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The Boston Globe: “The Magic of Mud”

Architect Robert Chappelle has some pretty radical ideas about what makes elements of a house make it a home. Listen long enough, and take a tour of what he has created in Plainfield, Vermont, and it all starts to make sense.

Some excerpts:

    If you ever find yourself making a house out of mud, be sure to wear old shoes. Its corrosive effects are so strong it literally ate through several pairs of architect Robert Chappelle’s loafers, in one instance splitting them right off his feet. Chappelle now wears tennis shoes to get the job done and has no regrets about his diminished supply of footwear. Those loafers, he figures, were a small sacrifice to make.

    This 75-year-old architect has spent the last nine years building his dream house out of mud, and sings the praises of this humble substance. “Mud is quite a material,” he says enthusiastically. “Its plasticity allows me to create a wonderful range of spaces limited only by my imagination and ingenuity in placing the material.”

    Disillusioned by the constraints of traditional architecture, Chappelle left his successful practice in Philadelphia to look into alternative building methods. A trip to Africa put him face to face with mud huts and ignited a desire to explore mud’s design potential.


    To Chappelle, mud is an especially appealing building material because its properties let him shape and sculpt the house according to his whim. If that sounds more like art than architecture, you may be right. The best houses, Chappelle contends, are a combination of both.

    “Our houses have ceased to be works of art,” he says. “They lack interest and do not stir the heart. We are so tied down to studs, sheetrock, and plywood there’s no room for imagination.” This MIT and University of Pennsylvania graduate has definite opinions about the state of architecture today. He is building this house to demonstrate what can happen when art is used as the foundation for architecture.

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