Monday, January 30, 2006


No no, not Heckler and Koch silly, the letters 'H' and 'K' are next in our "secondary bibliography."

"Houses Built of Earth," Architectural Record, Vol. 80, p. 323, October 4, 1936.

"Houses Built of Rammed Earth," Literary Digest, Vol. 65, p. 21, April 24, 1920.

"How Germans Build Mud Houses," Popular Science, Vol 151, p. 156, May, 1950.

Kauten, Mat and Marie, "We'll Build It of Rammed Earth," Woman's Home Companion, p. 62, February, 1949.

Kirmser, E., "Why Not Dirty Houses," American Mercury, p. 86, July, 1947.

* * *

WOMAN'S HOME COMPANION. Isn't that a magazine for WOMEN? (Hey, if women can do this work, how hard can it be, right?)

From this, two models emerge.

One model finds a group of construction Huns, filthy and accesorized beyond recognition. Eating Timbits and guzzling "coffee" by the quart (despite warnings from their personal naturopath) they dream of the day when they are the Kenneth Lay of their own regional rammed earth monopolies--finally able to let jobs run over time and well over budget with that all too familiar narcisism and caprice that somehow has become an i-n-t-e-g-r-a-l (not intrical, dummy) part of the building experience.

The other model finds a group of ladies armed with copies of Women's Home Companion. After thanking their God that The War is over (for the time being at least) they organize, co-operate and together plan a sensible path towards affordable, long lasting, environmentally sensible homes that can be passed on to future generations next 500 years.

Which model for earth building most closely resembles your "core values"?


"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored"

Aldous Huxley

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Later That Month

Not long ago we shared with you the news that these humble blocks made of 1 part 3/4 minus, 1 part sand, 1 part limestone tailings and 5% cement earned a compressive strength test rating of 10.25 MPA (1525 PSI) after 14 days. (They like to break them every few weeks to see how strong they get after time.)

14 days later (28 days total) the compressive strength is 12.51 MPA (1814 PSI)

That's an increase of 2.26 MPA (or 327 PSI) in 14 days.

(Hey, aren't there some walls out there where 327 PSI is the total compressive strength?)

This good news was enough to inspire test cylinders made with 3% cement--just like Rick Joy's 2 story Convent Avenue studios in Tucson Arizona.

We'll let you know when we get them crushed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

And Back Again

In the grand bibliography, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z are all represented, but chances are if a title like:

"How To Build Your Home of Earth" by Kirkham, John Edward

isn't part of your present reality, then I don't imagine H. F. Winterkorn's "Physico-Chemical Testing of Soils and Application of the Results in Practice" isn't going to part of your future reality. (A couple bags of cement, mix it all about a giv'er, right?)

And so we're off to the "secondary bibliography" for even more digestible titles for the concept-chewing impaired. Enjoy!

Dacy, H. G., "Rammed Earth Lowers House Cost," Popular Mechanics, Chicago, Ill., p. 838, November, 1924.

(that's Popular Mechanics. Remember Popular Mechanics?)

Effect of Soil Texture Upon the Physical Characteristics of Adobe Bricks. Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station Bulliten No. 58, p. 275, 1935.

"Experimental Results with Rammed Earth Construction," Agricultural Engineering, November, 1934.

"Experimental Soil-Cement Stabilization at Sheboygan, Michigan," Reprint Series No. 12, Department of Engineering Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1938. 32 pages.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Rant # 2


If in conversation someone says “I’m a green builder” or “I build green buildings” or “I build eco savvy” it is safe to assume : a) they are lying and they know it or b) they are lying and they don’t know it.

Either instance is regrettable; the first because it reinforces the age old stereotype about The Trades disproportionately suffering from the capitalist malaise of deception-as-necessary-foundation for economic transaction. The second because it indicates your builder is the one who is deceived--an unwitting dupe of the conspiracy spreading a false ecological gospel for profit.

Though the eminent Alan Weisman has asked, few have taken him up on thinking about what earth would look like if there weren’t any people.

Of all God’s creatures, man is the filthiest. Man is unique in that aspect. If it is true that man genetically differ from ape by only one or two lines of DNA code, then that's some code!

What other living organism has done more to soil where it lives than man? Apes have never poured concrete foundations atop viable and living top soil, neither have dolphins nor whales. However, we do keep apes in concrete and steel zoos, and frequently perform “activities” in the oceans that cause dolphins and whales to commit mass suicide demonstrations in the form of beaching themselves (as it certainly can't be human made waves that are killing them.)





There is nothing green about running a compressor for 8 hours a day for 2 months—even on bio-diesel.

There is nothing green about running a skid-steer to mix your soils. And while it is true that sometimes the skid-steer leaks a bright green liquid into the ground, unfortunately that isn’t green either.

There is nothing green about the amount of embodied energy used to make fancy pneumatic tampers.

There isn’t anything green about any rigid insulation that I’ve been able to find.

There is nothing what so ever green about cement—even at 3%. Nothing says ‘Babylon’ like concrete.


At best we can say earth building is brown-building. It consumes less of the death-culture’s products and represents far less embodied energy. Dirt comes from a pit. Tyvek comes from I don’t know where.

