Buckley Park’s ‘mud bench’ gets new lease on life

Designer advises structure needs protective roof for inclement weather

Cuatro Kruse of Durango puts the finishing touches on his cob bench in Buckley Park Monday. He is restoring the clay, sand and straw structure after it sustained damage from the winter weather. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Cuatro Kruse of Durango puts the finishing touches on his cob bench in Buckley Park Monday. He is restoring the clay, sand and straw structure after it sustained damage from the winter weather.

The saga continues for the Buckley Park “mud bench.”

Eco-designer Cuatro Kruse is rebuilding after his original bench deteriorated badly over the winter. He plans to finish the repairs and final touches by late next week.

The project generated controversy from the start. Several Main Avenue business owners object to the bench for aesthetic and procedural reasons.

Durango Space co-owner Jasper Welch, whose office sits across from Buckley, claims Kruse never received proper permission from the city of Durango or the Durango School District 9-R, which owns the property.

“As far as I can tell, there’s no documented proof the bench was ever approved,” Welch said Wednesday.

The district did give permission, but officials acknowledged Kruse’s proposal did not receive enough scrutiny.

“We didn’t ask the right questions beforehand about the specs or the style,” Laine Gibson, chief financial officer for the school district, said this week.

Midway through construction last August, Kruse was notified of the bench’s pending demolition, but the district reversed its decision a week later after protests. Ultimately, a compromise was reached that allowed the bench to stay, but a roof structure in Kruse’s original plan was deemed too obtrusive.

“The compromise didn’t make anyone happy, but then compromises usually don’t,” Gibson said.

Kruse molded the bench from clay, water, sand and straw – a mixture known as cob – as an example of sustainable architecture.

“Cob is similar to adobe, but with a monolithic shape instead of bricks,” he said.

The materials are all local: donated straw from Basin Coop Inc., glass-bottle sand from the recycling center and clay from Kruse’s own backyard.

Some observers have wondered how “sustainable” a structure can be if it lasted only six months before collapsing.

Kruse said he was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, to see the bench in shambles when he returned from a four-month excursion to Chile.

Welch maintains the bench is unsightly and should be removed.

“It disrupts the sight lines of the park,” he said. “There’s nothing a backhoe wouldn’t fix.”

Sean Devereaux, owner of Guido’s Favorite Foods, also across the street, recommended putting it to a vote: “In public places, the people should have a say,” he said.

Fifteen-year-old Montana Harris, reading nearby on a nonmud bench, was skeptical: “I’ve never seen anyone sitting on it,” she said.

Lassen Griggs, 8, begged to differ.

“I took a nap on it once,” he recalled. “It was more or less comfortable.”

Police detained a man Thursday afternoon who appeared to be passed out on the bench.

Eric Wilson, a hydrogeologist at AMEC Earth & Environmental Inc., sees the bench from his second-floor office. He thinks the controversy is “overblown and a little comical.”

From Kruse’s perspective, the bench fits right in.

“If anything, the artificial iron and plastic pieces are out of their element,” he said, glancing around the park.

He is hopeful the critics will change their minds.

“In hindsight I should have gone over my designs with the nearby businesses,” he said. “I encourage them to come over and take a seat on a sunny day when the mud heats up. It’s a heat conductor. They might like it.”

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

Cuatro Kruse, repairing his cob bench, said, “While I was gone someone carved graffiti into the bench. It allowed moisture inside and caused the mud to crack. Combined with snow accumulating on the flat seat, it was a recipe for disaster. It needs a roof.” Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Cuatro Kruse, repairing his cob bench, said, “While I was gone someone carved graffiti into the bench. It allowed moisture inside and caused the mud to crack. Combined with snow accumulating on the flat seat, it was a recipe for disaster. It needs a roof.”

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