Monday, October 16, 2006

The "Honduras House"

Christian Aid is working with Diarmuid Gavin who is an award-winning garden designer and star of the BBC's hit tv show
The Home Front.

Together they designed a "dramatic feature" at the October Grand Designs Live NEC show, on 6-8 October 2006 ("the ultimate exhibition for people in the heart of England passionate about home and garden design" i.e. a big trade show)

Here's a description of the rammed earth part:

The display will show how communities in the developing world are embracing an eco-friendly way of life. Eco-design features include walls that are built using sustainable techniques that not only safeguard the environment but also protect their inhabitants when disaster strikes. The Honduras home features a strengthened rammed-earth wall, insect-repellent decorative paint taken from local plants and tree replanting. In the Asia section, visitors will experience a home raised on stilts to avoid flooding, featuring biogas and emergency assistance packs. While in Africa the homes include ventilation systems, rain-water collection and solar panels.

(thank you reuters).

* * *

Sounds like quite a trade show. As such, one can't help but wonder how much more "in the mainstream" or "in the public consciousness" does rammed earth really need to be? You don't need this site--just go to Google News and type in rammed earth. There is always something. Ding Dong! News flash--RAMMED EARTH IS A HOUSING OPTION THAT IS AVAILABLE. (Now we definitely all know.) So what is the big hassle? Why isn't rammed earth as popular as vinyl? Yes, rammed earth is special, but it can be as mundane and frumpy in its functionality as anything else.

Are the Hondurans who live in these houses with the rammed earth walls paying $350 a square foot? (Answer = no)

Is Honduran strengthened rammed earth weaker than our mighty North American rammed earth?

How is it that rammed earth is an economical way to build in Honduras, but so bloody expensive in North America?

Is the price difference all in the cost of labor? Really? Or are there some design hang-ups that make rammed earth houses needlessly expensive?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Rammed Earth Is Art

Golden Delicious, from the series Landscapes; 2000
Rammed earth
13” x 12.5” x 7”

View the Artist Statement here.

Plans that employ Rammed Earth

Here's a nifty site for those who can't quite afford the services of an architect, or want to start visualizing a plan on their own.

It may have been mentioned in an earlier entry, but it bears repeating that Adobe Houses for Today, Flexible Plans for Your Adobe Home by Laura and Alex Sanchez features 12 plans for compact, beautifully-proportioned adobe homes in modern and traditional styles that would readily adapt to rammed earth construction.

Rammed Earth In Canada

"St. Thomas Church, Shanty Bay, Ontario, constructed 1842. One of the oldest remaining buildings constructed of rammed earth in Ontario."

Where are the rest of the remaining buildings? Who built these structures? Do we have to go all the way to ON-SCARY-O just to find out?

I don´t know what it says but it looks great!

People are building with rammed earth all over the world. This Korean blog features all kinds of amazing architecture from Asia. The rammed earth house is located on the second page (scroll to the bottom of the first page to find the page bar) It may take a while to load but it's worth it for the pictures, if you can make out a word of the text, please let us know what it says....

Art Star Pottery Studio Construction!

Check out the funky rammed earth stylings of this project!

Leave it to potters to pull out all the stops with such an elemental building material.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cool rammed earth motel in Denmark

Here's one from flickr. Rammed earth in Denmark!

In the News

The word "news" brings with it the expectation of "new" information. When we ask "what's the news" really what we're asking is "what is new."

In that instance, it's always disappointing when the news isn't new.

Take this article for instance:
Green homes go mainstream as costs climb. Wow, big surprize. You mean this oil stuff won't last for ever, and less there is the more it will cost? Crazy!

The article talks at length about Negawatt--though in the article there is no connection made between rammed earth and Negawatt. Rammed earth comes in at the end of the article--amost as an afterthought:

"An organisation in the US called Earthship oversees the building of houses made of car tyres, filled with compacted earth to form a rammed earth brick encased in steel belted rubber"

And another thing--Negawatt (tm) should not be confused with negawatt, which appears to be a name for a much broader concept.

* * *

Riffing on this ho-hum theme of the end of oil, the Wet Mountain Tribune ran this article. As it turns out:

"As foreign oil supplies become increasingly unreliable and as our domestic Trans-Alaska Pipeline goes off-line, we feel a bit anxious."

Anxious? Relax!

A group called
"Sustainable Ways led by Tyler and Kimberly Stein" is using rammed earth to allay the anxiety:

First, on the tour was an off-grid, rammed-earth home built by Dave and Ann O’Conner, in Centennial Ranch. With rammed earth construction, dirt plus five per cent concrete plus a very little water is rammed between forms.
According to Dave O’Conner, you can tamp the dirt into the form in the morning and take the forms off in the afternoon.
The forms are wide - wide enough for a person to stand inside the form when using the compactor. Sun, wind and battery power keep the O’Conner house humming."

(doesn't that sound complicated?)

* * *

Not to be out done by anyone in Colorado, the good folks of Marfa, Texas with a little help from Liz Lambert are getting El Cosmico ready for consumption. But what is El Cosmico you ask?

"El Cosmico will be a Trans-Pecos kibbutz for the 21st century - part yurt and hammock hotel, part residential living, part art-house, greenhouse, amphitheatre and farmer's market - a community space that fosters artistic and intellectual exchange."