Let us crawl from this ocean of self deception, slough off our tails of avarice and proceed with bi-pedal dignity and sense of stewardship to higher ground. “Green building” makes as much sense as “gentle fistfight.” In that knowing, let us do all that we humanly can (what with our big brains and all) to bring the embodied energy as close to zero as possible. Let us in the meantime use as little of that disgusting polluting cement in our earth buildings as possible. Let us really scrutinize what other chemical additives are put in the soil mix. Let us re-use form work. Let us always be on the lookout for ways to make the earth building experience more in keeping with the wild eyed notion that resources are dwindling and that the ecology of the planet is fragile.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ecological Atrocities And "Embeds"

In the course of doing all your color sample blocks (which is easy to do--one need not go to school for that activity) you will invariably have additional leftover material. At some job sites, contractors will simply make a gigantic wasteful pile of the leftover non-compacted soil-cement mix.

Surprising? Horrifying? Yes and Yes. (Even more horrible is the notion that some rammed earth contractors would be so cavalier and priggish to burn the formwork once the job is done, but that is too gross to even contemplate at this juncture.)

Why not put what ever leftover material to good use?

Here is a "fun box" of left over soil. Fun! Use your imagination! If you were mixing several yards at a time and had an extra yard of waste at every turn, certianly one could make a delightful retaining wall, pillar, steppingstone--your imagination and your avarice are the only constraints!

And what's that in the middle? Why that's a piece of Fluorite that was put in the form and rammed into the block. No it's not hard--I'm living proof that any moron can do it.

What do you mean your rammed earth professional wants to charge you extra for each embed? What kind of crap is that? (Alas, I think we all know exactly what kind of crap it is.)

Nevertheless, embeds are easy easy easy and fun fun fun! Here's what I did. Pay attention:

Put thing to "embed" up against the form, ram soil mixture against and around. Repeat.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Joe Dahmen of MIT was kind enough to answer some questions about himself, the Great Wall of MIT and his thoughts on rammed earth in general.

Read on!

1. Tell us a little about you: your background, education, interests, what you do now, how you came to do it.

JD: I am a Master of Architecture Student in my final semester at MIT. Prior to coming to MIT I worked as a carpenter in Portland Oregon and a builder in Marfa, Texas, where I worked on projects with traditional unstabilized adobe bricks.

2. When and how were you first exposed to rammed earth?

JD: Last year I traveled to Andalucia, Spain, to research a paper on Moorish Bridges built of stone. During an interview with an archaeologist in Algeciras he pointed out walls of a fortification over 1300 years old built of rammed earth (which they call tapial). I was intrigued that walls could last that long without the addition of concrete or any other energy-intensive products.

3. How did the MIT wall come about? What was your role in that?

JD: Following my return to MIT I showed some slides of the rammed earth in Andalucia to Professor Ochsendorf, my advisor, who has been interested in rammed earth for some time as an environmentally sustainable alternative to concrete. We drew up a proposal to evaluate the feasibility of using rammed earth in New England and received research funding form the Boston Society of Architects about a month later. As the project moved forward we wanted to locate the test wall in a publicly accessible place, which turned out to be the courtyard of an MIT building at 275 Massachusetts Avenue. The wall actually fills dual functions, reclaiming a disused courtyard for the School of Architecture while providing evidence about weathering and appearance of rammed earth. We proposed to build the wall there and received funding from the School of Architecture, MIT Council for the Arts, and a variety of other sources within MIT. Eventually we also attracted funding from Sasaki Associates, Inc., an international architecture firm with an office in Boston that is interested in sustainable building methods.

4. Can you talk about the soil selection process? Why did you use the soil you used? What kind of soil analysis did you perform? Did you do any compressive strength tests?

JD: I had read a number of books that suggested that portland cement was not necessary if the clay content of the soil was high enough, although in the US it is standard practice to add at least 5% portland cement to satisfy building codes. During the spring I traveled to Europe (supported by a grant from MIT and the Architectural League of NY) to view historic and contemporary rammed earth buildings in climates similar to that of New England. Many rammed earth buildings in the Rhone Valley of France are 300 years old and were built with soil straight out of the ground. On the same trip I interviewed Martin Rauch and Roland Keable, two of the foremost contemporary rammed earth builders in Europe, both of whom suggested that the use of Portland cement was not necessary if proper detailing is used and the clay content is high enough (approximately 30%).

Initially we wanted to use a site soils, but the wall is sited on filled marshland of the Charles River, so the soil has almost no clay at all. I visited a number of quarries and stone yards as well as construction sites where excavation was going on looking for suitable soil sources, but the soil for around 10 miles around Cambridge has very little clay in general. Eventually we decided to engineer the soil from a mixture of Boston Blue Clay and sand and gravel. Boston Blue Clay is a marine clay deposited about 10-15,000 years ago that is prevalent at depths of 30-60 feet beneath grade all over the city. Anytime a large building is built they have to dispose of the clay after excavating for the foundation.

We performed a number of proctor compaction tests to find the optimal moisture content for compaction. Also we did some spalling tests by freezing samples, as well as unconfined compression tests. Following these tests we were able to convince a local building firm to donate 12 tons of the clay from a building site at Harvard, about a mile away.

5. How was the City of Cambridge with regards to this project? Did you need a permit? Did you need to have an engineers report? Who did the engineering?

JD: We did the engineering for the wall; the permit system in Cambridge states that no permit is required for masonry walls 6' high and under. So we built it 6' high.

