WARWICK — No, that’s not a tepee going up on the outskirts of Warwick.
Artist/builder Jamie Manza plans to open an agricultural market on an eight-acre triangle of land at the intersection of Route 94 and Hathorn Road. Since the site is so visible, Manza’s construction is leaning more toward sculpture – a mix of form and function.
So far, he’s assembled slim logs into a 16-by-16-foot pyramid, which he will later cover to use as a greenhouse.
“I’m going to trim the top off of it, once I’m done, so it doesn’t resemble a tepee so much,” Manza said. “One side of it will be wattle-and-daub: wood strips and mud.”
Next to that is a work in progress that’s a little more time-consuming. A 10-by-10-foot square of dry-stacked stones rises up a few feet, supporting curved walls that resemble adobe. In fact, the material is monolithic adobe, also known as “cob.” A mixture of sand, clay, water and straw, cob has been used as a building material for centuries.
When asked how, exactly, the muddy cob is mixed, Manza slides off his clogs – revealing mud-caked bare feet – and walks all over the soft pile of mud in the middle of a tarp on the ground. Layer by layer, the cob will be molded into a beehive shape atop those dry-stacked stones (which Manza hand-picked in Wurtsboro).
What will it become? “At this time, I’m leaning toward a pizza oven,” said Manza, whose girlfriend creates artisan wood-fired pizzas at the Warwick Farmers’ Market. “But that could change.”
“My purpose is to demonstrate the use of this material. I’m processing it here so people can see the simplicity of it.”
“A lot of this is for art’s sake,” Manza said. “I created the greenhouse because it’s more beautiful than a 10-by-10 pop-up. … Plus, those don’t last.” The black skeleton of a collapsed pop-up tent next to the greenhouse frame seems to emphasize that.
Manza has studied architecture, and taught natural building in Asheville, N.C., and cob building with Shawn King’s Cob Cottage Company in California. He came back east several years ago and worked as a chef before more recently returning to building. His work can be found on his Instagram page at @rebelshelter.
His restaurant experience introduced Manza to the “slow food” movement, and he’s applied those characteristics to his building philosophy. “Our building materials should be non-toxic and locally sourced,” he said.