The article goes on to mention

"yurts, hammocks and rammed earth buildings to the property to create El Cosmico's unconventional hotel."

* * *

Speaking of oil, what would you rather have--a world without petroleum or a world without olive oil? Mercifully, the more important of the two (olive oil)
is sustainable. This article tells the story of the good people at Long Meadow Ranch who keep the important oil flowing. (As an aside, they also apparently have some rammed earth on their property.)

* * *

Once you've topped up the tank on olive oil, why not slide on down to The Dancing Rocks Permaculture Community. There you can learn a thing or two about not being a earth killing death loving energy pig. If you behave, perhaps you get to see or even stay in one of their 5 rammed earth houses: "
Some have connections to Marana's utilities grid, some don't. All use permaculture techniques."

* * *

The big news, however, is to be found in Old Blighty. And by big we mean "rammed earth walls 7.2m high – the highest in the UK." Clearly to build walls that high you need to call in the
experts--the Australians.

In this article entitled "CAT Earth Building Gets Aussie Expertise" you can read all about the goings on at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

* * *

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rammed Earth Builders Course

It would appear that the outstanding Rowland Keable of the building company In Situ is teaching a rammed earth building course in the UK this August 18th to the 20th.

It would also appear that the price is sliding scale from 120 Pounds for student/unwaged to
180 Pounds for waged. ($255.97 to $383.99 CDN @ 1 Pound = $2.13 CDN.)

Short notice, I know, and I apologize.

Hey, but if you aren't able to jet off to the UK at the drop of the hat, GOOD NEWS!

It would appear that Rowland Keable's is teaching a rammed earth building course this September 15th to the 17th.

It would also appear the price is sliding scale from 160 pounds for non-waged ($341.10 CDN) to 250 pounds for waged ($533.04 CDN) and 300 Pounds for high waged ($639.64 CDN.)

Maybe there's still room!
Make the dream happen!

For those who don't know Rowland Keable, perhaps this is a good introduction. In PDF for instant download no less!

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Information Is Out There!

No strangers, only friends we haven't met. Today we got a delightful letter from our friend Dustin. He has a great blog. In said great blog, I found this:

"The passive solar residence is a project architecture student and engineer Rich Michal led as part of the Master of Architecture program at the University of Arizona's College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture. The home is born out of the realization that, in 2002, no good examples of passive solar design were available in the sustainable and New Urbanist Community of Civano, in southeast Tucson, Arizona—even among the community’s custom, high thermal mass homes."

Later in the article:

"A common misconception regarding thermal mass is that the outside or exterior face is the important face for thermal storage. In fact, it is the interior or inside four to six inches of the thermal mass that provides the most thermal storage. For this reason all of the interior thermal mass is left exposed or un-insulated

The exterior face of the rammed earth walls, on the other hand, were not insulated so that the aesthetic quality of the natural rammed earth walls could remain exposed. The slight energy savings associated with insulating these 2-foot-thick walls would not justify the amount of resources that would have to be expended—nor would it look as good"

Hey, the whole article is here. Check it out!

Monday, August 07, 2006

There is No Right Answer!

Here is a fun site.
(It's a photo essay documenting the building of a rammed earth pottery studio)

Which then took me here.
(It's a case study of a energy-efficient cast earth home)

And then holy crap did I go here.
(It's a bunch of photos of a staggeringly beautiful and very energy efficient 3000+ square foot cast earth home made in Austin TX...hopefully this cast earth stuff is for everyone too!)

Which naturally made me want to visit here.
(It's a description of cast earth)

To get back on the rammed earth track, I spent a little time here.
(It's a description of rammed earth)

When I was there, I found this, which then led me here.
(It's Leonard Jones' CV and personal web site)

There are all kinds of people all over the world making rammed earth in all kinds of ways. That is what is so beautiful about it--"there is no right answer!"

T H E R E * I S
* R I G H T
A N S W E R !

Yaaaaay! Yaaaaay!


E V E R Y O N E !

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nk'Mip, end of July

Don't miss the interview with Paul Jaquin right below this post!

Some more images of the remarkable Nk'mip wall for your viewing pleasure.

And this is Kliluk. Check out that salt!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Interview with Paul Jaquin!

Proprietor of Historic Rammed Earth (the website) and Historic Rammed Earth (the blog), PhD candidate Paul Jaquin has visited and studied rammed earth buildings all over the world. Here we turn the questions up to eleven. A big thanks to Paul for all his time!

1: What and where was your introduction to rammed earth? What kind of building or structure was it?

Paul Jaquin: As an undergraduate engineering student I had to come up with a one year project as a dissertation for the final year of the degree, I wasn't keen to do a standard project and approached my supervisor to see if he had any special projects. He had been approached by a member of the Archaeology department at the university, who were having issues with a structure they were studying. We devised a project centred around investigating the problems with this structure and devising ways of repairing it. The building is an 11th century fortified mansion in northern Spain, built probably by the Knights Templar and expanded over the years. It is still inhabited, but there are sections of the building which are decaying. The main problem is one of the front façades, which appears to be coming away from the rest of the building because of failure of the foundations. I spent a week studying the building, constructed a reasonable computer model of it and tried to establish what was going on. Looking back I feel the work wasn’t too great, but I certainly got a taste for old rammed earth. There are pictures and a bit more information at

2: What (and where) is the oldest rammed earth building you've ever seen and what (and where) is the newest? How would you describe the difference between the two? How has the medium evolved?