6. Can you talk about the foundation? I saw in one picture what appeared to be concrete piers. What's going on there?

JD: The wall rests on a pier and beam foundation of reinforced concrete. This allowed use to save approximately 80% of the concrete that would have been used in a continuous footing, while still providing resistance to heaving from frost. The posts penetrate 5' below grade (Frost line is approx. 4' in New England) with flared bottoms to spread out the weight.

7. Can you talk about the wall structurally? How much rebar is in there? How thick was the rebar? How far apart did it have to be spaced? Have you had any problems with Cracking?

JD: The wall is completely unreinforced. We have see a small amount of cracking at the cold joints (where different compacted sections come together) in the wall but otherwise it is doing fine.

8. Who designed the form work? How difficult was it to form up the wall?

JD: I designed the formwork, with the help of Shuji Suzumori, who helped build the wall as he was researching his Masters thesis on concrete formwork. It was pretty straightforward; the relatively small size of the wall (two sections, each approx. 30' long) meant that we did not try to slipform it, but rather built one side, compacted it, and moved that formwork to the other side. We did change from horizontal to vertical walers in the second section.

9. What are your thoughts on rammed earth as a material for home building? Do you think rammed earth will ever account for 1% of all new homes building in north America? Why or why not? What stands in the way?

JD: I think that there is great potential for rammed earth in many different markets in the United States, including housing. However, rammed earth, like any material, is not a panacea-- it should be used only if it is appropriate to the concerns of a particular project. For the applications where rammed earth is appropriate, two things stand in the way: economics and attitudes. By mechanizing the process we hope to address the former; the latter is already changing. According to Rick Joy, a rammed earth is becoming a status symbol in the Tucson area. As more architects use the technique to create striking contemporary designs, the appeal will only increase. Certainly environmental concerns will only grow more important as time goes on.

10. Do you have any rammed earth plans for the future?

JD: We are now developing a proposal for rammed earth sound barriers along interstate highways in Massachusetts and elsewhere

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Soil, Sand, Stabilization, Super!

Sheets, Frank T., and Catton, Miles D., "Basic Principles of Soil-Cement Mixtures," Engineering News-Record, Vol. 19, June 23, 1938

Soil Stabilization in Tropical Areas for Mass Construction of Cheap Permanent Housing. Ideas and Methods Exchange No. 9, Item J, International Housing Activities Staff, U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency, Washington 25, D. C., May, 1953

(There it is again, that "cheap, permanent housing." How the hell are we ever wrap this planet in vinal with this concept "cheap, permanent housing" nonsense lingering about?)

"Stabilized Earth Wall Construction," Colonial Building Notes No. 9, United Kingdom Building Research Station, Watford, Herts, England, August, 1952. 12 pages.

Surface Finishes of Stabilized Earth Walls, Ideas and Methods Exchange No. 14, Item G. International Housing Activities Staff, U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency, Washington 25, D. C., March 1954.

Monday, January 16, 2006

R is for Wilhelm Reich!

In his book Ether, God and Devil/Cosmic Superimposition Wilhelm Reich (among so very many other great things) had this to say:

About thirty years ago, when orgonomic functionalism began to ask the first naive questions about human life, no one guessed that the issue of "what is life?" was being raised. The questions were simple and logical, and the answers where sharp and offensive to the world of the static and the absolute. Let us compile some of these naive questions:

(at which point Reich goes through the list. Here are just a few)

Why is it so hard for truth to assert itself against lies and defamation? Why is it not the other way around, that lies have to assert themselves against the truth?

Why does man hate every new, correct thought? Surely his life would be better, and not worse, if he thought correctly. Does man think at all? Or is correct thinking a special talent?

How is it possible that millions of industrious people can be oppressed by a handful of rulers?

Why does the average person evade serious questions that go to the heart of the matter?

(Reich makes this final observation)

The reader who has honestly thought about human life will now better understand why the true scholar and artistic creator is always outside the familiar. Not because he wants it that way, but because he must be outside if he is to accomplish anything, if he wants to avoid falling into the trap of the large errors of thinking.

Does this have anything to do with rammed earth or housing? I didn't think so.


R is for, uh, um, uh...

Rammed Earth, Special Issue, Housing and Town and Country Planning Bulletin No. 4,
United Nations, New York, p.5, October 1950. Articles:
1. "Rammed Earth Technique in France," A. Marini.
2. "Rammed Earth Technique in the United States," L. W. Neubauer.
3. "Rammed Earth Technique in West Africa," A. E. S. Alcock.
4. "Training course for Building Rammed Earth Houses in Nyasaland," P. Williams

"Rammed Earth Building Improved in Australia," American Builder, p. 182, May, 1950

"Rammed Earth Construction--Supplementary Information," Consumers Research, Inc., 1940

"Rammed Earth for Farm Building Walls," Agricultural Engineering, January, 1934.

Rammed Earth Walls. South Dakota State College, Agricultural Experiment Station Circular 149, April, 1959.

Rammed Earth Walls in House Construction, Experiences in Indonesia. Ideas and Methods Exchange No. 15, Item J, International Housing Activities Staff, U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency, Washington 25, D. C., May 1954

Results on Experiments on Stabilizing Soil That Is to Be Used as a Building Material in Iran. Ideas and Methods Exchange No. 51, International Housing Activities Staff, U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency, p. 6, September, 1958.

