Building with earth

An investigation into ancient construction techniques shows that cultures have been combining fired rock dust, plant ashes, sand, clay and earth since prehistory.

Timbuktu
Mosque of Djenne

Today we have stabilized earthen concrete. A culmination of all humanities attempts at building simply: dwellings which stand the test of time.

From here to Timbuktu scientists, ceramicists, masons and craftsman of their trades are re-learning the secrets of how to cast natural sandstone. The precise chemistry depends on the mineral content of the native soil and available admix components.

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Soil texture triangle

In firing earth, we recreate the thermal conditions found deep underground under friction and pressure.

Ideal cementitious material is already fired by a volcano, such as the pozzolans of Roman concrete or the kaolinites of Chinese porcelain.

When put in combination with the correct flux and reagent, these materials form bonds which actually gain strength over time, essentially becoming stone again.

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Soil horizon diagram

The technology lies in an understanding of the soil components and their relationships, and as with cement, is largely the result of experimental artisans throughout the ages. Modern pioneers are bringing to light the fundamentals of geopolymer chemistry.

In cement stabilized earthen structures, the reagglomerated stone matrix is the result of geosynthesis, recreating the minerals of limestone and hydrated feldspar.

8-19
Geopolymer Institute

“SOLID PHASE SYNTHESIS OF MINERAL BLOCKPOLYMER BY LOW TEMPERATURE POLYCONDENSATION OF ALUMINO-SILICATE POLYMERS.”

 

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visiting a 700 year old Chinese earth building

 

Earth is nature’s medium of brilliant resilience. Embracing the longevity of this building material is the key to understanding how our homes, public spaces and even societies could grow to benefit nature, at no cost to our future.

Earth building heritage exists around the world, adapting the best construction techniques to the available materials. From primitive ceramics and dwellings, to some of the oldest buildings on earth, impressive beauty springs forth in nearly every civilization throughout humankind.

According to the United Nations, 30% of the world lives in earthen buildings today. And for good reason, since stabilized earth structures remain some of the longest standing in history.

IMG_7141

 

 

“Earth is nature’s medium of brilliant resilience.”

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