The oldest rammed earth I've seen still standing is at Banos de la Encina, which is a fantastic castle in southern Spain. The plaque on the door (original) says it was built in 967, which makes it 1039 years old! I know parts of the Alcazaba in Granada are older (built in 852) but they are really well hidden, and I'm reliably informed that parts of a site at Merv in Turkmenistan are probably over 2000 years old, but the castle at Banos is the oldest I've seen. The newest rammed earth is a 7m high wall at Aykley Heads in Durham, which has recently been finished as an internal wall on a sustainable office complex. The differences between the two are quite marked, the main ones being that the old rammed earth is much more like concrete, there is a high proportion of lime in the mixture, and it is much more solid to the touch, it is impossible to get anything from the wall. The modern rammed earth is much more friable and probably less hard wearing. The other main difference is in the formwork, historic rammed earth uses crawling formwork, which leaves characteristic holes through the full thickness of the wall, whereas the modern practice is for concrete type formwork which is supported from the ground and so leaves no marks on the wall.

3. Could you tell us more about the wall at Aykley Heads in Durham? Specifically, could you tell us about the material used, the compressive strength, the form work, the footing, the rebar and the kind and amount of stabilizer (was it cement?) used?

Sure, the wall is 7m high, and in sections which are about 2m wide I think, to prevent shrinkage due to the high clay content. It’s on a concrete footing which is about 6 inches from the floor. Surprising for you guys I guess it’s not reinforced with rebar and there is no stabiliser, its full unstabilised rammed earth! However it is fully internal, and so doesn’t get any weathering on it at all (Durham is quite a wet place!). Its also non load bearing, so it is just about alright to not use rebar and cement. Also the contractor is also the client – they are building themselves new offices - and so are willing to experiment with new materials, they are hoping to make a name for themselves in the UK rammed earth industry. The formwork turned out to be the most expensive part of the project, concrete formwork was used and the cost of hiring of that sent the costs soaring. As for the compressive strength, I'm not sure really, I know some samples were tested during testing of the materials, but I'm not sure what they were. I tested some cubes constructed from the same material and got strengths around 1MPa.

4. Could you tell us more about the castle at Banos? Do you know about the material used? Do you have any idea of the compressive strength? What is the footing made from? How did the structure last so long without re-bar?

The material used appears to be just rammed earth, with a footing made from the same material, but which appears slightly whiter, indicating more lime was used. Interestingly the tops of the walls seem to be made from the same lime rich material as the foundations, which I think is how they are so resilient. I've no idea of the compressive strength, but I know of one set of tests performed on rammed earth cored from Granada had compressive strengths of around 1MPa. You only need rebar really to provide tensile and shear strength in the rammed earth. The structure is pretty much all in compression, and the walls are around 1.5m (i guess about 5ft) thick so there isn’t a problem with wind loading because of the high mass of the walls. This area of Spain isn’t particularly known for earthquakes (except a big one in Lisbon in the 1700s) so ground movement isn’t a problem either. The face was initially rendered, probably a number of times, there is evidence of different coats of render on the outside. Most of that render is gone, but the wall seems fine underneath.

I'm not massively sure of the history of the castle at Banos, it was definitely built in 967, because there is a plaque by the door, i think it was used as a castle during the Caliphate, which was up to around 1200AD, and then used by the Christians for some time before being abandoned. It was used as a graveyard from the mid 1800s until about 1920 and the centre of the castle has been filled to about 3m. But now archaeologists are excavating the site, so we shall see what that brings. There are pictures at and, but
unfortunately the video doesn’t work yet.

5. Tell us about your PhD--What is your dissertation, what is the program like, what did you do leading up to this point and what do you hope to do once the PhD is complete?

The title of my thesis is 'Analysis of historic rammed earth construction'. I came to it straight from my undergraduate degree in civil engineering, writing a PhD proposal from information gained in my undergraduate dissertation. I found that there is a massive gap in the understanding of rammed earth (and other earthen architecture) from an engineering point of view. When compared to concrete or steel, the amount we know about the processes at play within rammed earth is pretty minimal, but there is a huge body of knowledge in geotechnical engineering. My idea is basically to take soil mechanics and apply its principles to buildings. Given that apparently one third of the world's population lives in earthen type buildings I was surprised to find that no one else is looking at this. Unfortunately as no one else is looking at this the program is fairly unstructured, its fully research led, and I'm looking at a few different avenues at the moment, hopefully all brought together in a thesis at the end.

Once I finish I feel I've got a number of options, I have to get some experience as a proper engineer really, so I might head off and do that for a few years. Alternatively I could continue research into rammed earth, I feel I'm just scratching the surface here really, but I would most like to work on some restoration projects, essentially put my PhD to good use, we'll have to see what comes up.

6. What are some of the common ways rammed earth structures "fail?"

What I've found is that the main problem is water from the top of a structure causing decay of the wall surface, and that if the top of the wall is well protected then the rest of the wall is probably going to be alright. I've heard lots of things about having overhanging eaves to prevent water hitting the base of the wall, but I've not found that walls fail in this way. I would also say there is a difference in the way historic rammed earth fails compared to modern rammed earth. The historic rammed earth has been up for hundreds of years, so failures in these buildings usually occur due to a change in conditions, for example a change in rainfall patterns, or lowering of the watertable leading to a change in ground strength, or through lack of upkeep, if the roof isn’t kept in good shape then you start to get moisture ingress which weakens the wall.