Rosenak, S., "The Use of Soil-Cement for Low Cost Housing in the Tropics," Civil Engineering and Public Works Review, Vol. 52, October, 1957

Hey gang, here's a question: When do you think the U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency will fund their next study on Stabilized Soil building in Iran?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

M Again

The Millers the Millers the Millers. How could we forget David and Lydia Miller?

Perhaps you remember REII or the Rammed Earth Institute International, a Non-Profit corporation dedicated to:

bringing together those interested in research on rammed earth in all its phases...

Searching for all publications on rammed earth and preparing a World Wide Bibliography on rammed earth...

Public education on the advantages of rammed earth compared to all other building materials in cost, availability, comfort and durability

Conduct, sponsor and support scientific research of rammed earth as a building material
...and so on and so forth--you know, that kind of open source left crap that insults our better proprietary monopolist pay-day instincts.

The Millers also wrote a book, most likely long since out of print. I found it at this crazy free book store called the library. But if you hate the library because it cuts into private sector profits, you might be able to purchase a copy here.

In doing virtual (as opposed to actual) research on the Millers, I came across this article from Mother Earth News, Jan/Feb 1980.

While I am certain you'll want to read the entire article, here are some "nibblies:"

You see, because rammed earth has such a low rate of thermal conductivity (it's actually near zero), warmth takes almost 12 hours to work its way through a 14"-thick wall.

In addition, the compressional strength of rammed earth can be as high as 625 PSI, which—though it's only two-thirds the value of a similar thickness of concrete—still makes a rammed earth building nearly as durable as a bomb shelter.

Then— in 1938— the U.S. Department of Agriculture actually erected an experimental community of rammed earth buildings. The results of that test were quite positive: The USDA's final report noted that rammed earth structures—which would last indefinitely— could be built for as little as two-thirds the cost of standard frame houses. The earthen abodes were also shown to be considerably less expensive to heat and cool, and—because the homes were labor (as opposed to material) intensive—it was clear that they would allow do-it-yourselfers plenty of opportunity to save money.

We can only speculate as to why postwar America snubbed the rammed earth concept: Perhaps the modest pise technique seemed too basic in the face of our newly formed technocracy. Or it may have been the construction industry—which depends so heavily on material intensive methods for its livelihood—that helped deprive rammed earth of its rightful position in building. Furthermore, the public's then increasing yen for miracle synthetics certainly had something to do with the lack of acceptance for so "earthy" a technique....

Perhaps the best feature of rammed earth is that almost anyone can build with it! As you'll see in the sidebar, constructing the massive walls is actually rather easy, and most people have the necessary raw materials in their own back yards! And, if you're willing to supply the labor, a rammed earth dwelling can be far less expensive than a conventional (energy inefficient) house of the same size.

According to Lydia and Dave, rammed earth homes lend themselves particularly well to construction on the community level. Because digging, sifting, and tamping the earth requires a relatively extensive amount of labor, a work exchange arrangement among a number of potential rammed earth builders can offer a way to construct pise dwellings quickly and economically. Better yet, the spirit of such a group effort harks back to the days of house raisings in the formative years of our country

Ah the "formative years" of our country. Thank goodness they're long gone! Heck, even as late as the 80's some "dangerous elements" were "fucking with the formula" with notions like Perhaps the best feature of rammed earth is that almost anyone can build with it! That kind of talk is most certainly not going to goose along the global economy, nor is it going to sell anything that's "laser cut." And after all, isn't that the end game: laser beams, monopolies and the separation of labor into it's most absurd, isolated constituents?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

N Is For Not A Lot Of N

N is also for Nk'Mip, but that's another story for another time.

P is rich with content and entries. (Say that out loud in a crowded room.)

Patty, Ralph L. Clay Soil Unfavorable for Rammed Earth Walls. South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 298, March, 1936. 23 pages.

(what would our friends at MIT have to say about that?)

Patty, Ralph L., "Soil Admixtures for Earth Walls," Agricultural Engineering, p. 291, September, 1942.

Patty, Ralph L., "Specifications for Rammed Earth Construction," Agricultural Engineering, p. 476, November, 1936

Patty, Ralph L., and Minimum, L. W. Rammed Earth Walls for Farm Buildings. South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletins No. 277, April, 1933. 67 pages.

"Proceedings of the Conference on Soil Stabilization," Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1952.

"Pneumatic Tamping in Rammed Earth Wall." Agricultural Engineering, St. Joseph, Mich., August 1929.

"The Properties of Compacted Soil and Soil Cement Mixtures for Use in Building." T. L. Webb., T. F. Cilliers, and N. Sutterheim. National Building Research Institute, South African Council on Scientific and Industrial Rresearch, Pretoria 1950, Series DR2.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


M is an exciting letter in the rammed earth lexicon.

First, some bibliographic entries beginning with M:

Mehra, S. H., "Soil Stabilization in Tropical Areas for Mass Construction of Cheap Permanent Housing,"
Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering
Switzerland, Vol. 1, p. 272, 1953.

(um, hello, that just said "Mass Construction of Cheap Permanent Housing." When was the last time you heard anyone say "cheap" and "permanent" in a good way?)

