Earth architecture is very old:
Cliff dwellings/graves from the middle ages of the Tellem people in Mali, Africa.
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Living in/on Earth

 


  • Earth as a building material

  • Adobe Plaster

  • Earth Pigments

In as much as animals live in the earth or build their homes, nests with earth, it seems that mankind lived from primordial times in houses made of earth.
New developments in earth architecture:
light straw-clay insulation material – Detail Mertes house, Eschweiler Germany.

Of the oldest known city of Jericho we know it was build with clay and so was Mohenjo-daro in the Indus valley. And even though unbaked earth is the oldest building material man used and still one third of the world population lives in earth houses, people usually frown their eyebrows when speaking of building with earth. To begin with there is the confusion of terms: "What do you mean building with earth or dirt?" (Dutch = leem, German = lehm, English = loam, French = argile / terre.) Then you have to explain: It’s a mixture of clay and sand. And with chopped straw added one speaks of adobe or cob. The French speak of pisť, as it is rammed earth, pressed down in a mold, often including stones that come with the local earth. One does not use however the topsoil.

Not only were many techniques developed through the ages all over the world, also with the contemporary revival of earth architecture many new applications are developing. For instance in the northern climates of Germany and the Netherlands new building materials are used such as a light weight insulation, a mixture with mostly straw and clay, or in stead of straw with the use of wood chips, hemp etc.

The only potential disadvantage of earth as a building material is that it is sensitive to running water and mechanical damage. But if properly applied those issues can be overcome. In fact the building styles, as they have developed over the ages, have taken this into account and made use of its healthy and ecological qualities.

The old technique of wattle and daub with wood framed house (Fachwerk) is an adobe plaster on willow weaving.
Remodeling of "De Spijker" 16th century storehouse in the open air museum Bokrijk, Belgium.
Adobe plaster of interior office "Art Meets Science & Spirituality" – Weteringsschans, Amsterdam.
Adobe plaster in home interior Jordaan, Amsterdam. Left: radiator cover- adobe plaster on reed mats.
 
Adobe is a very plastic material and can be molded in any form - Sherman tank by Christian Schanze, Aachen Germany 1994.

Earth has unique qualities such as:

  • It can be found everywhere at little costs and with inexhaustible quantities.
  • It is perfectly ecological and can be endlessly reused.
  • It preserves wood and combines well with wood framed houses. It also fire proofs it.
  • It has a great capacity to store warmth and makes therefore a perfect combination with floor and wall heating, or is very suitable as a building material for fireplaces to absorb the heat and radiate into the room.
  • With the walls and floors being warm the room temperature can be lower to be comfortable.
  • In reverse earth walls, floors or ceilings can keep interiors cool. In general it stabilizes the room temperature through the year.
  • In combination with for instance straw it makes a perfect insulation material.
  • Earth is a very healthy material. It has healing qualities.
  • It stabilizes air moisture at an ideal average of 50 %. Research showed that its capacity to do so is 30 times more than fired bricks.
  • When moist it’s moldable in any form.
  • Since earth pigments come in various colors and so does sand, it makes as a finished plaster the most beautiful natural earth tones.
Adobe oven, Uslar Germany..
The smoke and hot air circulate through a long duct and warms up the seat and walls, so all heat is absorbed in the adobe mass and the fuel is burned 100%.