Modern rammed earth on the other hand seems to fail due to say a high clay content leading to shrinkage cracks, or too quick removal of the formwork leading to plucking of material from the face of the wall on removal of the formwork.

This is one of the main aspects of my research at the moment, so I'll probably end up writing a paper about it.

7. How does rammed earth perform in cold weather?

I think the cold isn't really an issue, it has much more to do with moisture. I know that there is rammed earth in Ladakh at 3500m in the Himalayas which has survived since 1600. There the temperatures get down to -20 or -30 degrees Centigrade (-4 to -22 Fahrenheit) with permanent snow. I've not checked out the buildings during the winter, but I'll hopefully be visiting some this November, to see how they hold up in the cold. I believe that quite a lot of the buildings on the Silk road route are rammed earth (Kazakhstan, Tibet etc) which also experience low temperatures, but I guess here the temperature is cold during the winter, but hot during the summer, so the buildings are probably built in the summer. I also get the impression rammed earth is taking off in the Vancouver area, but I guess they have similar temperature ranges to Tibet. It is also found in China at the Yellow river Delta, I'm not sure of the temperature there, but the latitude is the same as New York.

8. From the looks of your site, you've seen quite a bit of rammed earth. Do you have a favorite building? Do you have a favorite rammed earth 'vernacular'? Are you partial to any one culture's 'take' on rammed earth?

I've certainly seen a lot of rammed earth, up close I've visited sites in the UK, India and Spain, probably coming to about 70 different sites. I still think my favourite is the castle at Banos as I mentioned earlier, its 100% rammed earth, and over 1000 years old, all the crenellations on top are rammed earth and are still intact. It has a really interesting history, at the moment archaeologists are excavating the inside of the castle because it was used as a graveyard until 1900. The best thing is that you have to ask in the village for the key and then you can just go and wander around.

The main thing I think I've found is that rammed earth is pretty similar where ever you go in the world, and varies much more in time than in space. Most of the buildings I'm looking at in Spain were built during the Caliphate, when Spain (and quite a lot of the rest of the world) was ruled from Damascus, so you find exactly the same techniques in Spain as you do in Morocco and India, which I find really interesting, I guess there are only so many ways to ram earth between boards. Even many of the buildings in South America constructed in rammed earth are done using the same methods used by the Spaniards in the 16th century, they just shipped the technique across the Atlantic. Likewise when Cointeraux rediscovered rammed earth in the late 18th century, he got copied and rammed earth from around that period is all pretty similar. I must admit I love the old stuff, but I think that’s because it has been there the longest, and I think the level of knowledge and expertise in rammed earth construction steadily decreased over time as newer materials came along.

9. Have you ever built with rammed earth? If you have, could you tell us about that experience?

I've built 6 test walls in the laboratory. fairly small affairs but enough to give me an idea of what is going on in rammed earth. We used an unstabilised mix, and compacted using a Kango electric hammer, rather than compressed air. Once I had done two walls I think I got the technique sorted out, compacting at the right moisture content, and allowing the walls the right amount of time to dry. When I tested them I was interested to find that there was failure along the compaction planes as well as cracking under the loading ram, I wonder if anyone else has had experience with rammed earth failures in real buildings?

10. How do people perceive rammed earth in the UK? Is it a 'mainstream' building method or is it seen as 'exotica?'

In the UK its not massively well known- there are some earthen buildings in southern England, called Cob, but there is no traditional rammed earth. There have been a few projects in the past probably 10 years, each with varying degrees of success. However it is certainly becoming more popular amongst architects, who are keen to specify rammed earth as an exotic and sustainable technique, but I would say that nearly all of the projects taking off in rammed earth are using it as an exotic material rather than as the 'best' material for the job. I don’t think rammed earth in the UK will ever become a mainstream building material in the UK, because of the high labour costs involved, and the fact that it doesn’t really bring any benefit to a building, we don’t have the high external temperatures to contend with, and it has to really prove itself in the relatively humid UK environment. Having said that the UK market is trying, we have no national standards for rammed earth construction, but a recent publication "Rammed earth: design and construction guidelines" is hopefully the first step to a full UK standard.

11. What's coming up on your rammed earth horizon?

Well at the moment I'm just starting in the laboratory on testing some cylinders and trying to explain their compressive strength based on some new soil mechanics theory. Following that I have another field visit to northern Spain in October where I should be able to check out quite a few more historic rammed earth sites. I've also got a university expedition in Morocco at the moment checking out historic and modern rammed earth there. I'm then presenting at a conference in Delhi in November, and I should be able to get up to northern India to look at some of the historic rammed earth there too. I'll then be in the final year of my PhD and should be able to properly analyze and draw some conclusions about how rammed earth actually works, and the ways it decays, and thus the best ways to protect it and to repair it.

Following the PhD I'm not sure, I would like to write a book about historic rammed earth, and maybe a manual on its repair, but that is certainly for the future, we'll have to see what happens!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Speaking of the Gila River Indian Community District Six

Certainly you remember the paper Rammed earth constructions: Trans-cultural research in the Sonoran Desert by Mary Hardin. You know, the one that said:

"Formwork design and testing focused on the goals of easy mobility and reassembly. Early prototypes developed by Brittain and Perry used plywood walls stiffened with steel sections (later replaced by aluminum to lighten the forms' weight). Aluminum angles allowed the plywood pieces to bolt together easily and doubled as handles for moving the forms. However, the pressure built up during tamping made disassembling the forms very difficult. The sides bowed in spite of the stiffeners, the assembled forms were hard to move around, and they could not be stacked one upon the other."

