made several blocks. Altogether, the day was fun and very interesting.
Making Compressed Earth Blocks (8/26/06)
Our August meeting took place right here at the site of the children's cottage. Many of us met with Bob and Michele Prudhomme at 1 PM to learn how to make compressed earth blocks for the walls. Bob spent a few minutes teaching us how to use a special machine that makes these blocks. The plans for this machine were available for about $60.00 online, and Bob hired John, the sawyer, who also runs a metal fabricating shop, to make it.
Before we got to the machine, however, we learned that we needed to prepare our materials. The blocks are made from a combination of clay soil, sand and a touch of dry cement, mixed in with a bit of water.
Childrens Cottage in the Freep (8/24/06)
The Children's Cottage was featured in an article in the Detroit Free Press today ... Natural building catches on at Kensington Park. Its a nice article telling of the project and upcoming plaster workshop.
Deanne and the Art of Thatching (8/11/06)
We had a chance to catch up with Deanne Bednar on one of her natural building passions..thatching. She was in the process of preparing for the Thatching Workshop and had her tools and thatching material handy. Once you start talking to her her eyes light up and she loving explains the process for thatching a roof. You can hear her explain it yourself in the audio. Here are some pictures of Deanne demonstrating the thatching process.
Audio Podcast>> Deanne Thatching Interview (10.5 mins)
Compressed Earth Block - Lessons Learned (8/11/06)
It's easy to forget that the Children's Cottage is groundbreaking in many ways (please no pun police). One of the significant ways is making compressed earth blocks in Michigan. They are far more common in building homes in the Southwest. Michigan has different soils and climate that need to be considered in using earth block in Michigan. Bob Prudhomme and Mike Nuemann are leading the learning process on bring them to Michigan. If you want the dirty details on lessons they've learned along the way, listen to their podcast below.
Audio Podcast>> Interview Mike and Bob CEB Lessons Learned...So Far (10.5 mins)
Compressed Earth Blocks and more Progress (8/11/06)
Martha, Caitlin, and Megan visited the site again and were lucky enough to come on a busy day. Blocks were made by compressing the mixture by hand in what appeared to be a relatively simple machine. It took many tries to get the mixture and measurements perfect but the blocks came out cleanly and were set to cure. Elsewhere, preparations were made for the building of the CEB walls and straw bale wall. Also, the fieldstone wall has turned out beautifully and progress has also been made on the roof.
Audio Podcast>> Listen to the crew make a block (2.5 mins)
Cottage Stone Wall is All Grown Up (08/03/06)
Remember seeing and hearing Deane as she laid the corner stone on the front stone wall? Well, that wall is now a thing of beauty. It was made from the stones found in the fields around the cottage and carefully laid in place by Deanne, Mark, Becky, Laura and others. It's quite amazing how with a little imagination and a lot of hard fun, they were able to create not one, but two (you see there is an inside wall) beautiful displays of nature's beauty that will stand for decades to come. Two walls are necessary so there can be an insulation layer (straw) put between them to keep the inside of the cottage from getting too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. You see, stones are great at being strong and long-lasting, but they do transmit the cold and heat very quickly from the outside to the inside. So, knowing this, Bob Prudhomme (see green architect) designed this insulation area in between.
Our Cottage in the News (7/27/06)
A press release letting all the major newpapers and TV stations in the Southeast Michigan area know of the Kengsington Children's Cottage has gone out from the River Raisin Institute with help from the IHM community's communications group. Click here to read the press release for the Kensington Children's Cottage.
More on the Stone Wall (7/26/06)
Caitlin and Martha had a lot of fun learning about building a fieldstone wall out at the cottage today. Deanne was very helpful (and patient) while we tried to get the hang of picking just the right stone for just the right spot! Deanne explained to us that the mortar was a mixture of 2 parts cut sand and 1 part cement mix. Cut sand is sand in which each grain is faceted rather than round, giving this sand a good "sticking" factor, holding the mortar together better. We learned how to evaluate each stone's size and shape so that it can be optimally placed on the wall. Between the stones we were to allow approximately one finger's width of mortar. It's a slow process, but the results are truly beautiful! We met three new volunteers today, Laura, Felipe and Ben. Laura is originally from Pittsburgh but now lives in St. Louis. She has a long held interest in the city of Detroit and was thrilled to be able to come out and work on this project with us. Felipe is an engineer by training (although no longer working in that field), and is originally from the Basque region of Spain. He has been in Michigan for about 15 years. Ben Long came up from his family farm near South Bend, IN, where they are currently working on a natural building project as well. The people that we have the opportunity to meet are just as interesting as the project itself. See pictures below. Thanks everyone!
