Earth Architecture The Winning Factor

Architecture Dated:  April 9, 2015
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Mud construction can be the persuasive alternative for the success of a nation. It would be a revolutionary development plan that will not only enhance the target of energy efficiency and sustainability and combat climate change but also attract immense Mud constructiontourism and cause holistic development. However the prejudice with which we live enforces us to think of earth architecture as something not superior, not strong and not durable. We need to question ourselves whether this is a problem with the material or our mindset.

Earth with it is clay, gravel, sand, soil, loam is omnipresent. It is time tested material where civilizations for centuries have been building with it and those structures are standing still and breathing fresh. These construction techniques have been known for over 9000 years. Adobe houses have been documented dating from 8000 to 6000 BC (in Russian Turkestan). Rammed earth foundations dating from 5000 BC have been found in Assyria. The world’s oldest Mud buildings can be found in Shahr –e-Sukteh (Iran) dating 3200 BC; these structures roughly age 5000 years. 1000 years old structures present in India and still in use are in Spiti Valley at Tabo monastery. These have withstood Himalyan winters since 996 AD.

construction techniques

"You can’t get more sustainable or renewable a resource than mud. Approximately 58 percent of all buildings in India today are  Mud buildingsmade of mud brick, some as many as 50 to 100 years old. Mud is gathered either at the construction site or very nearby, formed into bricks and dried in the sun. It is readily available and can be made by people with limited initial training—all resulting in projects that can be built at a fraction of the cost of those using concrete and steel.” - Laurie Baker

Few of the numerous advantages that earth buildings offer are:

  • Earth walls act as thermal mass and maintain a comfortable internal environment.
  • The earth absorbs the high humidity and releases it in dry conditions thereby creating universal comfortable conditions.
  • They have been tested and studies have shown that these walls absorb particulate pollutants maintaining a healthy indoor environment.
  • These buildings breathe and ensure clean air inside for residents.
  • Earth walls act as natural sound barriers hence enhances the sound quality by reducing the disturbing NRC coefficients.
  • Since the material is procured from site itself, it has no carbon coefficient and building erected is carbon neutral.mud building
  • If under any condition building has to be broken down and replaces, the material can be recycled indefinite times after soaking it in water. It never becomes a waste material and thus never harms the environment.
  • The construction system gives a large flexibility for crafted construction where building can be decorated with in-situ systems which include niches, engravings, embossing, luminaries, furniture, landscaping etc.
  • Natural additives can be easily mixed with the material which can increase medicinal properties and give longevity to building reducing maintenance.

Depending on the climate, location and earth present different construction techniques could be deployed to create spectacular structures. Some of the documented earth construction techniques are:

1) COB – This technique works wonderfully for curved walls and low height (<10m) buildings. Cob is a lump of stiff mud which is made into elongated eggs and then stacked one on other. Final finishing is done by smoothening the sides. It becomes an engaging community exercise leading to interactions.
2) RAMMED EARTH – This system involves a formwork wherein wet stiff earth is put and then rammed to strengthen. It is done in layers. Different bands can be made to appear in elevations and formwork can be developed for different styles.
3) COMPRESSED STABILIZED EARTH BLOCKS (CSEB) – It is the technique where mud bricks stabilized with cement (or mud bricks stabilized with cementsimilar admixtures) are made and compressed to strengthen. This is a technologically advanced system and is as competitive as any conventional technique.
4) ADOBE – This technique involves making sun dried clay bricks and using it in masonry. This is a time consuming and labour intensive approach as compared to CSEB.
5) WATTLE and DAUB – It involves creation of a frame first which can be done either with bamboo or cane (or any similar material) which supports the roof. A mesh is then woven along the frame over which mud is then plastered all over.

There is a growing awareness in people over the mud buildings since these are ecofriendly and economical, however the mindset where it is considered a poor man’s structure needs to changed. World over, buildings like Centre of Gravity Foundation Hall at Jemez Springs (New Mexico, USA), Chapel of Reconciliation, (Berlin, Germany) , Youth Centre at Spandau (Berlin), Academic accommodation building, Charles Sturt University at Thurgoona (New South Wales, Australia), Tourist resort at Baird Bay (Eyre Peninsula, South Australia), Mii amo Spa (Arizona, USA), Cultural Centre (La Paz, Bolivia), Kindergarten (Sorsum, Germany),

mud buildings

GTZ Office (New Delhi, India) , Panafrican Institute for Development (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso) and many magnanimous residences have been done using earth architecture. This is a system waiting to be adapted as a conventional system and thereby giving a healthy lifestyle not only to its people but also to the planet.

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