Well, I found this website, also written by Mary Hardin. Do note the passage that reads:

"The materials for the rammed earth walls were very cost effective; they came from the reservation's resources of earth (sand, gravel, adobe, catcus ribs). The construction techniques also were designed to be cost effective utilizing simple forms that could be assembled and disassembled by two people and, and light weight tamping equipment. Note too that the cost of bringing conventional construction materials to the remote site would be very expensive."

Another gem from Professor Hardin!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Speaking of the French

And speaking of the French, according to David Easton, "the French are leading the way."

How's your French?

Looking up Francois Cointeraux (you know, Auteur de 72 fascicules sur la construction en pisé. Ses écrits seront traduits et diffusés dans le monde entier, contribuant à développer la construction en pisé. Il construira plusieurs dizaines de bâtiments en pisé autour de Lyon et à Lyon même) this article appeared.

It's a fine article. Here's a bit of it:

Talking about rammed earth:

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.

Once in a Lifetime!

For a cool Million-three...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

What's the News?

In the instance you haven't been reading the Sydney Star Observer, here's a fluffy article about different building styles (including rammed earth.)

* * *

In the instance you haven't been reading, then let me be the first to say look out Nk'Mip, there's a new big walled structure in town.

"The architects’ design includes a circular 200-seat lecture theatre with 7.2m high rammed earth walls – the tallest rammed earth structure in the UK."

* * *

In the instance you haven't been keeping up with the Whole Life Times, then you probably aren't aware that "In 1994, sculptor Christina Bertea and her business partner, Mary B. White, built a 360-square-foot home in Oakland, California as a rental unit on an existing property. “I made a pilgrimage to a forest in Oregon where I promised to do something to promote materials other than wood,” Bertea says. She used a construction technique known as “rammed earth” that incorporates a dirt-like material called “quarry fine” (technically a waste material) to build walls that are immune to rot, fire and pests. Rammed-earth walls provide superior insulation and need no maintenance, which saves money in the long run."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lessons of the Past

"As instructors ... worked ... to develop a forming system that would allow their students to build the classroom facility, the wide applicability of such a system became apparent. Rammed earth wall systems are currently fairly expensive, as the necessary formwork constitutes a major investment and the labor is specialized.... An alternative method of forming walls incrementally, with formwork that could be managed by two or three people and then reused, was necessary for low-cost building."

(and a little further down)

"Formwork design and testing focused on the goals of easy mobility and reassembly. Early prototypes developed by Brittain and Perry used plywood walls stiffened with steel sections (later replaced by aluminum to lighten the forms' weight). Aluminum angles allowed the plywood pieces to bolt together easily and doubled as handles for moving the forms. However, the pressure built up during tamping made disassembling the forms very difficult. The sides bowed in spite of the stiffeners, the assembled forms were hard to move around, and they could not be stacked one upon the other. This forced a working sequence of ramming walls in horizontal courses, with the drawback of a small amount of horizontal form creep in the direction of the wall-building. After consulting with noted rammed earth expert David Easton and reviewing precedents for ramming walls in vertical piers (ancient and contemporary Chinese, Moroccan, and Australian methods), plywood walls, pipe clamps, and stiffening boards were used in a simpler configuration. After a few test runs with the revised formwork, fine-tuning of pipe spacing and placement allowed actual construction to begin."

Mary Hardin, Rammed Earth Constructions: Trans-cultural research in the Sonoran Desert.
* * *

Crazy the things you find on the internet. That little gem was gotten here. But be forwarned--the material is from the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and as such, deals with so-called "agricultural formwork." If so-called "agricultural formwork" is somehow beneath you, then perhaps this isn't the site for you.

Otherwise, enjoy this informative, inspiring and well written paper.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Oh Canada!

What better way to celebrate Canada day and the wedding of Alec Setten to Mrs. Alec Setten than to tune into Rammed Earth Canada?

If you've done any of your rammed earth homework, you've certainly come across their site. In doing so, you've read:

We are an environmental building company dedicated to improving the quality of life by developing sustainable rammed earth communities accross Canada.

We design and build a range of structures from custom housing to environmentally planned communities, which are composed of residential, commercial, public, and industrial buildings

and lastly

We will be posting new information daily as of July 1, 2006.

New information daily? July 1 2006? Woo-Hoo! I know what I'm doing tomorrow!

Sunday, June 18, 2006


"Hey, great blog, very enthusiastic about rammed earth! I've done some Schmidt hammer tests on rammed earth samples, sometimes with quite varying results. I was wondering what sort of reading you got from your rammed earth walls and samples?"

Our footing readg 4400 psi or 30.336939981811625 mpa.

The one rammed earth block of ours that our friend tested read 2100 psi or 14.478994082228276 mpa.

The next time he's in town, we'll have him conduct more tests!


The Nk'Mip Desert Interpretive Centre is finally open.

Good things come to those who wait.

Without a doubt, it is a magnificent structure in an incredible setting. A fun and educational way for the whole family to learn about Canada's pocket desert.

