Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth?

Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth? Beautifully rendered: rammed earth walls don’t typically need decorating. Author provided

It’s fair to say that rammed earth, as a construction technique, has stood the test of time. It has been used to create buildings around the world whose beauty and robustness are still visible today, like the Alhambra in Spain and the Great Wall of China, both built more than 1,000 years ago.

Traditional rammed earth is made of a mix of clay-rich soil, water and a natural stabiliser such as animal urine, animal blood, plant fibres or bitumen. It is then compacted inside temporary formworks that are removed after the mix has dried and hardened. The resulting structure can withstand compressive forces of up to 2.5 megapascals (around 10% of the average compressive strength of modern bricks).

The walls can be reinforced using embedded timber beams or bamboo grids, and of course they need some architectural features to protect them from the rain and wind. Historical examples of buildings made of traditional rammed earth can be found in South America, China, India, the Middle East and North Africa.

In Europe, especially in France, Britain and Germany, traditional rammed earth is enjoying a resurgence, and several modern buildings have been constructed using the technique, such as the three-storey rammed earth home shown below, built in 2008 in Austria.

Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth? A modern, unstabilised rammed earth house in Austria. Stephen Dobson, Ramtec Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth? The Alhambra Palace: earthy, but classy. Mihael Grmek/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In the past 30 years a new version of rammed earth has appeared and gained popularity in certain parts of the world, such as Australia, California and Canada. Called cement-stabilised rammed earth (CSRE), it consists of a mix of low-clay soil, water and cement. Like traditional rammed earth, this mixture is compacted inside temporary formworks and left to dry.

But it is an order of magnitude stronger, withstanding compression forces up to 40 megapascals, giving it similar strength and durability to concrete. This means that walls do not need special protection from rain and wind because they are strong and durable, especially if reinforced with steel.

Sustainable building blocks

Both traditional rammed earth and CSRE have several characteristics that make them an attractive choice of building material. The main ingredient is soil, which is cheap (if not free). In remote areas, building with local soil means significantly reducing the costs of transporting construction materials to the site.

The building technique is very straightforward. In general, only one experienced builder is required on site to instruct labour force about how to construct the formwork and mix the materials. The rest of the work can be done by untrained or unskilled people from the local community, creating jobs and reducing the costs of transporting and accommodating workers from elsewhere.

Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth? It has to be strong to hold up all those tourists. Airunp/Wikimedia Commons

Although rammed earth does not have very good insulating properties, the walls are very thick (typically 250-800 mm), meaning that rammed earth buildings can easily produce comfortable indoor conditions in hot and arid places. Rammed earth walls breathe, hence they can regulate the indoor relative humidity, making it suitable for people with respiratory problems.

And finally, the final texture of rammed earth walls is unique and beautiful, so they typically do not need any plaster or render.

Ramming home the message

There are currently several projects around the world that aim to promote rammed earth as a sustainable and cost-effective construction technique.

My colleagues and I are working with the WA Department of Housing to investigate the use of CSRE in remote Indigenous communities. Gaining the trust of the Indigenous population has been so far the most difficult aspect of the project.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Colorado University is starting a similar project to look at the possibility of building rammed earth homes on Native American reserves.

Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth? A whole village of rammed earth. Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth?Rongrong Hu, Xi'an University  A closer look at the technique. Rongrong Hu, Xi'an University

Most impressively of all, China’s Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology has developed a project to help rural communities build new houses using both traditional and modern rammed earth. The scheme has successfully helped the local population to create entire new villages built with rammed earth.

But rammed earth is not only applied in affordable housing projects. Strangely enough, the other most common application is in expensive residential buildings designed by eccentric architects for wealthy and environmentally concerned clients. These houses usually end up in and and design magazines and are considered real pieces of art.

Cheap, Tough And Green: Why Aren't More Buildings Made Of Rammed Earth? With a room this nice, who needs curtains? Stephen Dobson, Ramtec

So, why isn’t everyone using it?