The Stones are Becoming Walls (7/25/06)
The field stones that were harvested from the area around the cottage and had their faces washed clean by many volunteers, are now being skillfully laid into place on the outside wall of the cottage by Deanne. She has also trained Becky and Mark and they are doing the inside wall in stone. You see, there will actually be two walls, one on the inside and one on the outside with a gap between them that will be filled by a natural insulating material. Deanne started by placing the corner stone for the outside wall carefully on the south-west corner of the cottage. You're invited to listen to Deanne explain her wonderful approach to this work in a short interview done today while she was laying the stones.
Audio podcast>>> Deanne talks about building the stone wall (approx 4 mins)
Click on pictures to enlarge image.
Country Fair Fun! (7/24/06)
Sunday wasn't just another day of building for Bob and the crew. Add in watermelon eating contests, rockclimbing, crafts and sidewalks full of parents giving piggy-back rides to their children and you have the Country Fair at Kensington! Deanne, Mark and Becky were working hard at the Kid's Cottage information booth showing families how to distinguish if clay is good for building and informing visitors about the construction of the cottage.
Bob and Lance were working on the post and beam frame while Miyo and her mother Toni were gathering and washing fieldstones for the exterior foundation of the cottage. Bob explained that there had been horse and carriage rides going past the site which sparked interest among the visitors. The yellow "Kid's Cottage" signs that Bob placed throughout the park to direct the cottage volunteers were also attracting Country Fair-goers.
The Country Fair proved to be a very helpful tool in getting the word out to families about what everyone has been working so hard on. Next year the Country Fair will not only be fun, but educational when the Kid's Cottage is in full effect and the dedicated Kensington staff is able to teach children about the benefits of natural building.
Still Working on Sunday! (7/23/06)
They were still hard at work framing the cottage this past Sunday. Bob and Lance were finishing the roof framing, but Bob took a moment to speak with Tom Brennan about the framing process. Listen to the interview: Bob Prud'homme on framing the cottage 9.3 min. Deanne, Becky and Mark were working at the Country Fair. Peggy, Tom, Toni and Miyo all spent some time washing stones that will be used for the foundation. Martha and Caroline also found some folks on horseback who allowed us to take their pictures.
Click on the images below to enlarge them.
Raising the Roof! (7/21/06)
It was great seeing everyone at the cottage site today working on getting the roof framed. Mike, Doug, Tom and "the Bobs" were hard at work, cutting and hoisting and nailing those timbers into place. It's really beginning to take shape! Meanwhile, Deanne and the two new volunteers, Mark and Becky (see below), were busy washing and piling up the fieldstones that will be used at the base of the cottage walls. Once the mud is scrubbed off, some of the stones are really beautiful. Caitlin and Martha pitched in for a little bit with the stone scrubbing, but then we had to return to our job as "ace reporters." Also, while we were there, the hayride wagon drove by giving farm visitors a chance to see the cottage construction in progress. Can't wait until Sunday when we visit again!
Click on the images below to enlarge them.
To read earlier entries, click on Children's Cottage Archives
Project Construction Schedule
Current schedule (as of 7/16/06) for the construction of the Kensington Childrens Cottage and Classroom:
- July 3 - 9
- Project planning
- July 10 - 15
- staking and foundation work
- July 13
- Cutting of Ash timbers using portable saw mill
- July 18 - 20
- Volunteers needed to help Timber framing the wall and roof systems - Tue - Thu from 10 am to 3 pm.
- July 22 - 23
- Country Fair - noon to 4pm: Open to Public - Bloggers are going out at 10:30am!!
- Timbers being placed / Earth block demo / Stone Washing
- July 25 – 28, 2006
- Volunteers needed to help lay up the stone walls 10 am to 3 pm.
- August 11 - 13
- 11th @ 6:30 to 9 pm Tools Workshop - Learn as you actually make tools that will be used to build the strawbale walls!
- 12-13th @ 9 am – 4 pm: Strawbale and Earthblock Workshop - Hands-on workshop to learn the principles as Strawbale wall construction and Compressed Earth Blocks.
- August 19 - 20
- Strawbale and Earthblock Workshop?
- August 27
- Natural Plaster Workshop... 9 am to 4 pm
- August 29 – 31
- Volunteers need to do finish plasters