Yet despite the grandeur of vision (to say nothing of the staggeringly excellent functional performance) of the edifice, I overheard someone describe the facade as "drive by pretty."

Indeed, there's plenty of warts and cold sores all over the wall. Those blemishes could very well be there for the rest of all our natural lives. But maybe not. Regardless, can you imagine being the guy who had to do the "walk through?"

Efflorescence is a tricky thing. How much free lime could be in a 250,000 kg wall? How long will it take to come out?

How did the wall end up two different shades ?

Good design can go a long way to keep unfortunate things from happening.

And when they do a little creativity, flexibility and brute force can usually remedy the situation.

All in all, you gotta give it up for Nk'Mip. It really is quite a thing.

Group hug everyone!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Go Again

Sorry if we've already sent you here, but even if we have, it's worth another look.

Rammed Earth Constructions, you have a great site. Kudos especially on your links page.

Rammed Earth in Africa!

I just found an exciting new blog. It's called African Architecture and Design.

Here's an interesting article about rammed earth followed by a lively discussion.

Here's another article about rammed earth in Africa involving David Easton. (Wait, where's the skid steer?)

Hammer time!

Proctor hammer? (Parachute pants?)

No no no, it's Schmidt hammer time.

Now I don't know if your engineer will sign his name to your 5 story upside-down rammed earth pyramid strictly based on the findings of a Schmidt hammer, but it sure is fun walking around testing various materials with this easy to use tool.

Here one of the professionals from Solum Builders checks the foundation. Later one of the professionals from Solum Builders checked some rammed earth. After that, a rock, a tin can, a grapefruit and my bicep. My bicep was harder than all of them (842 mpa)

Incidentally, the hand compacted rammed earth color samples that you might have seen on this blog tested at 2100 PSI, which when you check your conversion table, you'll see that's about 14.5 MPA--up from the 12 MPA results we got months ago. The stuff gets harder as time goes on. (But then again, what doesn't?)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More Mail!

We just got a delightful message from someone wanting to share their feelings about their new tamper--an Inersoll Rand 341.

Kind person, if you are reading this now, drop us a line at

We are always looking for more content.

That goes for everyone! Who out there is working on a project? Who out there isn't working on a project? Who out there loves/hates rammed earth? Why? Who out there has some fun/not fun experiences to share?

Remember, RAMMED EARTH IS FOR EVERYONE, and in that instance, this is YOUR BLOG. If you haven't noticed already, we'll print JUST ABOUT ANYTHING.

So like I said, if you're an earth rammer or are an aspiring earth rammer, give us a shout:

Sunday, June 04, 2006


In our continuing survey of builders and architects using the rammed earth medium, we come to Apparatus Architecture, a firm located in San Francisco.

Not only do they build with rammed earth, but they build with PISE as well.

I wonder who they use as their rammed earth contractors?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Yes But No

The local building inspector is having trouble getting his mind around rammed earth. Like many, he asked "why not ICF's?"

(to which a sharp witted rammed earth contractor friend said "ICF's are a really great way to feel good about Polystyrene and cement.")

The building inspector said "ICF's take much less time--and much less labour than rammed earth."

That is true. Pre-fab modular homes take even less time than ICF's. (Just as a McDeathculture hamburger takes a lot less time than a good mensaf.)

Which is all well and good, and clearly there is room for all forms of building under God's green canopy, no matter how filthy, ugly or temporary.

As to the notion of taking less labor--why is that a good thing? One of the many reasons why rammed earth is such a good thing is because it is so labor intensive and the materials are so common, simple and inexpensive. Wouldn't you rather give your money to a person in exchange for their labor than a factory in exchange for their highly processed filthy death culture styrene formwork? Who needs to pay for all that embodied energy that goes into the boring glossy catalogs, the ugly corporate denim shirts the 'reps' have to wear, shipping the factory-made polystyrene to my local big box blight on the land scape who will then mark it up so as to keep alive their particular form of wickedness (glossy catalogs, corporate denim shirts, etc...)

Lastly, ICF's put the concrete in the inside and the polystyrene on the outside. Unless polystyrene is your thing (and that's ok too) you still have to do something to your walls on the inside and outside. Unless you put concrete on the outside of the insulated concrete forms it will need to be replaced long before a rammed earth exterior will.

Who's saving time now?

Keep it simple. Cut out the myriand of middle men, middle women and middle managers. Hire your family. Pay cash. Re-use as much material as you can.

Are you finally getting the jist?

R A M M E D E A R T H I S F O R E V E R Y O N E !

Monday, May 22, 2006

Credibility! Tampers!

So far two readers of this blog have taken the time and consideration to write.

The first letter was about our "credibility" and how that "credibility" might be increased (or improved, I can't remember which) if we were to give our "real identity."

Having given it months of thought, I (rammed earth) have come to the conclusion that "credibility" is only an issue for two groups of people: those trying to sell and those wanting to buy.

The purpose behind this blog is to LIBERATE YOU from the ENDLESS CYCLE of DISAPPOINTMENT in the CREDIBILITY SWEEPSTAKES.

Thousands, if not millions of times a day, lonely consumers hit the streets looking for a credible merchant who's gonna treat them right! Millions more go looking for one who won't treat them wrong. Eager sellers splash on a little 'Old Spice' and hope their web of deception will dazzle these buyers into suspending their disbelief long enough to let go of their credit cards. The overwhelming majority (on either side) will be disappointed in that transaction--though not so much that they change their behavior.

