Friday 27 October 2017

New Again: Rammed Earth Construction

Rammed earth is an ancient construction method that has recently come back into favour due to its environmentally friendly characteristics. Using sustainable materials and natural building methods, it is strong, cool in hot weather, well suited to passive solar heating, non-toxic, biodegradable, and fireproof.

Remnants of rammed-earth buildings can be found in Neolithic archaeological sites along the Yellow River in China dating back to 5000 BCE. The Great Wall of China was built using rammed-earth techniques as was the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

Rammed-earth houses were first built in France in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They weren’t just rural dwellings either. Some of the finest examples can be found around Lyon and Grenoble due to the region’s high-quality earth building material. Approximately 30% of the homes in Grenoble are of rammed-earth construction although they can be hard to spot due to their ornate plaster finishes.

An early example of rammed-earth construction in Canada is St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in Shanty Bay, Ontario. Built from 1838-42, it “utilized wet clay mixed with chopped straw, compacted into forms and covered, when dry, with plaster or siding for protection against weather.”

Rammed-earth walls are built in layers. The earth is poured into a mold, pressed down, and then another layer is added. Today’s rammed-earth buildings cover a wide range of styles and purposes:
  • A student-designed house in Ghana pairs rammed-earth walls with windows made from used water packaging, combining traditional construction with recycling. 
  • An award-winning rammed earth home in Spain halves normal CO2 emissions. All the building materials were sourced from within a 150-km radius. 
  • An observation tower built from locally sourced earth, clay, and gravel blends into its surroundings on a Belgian nature reserve. 
  • A 750-foot rammed-earth wall forms the zigzag façade of 12 homes in Western Australia, and a planted roof keeps the houses naturally cool even on the hottest days. 
You can find several rammed-earth houses in Saskatchewan:
See Also:

Photo credits
Alhambra, Granada, Spain - P. McKinlay
French Town Hall - Rammed Earth Consulting