The Renaissance of Rammed Earth
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Let's live in harmony with Gaia 

The Kooralbyn Hotel Resort on Australia's Gold Coast, Arch. David Oliver

The Renaissance of Rammed Earth
An article, published in AMC Aspects magazine, January 2001 

Georgi Georgiev, architect
geapolis@mail.bol.bg

There is a certain magic to living in buildings with thick earth walls. It's hard to describe, but easy to notice. Just take a step inside one on some warm summer day and you'll feel it immediately. It's cool, of course-everyone knows adobe houses are “warm in winter and cool in summer”-but there's something else, too, a little hard to put your finger on. “It's quiet, feels somehow incredibly solid and sturdy, very different from other houses, timeless even. I feel secure in here...instantly comfortable ...it's almost I'm in some ancient building with centuries of its own stories to tell...”I once had a happy home-owner tell walking into her rammed earth house was like walking into her lover's outstretched arms.
From the book “The rammed earth house”, David Easton

For the last 20 years more universities, science institutes and firms take part in the revival and production of technologies, using raw clay as a basic building material. One of these technologies is called “rammed earth”. The used material is a damp mixture of 20 % clay and 80 % sand and other components. Sometimes as a hardening element concrete is added: 3-5 %. The walls made of rammed earth are considerably thicker- 50-60 cm.
The expression “Nothing new under the Sun” is especially suitable in this case. Many archeological findings all over the world are witnessing for this technology -Catal Huyuk in Turkey; Harappa and Johanjo-Daro in Pakistan; Akhlet-Aton in Egypt; Chan-Chan in Peru; Duheros near Cordoba in Spain and many others. At the time of the Roman Empire it was wide-spread around Europe, too. At the end of the XVIIIth century the French builder Francois Cointeraux discovers "pise de terre" at the vicinities of Lion and begins to experiment on his own.
Antonio Gaudi and Frank Lloyd Wright appreciated rammed earth. Gaudi showed great interest for the popular architecture. In 1884 he used rammed earth (called “tapial” in Spain) for the construction of the pavilions at the entrance to the farm of Eusebio Guell. Frank Lloyd Wright suggests rammed earth for the construction of buildings in his project for Broadacre City. 
What are the advantages that revive earth as a building material?
Firstly, it is the healthy microclimate. Clay walls stabilize air humidity in premises up to 50% regardless of external conditions. Earth is a perfect ecological material, which can be recycled on 100%, numerous times without any industrial waste or toxic chemicals. It can be found anywhere at a low price.
Australia is called “Mecca” of rammed earth. According to Giles Hohnen there are three reasons for this: firstly, the lack of wooden material and the excessive presence of termites; secondly, the lower price of the traditional brick and stone masonry; and finally, the harmony between the “earthly” and raw character of the buildings and the self-image of the Australians.
In America the Spanish and The Portuguese conquistadors introduce rammed earth in XVI century. Very recent archeological excavations on the Island of San Cristobal indicate that Columbus may has built his first fortifications there of tapial.
Europe is still the last in line and the rediscovery of rammed earth is connected to the French-based  Center for the Research and Application of Earth-CRATerre.
 


Archive of the Ethnographic Institute with Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Rammed earth is not very popular in our lands. In Northwestern Bulgaria rammed earth is used by Banat Bulgarians who have brought this tradition from the lands of present Hungary.
In 1999 the Gaiapolis Foundation managed to build an experimental social building, made of rammed earth in the village of Varvara. This project was financed by International centre for minorities study and cultural interactions, “Caritas Bulgaria” and “Open society” foundation. Unfortunately the future owner of the building - municipality Tzarevo did not fulfill their obligations for building external infrastructure and the house remains unoccupied. This prevents the making of any conclusions about the exploitation characteristics of rammed earth in this experiment.
 May be at the dawn of the XXI  century we'll hear the echo of the enthusiasm and gratitude with which Francois Cointeraux called rammed earth: “a gift of Provedence...a present which God has made to all people”.


Sourses:
1. TERRA 2000 Preprints,
2. David Easton. The Rammed Earth House. 1996
3. Gernot Minke - Lehmbau - Handbuch: der Baustoff Lehm und seine Anwendung. Freiburg, 1995. Okobuch.
4. John Northon - Building with earth. London, 1997. Intermediate Technology Publication Limited
5. Julian Keable. Rammed earth structures. London,1996. Intermediate Technology Publication Limited    r.keable@lineone.net

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