Rammed earth has been used for centuries, but today its use is limited to specialised projects like the ones described above. Why is it not extensively used around the world, for ordinary buildings like offices and houses?

One of the major reasons is likely to be a lack of knowledge. Although rammed earth itself is old, our research is quite a new field compared with other more traditional construction materials like concrete, steel, masonry and timber. Unfortunately, a lack of research means a lack of understanding of the material and its structural properties.

Another obstacle is regulation, or a lack of it. In Australia, as in most countries, there is no building code for rammed earth buildings. The prospect of working with an unregulated construction technique would discourage many engineers and architects.

The good news is that the interest in environmentally friendly and affordable houses has never been bigger. Researchers from different backgrounds (engineering, materials science, architecture, chemistry, and more) are beginning to investigate the different properties of rammed earth with the aim of promoting this construction technique.

While it might not be as grand as the Alhambra, the chances of finding yourself inside a rammed earth building in the years to come are growing.The Conversation

About The Author

Daniela Ciancio, Senior Lecturer, Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
by PBS
In this two-hour special, renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson takes us on an epic adventure through time at the polar…
A huge iceberg just broke off West Antarctica’s most endangered glacier
A Huge Iceberg Just Broke Off West Antarctica’s Most Endangered Glacier
by Madeleine Stone
Huge blocks of ice regularly shear away from Antarctica’s ice shelves, but the losses are speeding up.
The Rise Of Solar Power
by CNBC
Solar power is on the rise. You can see the evidence on rooftops and in the desert, where utility-scale solar plants…
World's Largest Batteries: Pumped Storage
by Practical Engineering
The vast majority of our grid-scale storage of electricity uses this clever method.
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
by Zhenguo Huang
Have you ever watched a space shuttle launch? The fuel used to thrust these enormous structures away from Earth’s…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.

LATEST ARTICLES

Stories Of When Your Kids Make You Feel Old! | The Curls
Old Conservative White Men: Pass The Football To Someone Who Will Try To Score
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
We have had important US elections but this one in November 2020 is undoubtedly the most important. Why? America and…
How Tiny Microbes Are Revolutionizing Big Agriculture
How Tiny Microbes Are Revolutionizing Big Agriculture
by Mathew Wallenstein, Colorado State University
Walk into your typical U.S. or U.K. grocery store and feast your eyes on an amazing bounty of fresh and processed…
Uk’s Nuclear Future Hangs On Electricity Tax
Uk’s Nuclear Future Hangs On Electricity Tax
by Paul Brown
The new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, must soon decide whether to save the UK’s nuclear future with an…
Extreme Weather Could Push The U.S. Into Recession
Extreme Weather Could Push The U.S. Into Recession
by Karen Nikos
Physical climate risk from extreme weather events remains unaccounted for in financial markets, a new paper warns.
Why West Coast Water Troubles Will Head East
Why West Coast Water Troubles Will Head East
by Daniel Stolte
Even under modest climate change scenarios, the continental United States faces a significant loss of groundwater, a…
Ecuador's Fuel Protests Show The Risks Of Removing Fossil Fuel Subsidies Too Fast
Ecuador's Fuel Protests Show The Risks Of Removing Fossil Fuel Subsidies Too Fast
by Katherine Monahan
The protests started on Oct. 2 in response to the federal government’s “Decreto 883,” a packet of economic adjustments…
Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods
Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods
by Robert Wilby and Simon Dadson
As large swathes of the UK endure the worst floods in living memory, hearts and minds are rightly focused on protecting…
Keeping The City Cool Isn't Just About Tree Cover – It Calls For A Commons-based Climate Response
Keeping The City Cool Isn't Just About Tree Cover – It Calls For A Commons-based Climate Response
by Abby Mellick Lopes and Cameron Tonkinwise
A recent report by the Greater Sydney Commission singles out urban heat as one of four priority areas given our coming…