Mehra, S. R., and Uppal, H. L., "Use of Stabilized Soil in Engineering Construction,"
Journal of the Indian Roads Congress, Vol. 15, p. 184, August, 1950

Merrill, Anthony F. The Rammed Earth House. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947

Most of all, M is for our dear, departed Samuel Mockbee:

"The professional challenge, whether one is an architect in the rural American South or elsewhere in the world, is how to avoid being so stunned by the power of modern technology and economic affluence that one does not lose sight of the fact that people and place matter....

For me, these small (Rural Studio) projects have in them the architectural essence to enchant us, to inspire us, and ultimately, to elevate our profession. But more importantly, they remind us of what it means to have an American architecture without pretense. They remind us that we can be as awed by the simple as by the complex and that if we pay attention, this will offer us a glimpse into what is essential to the future of American Architecture: Its honesty. ' Love your neighbor as yourself.'

This is the most important thing because nothing else matters. In doing so, an architect will act on a foundation of decency which can be built upon. Go above and beyond the call of a 'smoothly functioning conscience'; help those who aren't likely to help you in return, and do so even if nobody is watching!'

Mockbee's Mason's Bend Community Center is as proud a rammed earth work as any--and beautifully documented in Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and An Architecture of Decency.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Oh Alright, One More

Anyone interested in Understanding Stabilized Earth Construction?

What a great paper. Easy to read, easy to understand. From the good people at VITA.

Is it not amazing how the same rammed earth that takes care of business for the richest 1/10th of 1% of all humanity is, at the same time, thought of (and employed) as a viable housing option for the poorest of the poor in developing countries all over the world?

And Another!

Inhabitat is a great site, and by "great" I mean there's posts like this:

In the Urca neighborhood near the base of Sugarloaf mountain and the shores of Rio de Janeiro, architect Alexandra Lichtenberg tackled a remodeling project that demonstrates that being green isn't the exclusive domain of high-cost, luxury residences and backwoods off-grid dwellings. A good green remodel is within reach of the average well-intentioned homeowner in the average urban neighborhood anywhere in the world, and the EcoHouse proves it.

Lets hear it for Alexandra Lichtenberg!

We just got a nice note from saying they have linked this site to their site, is a great site. Hey, go see for your self--take the time and visit our friends at

While you're there, make sure you read the article about the wall built by a group from MIT. Their wall is 70 feet long, 6 feet tall and 1.5 feet thick. They made it using a combination of 30 percent Boston Blue Clay mixed with sand and gravel.

That's 30 percent clay mixed with sand and gravel. The only mention made of cement is thus:

Dahmen and Ochsendorf, who say that a conservative estimate attributes 7 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide to the production of cement, the primary ingredient in concrete.

"The Short Story"

The short story:

Frame wall v. "insulated bamboo SRE"
framed rammed
Initial capital cost (materials) $8550 $10,560
Initial capital cost (labour) $11,000 $20,000
Initial capital cost (total) $19,550 $30,560
Initial capital cost (total) $122/lin.ft. $191/lin.ft

Read all about it here.

Oh, and those were 1997 dollars.

Let's Get Abstract!

Here's an abstract of a wonderful abstract found here: written by Van Stephan Burroughs in fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales.

"The results show that over 90% of the variation in stabilised strength and density of the samples is due to variation in soil properties, with differences in stabiliser type or stabiliser quantity being relatively minor."


"The most important soil properties explaining stabilized strength are linear shrinkage (linear shrinkage) and plasticity index"

say what now?

"These results stress the importance of selecting a soil favourably predisposed to stabilisation. Field techniques to search for such soils could be refined on the basis of the new soil criteria presented. Use of the criteria should also minimise unnecessary laboratory testing of the density and strength of soils that subsequently prove unsuitable for stabilisation. A flow chart is presented to guide practitioners through the different stages of soil testing, assessment, and rammed earth stabilisation."

Now Hold On Just One Minute!

Canada. Oh Canada!

I ask you. Who is making rammed earth on Canada? Is there anyone? Is there only one?

Without really trying, I found myself reading the sage words of Owen A. Rose. (hey, is that 4" rigid insulation inside that wall there on page three?)

Who is this Owen A. Rose you ask?

I asked the same question. He seems to go to McGill and he seems to be rich in sage words.

Looking a little further, I saw this interesting bibliography.

But who is he? In word, he seems like someone worth knowing. (Though we should all know by now cheap talk is, and how expensive rammed earth can be.)

Ladies and gentlemen, Owen A. Rose!

I am interested in how to express architecture in tactile human terms. It seems quite simple, but I would argue that the "efficiencies" of globalizationon have not brought us healthy architecture in which to live and work. My goal is to reinvigorate our sense of dwelling. I am fascinated by textures, sun shadows, graceful aging of materials, human scale, and ideally designs that feel as if they were the obvious and natural choice for a particular site. It is as much about learning how to live well as it is about creating living places. Of course these are lofty ideals, but I will argue that thesis is about "raising consciousness" and learning what more we can see, express, and do.

English 102

Our beloved rammed earth really is virtually everywhere. Indeed, there are really people all over the world who can speak with eloquence and confidence about what it can and cannot do. What with our modern information-oriented society, you have to really work hard not to hear the rammed earth gosple.