That's not how we roll here. No nothing for sale here. I don't want your 16 digits and expiry date. This is a site where INFORMATION is SHARED. I urge you to take this information (and everything you read and hear, especially on the internet) with a healthy shovel full of skepticism.

Letter number two inquired about tampers, specifically if one tamper "does the job faster" than another. Here's what we know about tampers:

The Chinese did not use pnematic rammers and air compressors when constructing The Great Wall. The centuries-old compacted-earth structures that exist in myriad climactic and seismic zones were built with human-powered wood tampers.

While some would assert that a heavy, high powered ramming unit makes you feel you are really getting the job done, I would counter that one could build a rammed earth wall of excellent compressive strength with wood dowels, if your mix was right and your laborers energetic and concientious.

With that in mind, I would like to direct the attention of any interested parties to the products of the Henry Air Tool and Top Cat Service (Not like we're selling anything here...)

Both companies manufacture two models of sand rammer typically used to compact sand in foundry molds with identical model and part numbers;the 1350 and the 1320.

Our experience with the 1350 has been positive, they're light (14lbs) and easier to control and work around the form. The test results of core samples taken from walls tamped with these units had more than adequate strength (i.e. the rammers were providing adequate compression.)

For our next project we're going to try out their 1320 which is even lighter (11lbs) and has a shorter stroke (2" as opposed to 4") but delivers 1750 blows per minute over the 1240 bpm.

(Which one is "faster?" Stay tuned and we'll let you know)

According to Houben and Guilaud in their classic tome "Earth Construction: A Comprehensive Guide", the longer stroke is preferrable, though they specify 20 cm, double the length of the 1350s (which work just fine.) They also caution that "pneumatic rammers must neither be too powerful, as they might destabilize the formwork and cause the rammed earth to bulge".

I've heard of this happening recently, the rammers used were too powerful for the formwork causing the formply to bow, giving the resulting wall a quilted, tuck and roll effect. Using formply that is too thin can have the same result.

I'm also eager to try out a smaller 2 3/8" steel head for those hard-to-reach spots. Whatever you do, DON'T GET THE RUBBER HEAD, it will leave a mark on your formwork if you so much as brush against it when ramming. This mark be transferred to your wall surface, leaving an UGLY BLACK SKIDMARK which may be difficult, if not impossible, to remove without damaging the surface of your wall. Stick to the steel.

Don't kill yourself or your workers with heavy, unwieldy tampers. Less is More. Probably lower fuel costs too.

(But is it faster?)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Now I Understand

If that drunk old high school guidance counselor of mind had done his job, he would have made clear that the reason why you go on to get things like engineering degrees (or law degrees) is because once you do, you are free:

1. Free from the burden of truth
2. Free from the burden of believing anything you don't want to believe
3. Free to be a ignorant time wasting moron.

A recent experience: two out of three structural engineers surveyed said: Rammed Earth Walls cannot be load-bearing
What kind of crap is that?
How is it that a licensed structural engineers in the year of our lord 2006, with computers, fancy wristwatches, business cards, plastic office furniture and the rest of the insipid capitalist accesories, be allowed to continue operations after they say out loud to paying clients "Rammed earth cannot support a roof."


Here. Read this book. Cancel the golf game, put down the OxyContin, hold off on the cocktails till 11am--what ever it takes. Read the book and let's once and for all put to rest the preposterous notion that rammed earth can't hold up a roof.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Site Selection

Site selection is of course a central part of the building process. Choose wisely: once that rammed earth structure is built, there's no moving it.

As groovy as rammed earth is, make no mistake, it too leaves a huge (and messy) footprint where ever it is built. Plants will be killed. Ecologies will be disturbed. Cement (if you are using it) will go into every living pore of every living thing in the immediate vicinity. Petro chemicals will be spilled on the ground. Of that you can be assured.

So site selection is important.

If "wholistic thinking" is part of your personal narrative then why not get the "whole picture" as seen by people *not* of your culture, class and clique?

Feng-Shui continues to amaze and be ignored by all types of people. Is Feng-Shui (and site selection for that matter) simply a process of making a decision based upon feelings and intuition or is there (as in surgery or auto mechanics) something more to that process; an underlying logic and set of laws not immediately available to the neophite?

Says this website:

An Ideal Feng Shui location has a winding inward high mountain (Ying) at the background and a winding inward river (Yang) at the foreground.

Did you know this? Is it true? Are you at all even curious as to the (several thousands of years of) thinking behind this assesment? If Feng-Shui is good enough for Disney, might it be good enough for you?

N 51

"In keeping with traditional and contemporary rammed earth methods in Europe, no Portland cement was used in the rammed earth portions of the wall."


"Rowland Keable and Martin Rauch, two leading rammed earth practitioners in England and Austria respectively, both claimed in independent interviews and site visits during June 2005 that the addition of portland cement was unnecessary in a properly detailed rammed earth structure if the natural clay content was high enough in the soil used for compaction."

That, along with some great photos can be found here at Joe Dahmen's rammed earth site.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Grandma Moses

This small block of rammed earth was our first attempt at "figurative" rammed earth artistry.
This was our second.
One day we will travel the world building only fun walls like this.