Here is a link to a "traditional research paper" about rammed earth.

And here is the author's abstract. (Anyone out there aware of the television shows mentioned below?)

My research paper, Rammed Earth Construction, is written in standard form.

I saw and video taped two Television shows (Beyond 2000 and A House For All Seasons) about rammed earth housing. This started me wondering about rammed earth construction. David Copperfield (a magician) on his television special, prior to transporting himself through The Great Wall of China , stated the Wall was the only man-made structure, on Earth, that can be seen with the naked eye from the moon. I filed this information in the back of my mind, and I was delighted when I found out portions of the Wall were made out of rammed earth.

In this paper I intend to show what rammed earth is, by going into the history, advantages, disadvantages, and the acceptance of rammed earth construction. I felt the above should be stated to give the reader a background in rammed earth construction, so that my thesis, "Why then, if rammed earth construction is so strong and so time-honored, hasn't this building method caught on in the United States?", would made sense. I have explained the situation and have speculated as to why rammed earth construction hasn't caught on in the United States.

In today's world of homeless people and ecological problems rammed earth can help, if it's not ignored.

—Robert O. Cassell, English 102, Spring 1993

The Difference Between Wet and Dry

One is wet, one is dry. The same mix. Can you possibly dig it?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

There's no 'I' in 'Rammed Earth'

Well, actually there is. In fact, there's an overabundance of "I" and "me" and "mine"--same as any other capitalist pursuit. Yes, yes, of course we are powerless over our own behavior and with out say in the choices we make. Yes, yes we've all heard it all before.

Could it be in that resignation there is no small amount of relief? Loosen that tie, take the belt out a notch and have a good splash just like everyone else.

Here's J and K and L

Johnson, A. Morgan, "Laboratory Experiments with Lime Soil Mixtures,"
Proceedings of the 28th Annual Meeting of the Highway Research Board,
Washington, D. C., December 1948

Kirkham, John Edward. How To Build Your Home of Earth.
Oklahoma A. and M. College, Engineering Experiment Station
Publication No. 54, 1943. 37 pages.

Koch, Alva E., "A Method of Soil Selection and Job Control for Rammed Earth Construction."
Unpublished M. S. thesis, Civil Engineering Department. A. and M. College of Texas
College Station, Texas, 1947

Lal, Manohar and Dhawan, B. L., "Use of Linseed Oil-Cake as a Stabilizer in Earth Construction"
Journal of the Indian Roads Congress, Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 273, May, 1955

Friday, January 06, 2006

A+ for Australia

A great link here which will take you to Australia's guide to environmentally sustainable homes.

While there, don't miss the link to EARTH BUILDING ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA as well as another exiciting bibliography.

It won't be to hard to find outstanding images of their "rough" way of doing things. Some of us like it rough. Clearly!

See and Believe

Here is the 1-1-1 mix in various colors in various concentrations.

It's quite a thing the difference in appearance between wet and dried rammed earth. As you might expect, it's much more vivid when wet.

It's been raining. There will be some wet block pictures soon.

Oh, and speaking of pictures, check this out. There's a bunch to see, so keep scrolling.

And while you're there, check out this and this and this too.

There's people doing this sort of thing all over the world, all the time, in all kinds of different ways at all different price points. There's something for EVERYONE.

G! H!

Glenn, H. E. Rammed Earth Building Construction.
Clemson College. Engineering Experiment Station Bulletin No. 3. 1945

Housing Bulletin No. 2 of the Albert Farwell Bemis Foundation Massachusettes Institute of Technology. Cambridge Mass., including:
1. "Solidification of Soil by Means of Chemicals." Supervisor, Professor T. William Lambe
2. "Stabilization of Soils with Calcium Acrylate." Reprint from Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, Vol. 38, No. 2. April, 1951
3. "The Stabilization of Soils by In-Situ Polymerization," Presented before the American Society of Civil Engineers in New York, October 26, 1951

Hutchenson, N. B., and Ball, W. H., "Thermal Conductivity of Rammed Earth,"
Report of Housing Research Committee, College of Engineering,
University of Saskatchewan, Canada (duplicated document), date unknown.

(I bet they could answer once and for all how rammed earth performes in cold climates)

One One One

14 day crush test is 10.7 mpa.

That's plenty strong. By all accounts, the compressive strength should only increase over time.

1-1-1, the gavel has fallen!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Contender Number Two Again

Here is the 1 part crush, 1 part crusher fines and 1 part sand with different amounts of lime. Hard to really see, I know.

A generalization:

the more lime, the more drama
the more sand the more uniformity.

Contender Number Two

These are made with "crusher fines." Apparently they are a "waste" product from the rock crushing process.

Crusher fines are of a uniform size (narrow particle size distribution.)

Crusher fines are sharp. They lock together. When ramming these test blocks with the crusher fines you can feel the difference.

Our supplier is looking for a way to get rid of them, and the area soil scientist seems to think they will work just fine. So why not?

Our First Contender

One part 3/4 minus, 1 part sand, 1 part limestone.

White cement on the left.

Gray cement on the right.

Solid citizen.

Can you dig it?

Cement Talk, One of Many

Cement. We all understand it to be the essence of Babylon, true? So in the end, after all the rationalizations

less cement = better,

Some builders say "use 10%." Sure. You are doing a great job. Cutting down Babylon by 90% is a stellar accomplishment.

But why not really hit a home run?

In Experimental Houses Nicolas Pople includes the Convent Avenue studios designed by architect and contractor Rick Joy.

Here's from the book

"Rammed earth is a building technology that uses no material or support other than itself. It is identical externally and internally, being one material with no layers--it thereby achieves an effect that modernists have often (and not always successfully) tried to achieve. Historically, its application is extremely diverse--about one fifth of the great wall of China is rammed earth; the Romans used it; and as well as being common in South and Central America, it was introduced by Moors in Europe around 1000AD. Building with rammed earth belongs to the vernacular tradition of the Tucson region and Joy has seen the potential for its present day application; allowing a large part of a building to be constructed simply with unskilled labour, and contrasting this with targeted areas for highly crafted elements."

(And for the technically inclined)

"In the Convent Avenue studios, the earth was cast monolithically into 450-mm (17 1/2 inch) slip forms in 250-mm (9 3/4 inch) lifts. On each lift, the carefully combined soils from three different local sources were mixed with 3 percent portland cement and then compacted to 50 percent of their original volume before being exposed prior to the next lift taking place."

By going to such extrordinary lengths as carefully combining soils from 3 different sources, Joy was able to get a compressive strength sufficient to build a two story structure using only three percent cement.

If your job required 50 bags of cement at 10% would it require 15 bags at 3 percent? (help me with the math someone.) Is that a difference of 35 bags? Even if you were getting your bags of cement for $10 a bag (that's a close figure, right?) you'd be saving $350. I'd pick that up if I saw it on the street. (Then I would change it all into one dollar bills and drop them like chum from the 2nd story of a shopping mall upon the shoppers below.)

So let's hear it for conscious, diligent soil science!

Oh, and last but not least

"The 969 sq ft units were priced at $90,000 per unit."

F again

Farmers Bulletin #1500. The one we've all heard about. It's not too hard to find.

The below can be found here.

Rammed Earth Walls for Buildings: Farmers Bulletin 1500
... This is the great 1926 edition with photos, drawings and complete low tech construction information on rammed earth. The US Government produced this booklet as a series, to show farmers and poor rural folks how to build a house from earth (pise' de terre). Praises rammed earth over cob for ease of construction. The building information, tools and formworks description needed for manual wall building are ideal for anyone wanting to learn this method. 26 pages, xerographic, b&w photos of houses and tools, formwords, plus sketches throughout. A very thorough little guide! #2012...$6.00
Rammed Earth Walls for Farm Buildings-1933, Bulletin 277 South Dakota State College. 67 pages, xerographic. This book extensively explores the soils and methods used for successful RE construction. Covers many plaster and finishing tests, with recommendations for lime, asphalt, cement "cream" and lindseed oil. Provides charts on aggregates % in soil for best compression, and other useful construction information from footings to roof. The Ag. Dept. built an experimental poultry house and recorded all experiments thoroughly to inform others on sucessful RE building. This booklet refers to #2012 Rammed Earth Walls, shown on the Adobe page, and to Ellington's "Modern Pise Buildings" from 1923 (see above). The photos are very poor due to xerography, but the text information is most valuable for anyone wanting to avoid problems during manual rammed earth building. 67 pages, booklet, xerographic, b/w photos and drawings. #277...$12.00

What the F?

F is for Fun!

Fun is learning about Rammed Earth which used to be considered a low cost housing alternative available to everyone, but is being marketed as something very complex and expensive.


How the F did we get so far from the fundamental truth of the medium (flexibility and feasibility) to the present macabre fascination with finance and formwork? Has this fantastic way of building fallen prey to the fallacies and failures of our post modern fuck-you-hooray-for-me way of doing things?

Fenton, F. C. Use of Earth as a Building Material.
Kansas State College, Engineering Experiment Station Bulletin No. 41, 1941. 34 pages.

Fitzmaurice, Robert. Manual on Stabilized Soil Construction for Housing.
Technical Assistance Program, United Nations, New York, 1958. 125 pages

Fitzmaurice, Robert, and Rosenak, S. Experiments on Stabilized Soil Wall Construction in Burma.
Technical Assistance Administration, United Nations, New York, 1956.

E is for Everybody Can Educate Themselves!

The hits just keep on coming! And for FREE!

Did all this information get thrown into the vinyl smelter back in the 60's? Was it all being kept in the basement of the World Trade Towers? Certainly it must exist somewhere!

Earth for Homes. Ideas and Methods Exchange No. 22,
International Housing Activities Staff, U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency,
Washington 25, D.C., March 1955

Earth Manual--A Manual on the Use of Earth Materials for Foundation and Construction Purposes
U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, Denver, Colorado, 1951. 332 pages

"Earth Wall Construction,"
Part I "Choice of Soil and Methods of Construction." No. SB 13, undated.
Part II "Rammed Earth" No. SB 18, June 1951.
Part III "Adobe Blocks (Puddled Earth)," No. SB 20, Undated.
Part IV "Stabilized Earth" No. SB 22, March 1952.
All 4 publications are Notes on the Science of Building.
Chatswood, N. S. W., Australia: Commonwealth Experimental Building Station
Department of Works and Housing

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pretty Pretty

The material with which we are going to build our house all comes from one supplier. The materials under consideration are

1. 3/4 minus (dirty road base)
2. "crusher fines" (a fairly uniform mid sized by product from his crusher machine)
3. sand
4. limestone tailings

The code you see written on the blocks is easy and fun to decode. You can do it! You are doing a great job already!