An oft-heard complaint is that so much of the rammed earth being built is too 'modern' looking, you know, too much Rothko, not enough Grandma Moses.

Though I would argue the opposite is true, there's good news
for hobbit fans and creative anachronists, look here--Rammed earth has enormous artistic potential. Remember those fancy bottles of sand you used to get at the resort town?

Here's the thing: it's the same concept. Bottle=formwork! Rammed earth doesn't tell you what it should look like. You tell rammed earth what it is supposed to look like! Let your freak flag fly and your freak sand flow!

Colour Is Still Fun!

Yup, colour is still fun! Just like David Lee Roth's pants--you know, colourful, zig-zag, that sort of thing.

What if I told you that these were made with grey cement? It has been our experience that combined with the limestone in our mix, the grey eventually lightens to where it is almost indistinguishable from a block with the same amount of pigment made with white cement. (experiences may and can vary) We're saving our white cement, (at least double the price of grey and god knows how much more embodied energy) for highlights only, to be thrifty.

While I can celebrate the aesthetic possibilities of the slanted lift line, I cannot attest to the structural properties (though one would ass u me that in the end the ramming process will make the wall a single, integral monolith regardless of how the soil was put down.)

Lastly, the black spots on the blocks are obsidian flake insets. You may recall our last insets were with flourite. Also inset (but perhaps not visible) are a number of double terminated quartz crystals. The agenda is to imbue each room's rammed earth wall with a corresponding, appropriate mineral element. (We believe in that kind of thing.)

Friday, April 21, 2006


A great job by Solum Builders on this wall in Kaleden, British Columbia.

Check out their site!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lime Time

Surely you remember these photos from when they were first taken. These test blocks are 1 part 3/4 minus, 1 part crusher fines 1 part sand and anywhere from 6 to 1 part lime.

Not to be confused with a proper scientific test or anything, but you can see that those blocks with high lime content didn't do so well when left in the elements.

Not to honk my own horn (Heaven forbid!) but you can see that our mix of 1-1-1 stood up pretty well to the last few months of freeze/thaw and occasional rain.

But will it stand for another 500 years?

Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Double Feature, Pass the Popcorn!

Some of us learn best by watching. Some of us learn best by reading. Some of us learn best in a cold tent in the rain at a overpriced, poorly planned, chaotic info-mercial/workshop happening months after the promised date where only a fraction of what was advertised is actually delivered.

If you're the type who learns best by watching, there's this:

Rammed Earth Construction

Beautiful examples of rammed earth construction.

29 minutes
Grade Level: 9-12, Adult
US Release Date: 1987
Copyright Date: 1985
ISBN: 1-56029-019-6

Produced by Hans-Ernst Weitzel

Here's the web site.

PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE! The information is out there, and it's there at a price point you can afford!

Movie Time!

If you like to watch, there's also a quicktime movie on this site

on the making of rammed earth homes.

Oh to live in New Mexico, where rammed earth is in "The Code", they have crazy socialist organizations like The Earth Builders' Guild and there's more than one ONE! one way to span a window.

Check out the section in Gary Wee's website entitled "Architect Package" and revel in the variety of

Lintel Types:
1. Bondbeam (Can be concrete or wood) Note A: This is the actual bond beam that is on top of the rammed earth

2. Wood beams (heavy timber) Southwest Style

3. Decorative concrete (Cast stone texture)

4. Steel

5. No Lintel

with photographic examples and in some cases, STAMPED ENGINEERED DRAWINGS and CALCULATIONS!

Print 'em out, share them with your engineer friends.

Bravo Gary Wee! I salute you!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

If You're Ever Down In Texas

Texas Toast, Texas Tea, and now Texas Rammed Earth!

Texas means BIG.

Texas means "can do"--more specifically "you can do." And you can do it yourself!

Here's a great web site from the Lone Star State.

We are Bill & Stephen Betzen, a father and son team who started the planning process in 2004 to build a rammed earth home in Dallas, Texas by 2009. We are on schedule. We want to share research we have done and make connections with similarly interested Do It Yourself (DIY) people also interested in rammed earth construction and benefits.

Did you catch that: they are on schedule *and* they want to share research and make connections with the similarly interested. Guess what else--they are building 2 (two) stories! TEXAS SIZED!

It would appear that they went to a RAMMED EARTH TRAINING COURSE with Quentin Branch. Mr. Branch's site can be viewed here.

Mr. Branch charges $375 for his course. No, not $6000, but $375. He appears to be teaching a course September 30th through October 2nd.

A rammed earth course for $375 in a dry climate during the month of September. Hmmm.

What We Do

When not grappling with the conceptual disjunct of insurers and lending institutions, we're on the virtual look out for other rammed earth builders. For the next several posts, we shall share said links and hopefully in so doing, make the the following points clear:

1. RAMMED EARTH IS FOR *EVERYONE* (not just the ultra mega rich)

2. THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO FORM A WALL (despite what your ethics professor may tell you)

3. PEOPLE ARE RAMMING EARTH ALL OVER THE WORLD, ALL THE TIME. (belly up to the sneeze guard and take a look)

(Group hug everyone.)

Lets begin!

Beautiful! The South West vernacular and rammed earth go together like soup and sandwich. When you see HUSTON's great work you wonder why anyone would go with that synthetic stucco santa-fake nonsense. Thank goodness firms like Huston are fighting the good fight and getting the job done.