"1 mc" stands for 1 part Manuel's 3/4
"1 mcf" stands for 1 part Manuel's "crusher fines"
"1 ms" stands for 1 part Manuel's sand
"2 l" stands for 2 parts Manuel's lime

5% G means there is 5% by volume of grey cement. 5% W means white cement by volume.

Whoa, hold on! By volume? Aren't you supposed to be doing this by weight? Well, yes. But in the amounts I am mixing (5-7 Litres on average) the difference is very small. For the application (looking at appearance) the exact cement content isn't crucial.

It becomes crucial for the crush test cylinders (another topic for another post.)

From these pictures it becomes apparent that rammed earth can come in a wide variety of finishes and colors.

If I was going to be the head of a rammed earth builders guild or association, one of the first things I would do would be to create a library of possible rammed earth mixtures for my given region. I would make the blocks, collect the particle size distribution data, and do the crush tests. All that data should be collected. Clients and interested owner/builders should be able to look at as gigantic an assortment of rammed earth mixtures as they could paint chips. And that book of "paint chips" should be on the web, available for EVERYONE who is interested.

Certainly I'm not the first one to think of this. Certainly something like this already exists.


Rant # 1

Let's talk about making forming systems out of garbage instead of creating some new fangled forming systems that will eventually become garbage.

(Timeless favorite: What can I buy to help save the planet?)

Here's the million billion dollar idea: A forming system made of/from wood shipping pallets.

The Way to Win:

Use our powerful brains to give new life to old crap rather than choking the planet with new crap!

Save the Planet--Spay and Neuter your Capitalist/Monopolist/Imperialist ambitions!

(Go to the pound and find an animal companion in need and love them instead!)

Low Embodied Energy means less smoke coming out of the smoke stack!

Hello There!

You never know what you'll find on the internet.

Like this:

"I have been seriously promoting Rammed Earth Homes for a long time as the only Raw Eco Organic house available and should be the next big industry in America and World, there is NO outgassing or pollution like in other homes because there is no wood or toxic materials used, so the air is very clean and pure like our food and there is no cut trees just natural soil and earth! It is the MOST eco and natural Raw Organic home possible a tourist attraction with Raw Cuisine is a natural success!"

Read more about it here. Just scroll down a bit. You'll find it.

(It would also go great with a restaurant that specialized in Offal)

Brought To You by the Letter C (Cheap) and D (Durable)

A Cheap Hard Floor of Earth Stabilized with Portland Cement
Ideas and Methods Exchange No. 1,
International Housing Activities Staff, U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency
Washington 25, D. C., November, 1952

Cytryn, S.
Soil Construction, Its Principles and Application for Housing
Ministry of Labor, Housing Division.
State of Israel, December 1956, 183 pages

Davidson, D. T., and Ewing, C. B., Jr.
Application of Cement Stabilized Soil to One Story Building Construction
Iowa State Collete: Department of Civil Engineering.
Engineering Division, 1957. 66 pages.

Delong, H. H.
Rammed Earth Walls.
South Dakota State College, Agricultural Experiment Station Circular 149,
April, 1959. 20 pages

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

For Whom is Rammed Earth?

Rammed Earth is for Everyone!


Even the poor and those living and working in the agricultural sector of the economy! Can you believe it? Pfft you say?

Here are some interesting Bibliographic entries. They were found in a book in a library. Libraries are really something, eh? It's like the internet without surveillance or electricity. Crazy, I know!

Some of these titles suggest that not only is rammed earth for everyone, but has been around for a long time--before the lozenge shape had emerged as the principal design feature/mandate of the day. Can you even imagine life before the lozenge? What's next, composting human waste?

Stay tuned for the "C" entries!

Batts, M.C. and Miller, T.A.H.
Rammed Earth Walls for Buildings.
Farmers Bulletin No. 1500,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1937.

Biggs, Charles and Causing, Humbert.
"The Application of Soil Stabilization to Low-Cost Housing."
M.S. Thesis in Engineering,
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
133 pages, date unknown.

Burkhart, Edsel J.
Investigation of Soils and Building Techniques for Rammed Earth Construction
A. & M. College of Texas
Engineering Experiment Station Research report No. 6, 1949.

Burma Mission's Experience with Stabilized Earth Block
Ideas and Methods Exchange No. 19
International Housing Activities Staff, U. S. Housing and Home Finance Agency
Washington 25, D. C., October 1954

Burrows, Blair Action.
Building with Mud, Rammed Earth or Pise de Terre.
Ontario Department of Lands and Forests
Toronto Canada, 46 pages, n.d.

Rammed Earth Is For Everyone

Rammed Earth is for Everyone!

Rammed Earth for ME!

Rammed Earth for YOU!

Billionaires Need Not Apply!

Millionaires Need Not Apply!

"Forward Forever, Backwards Never"

Test blocks. Make them in as many different color and ingredient texture as possible. It is the walls you are left with, nothing else.

When the formwork is but a pile of "eco" ashes, and the madness of the process but another repressed trauma, you will be left with the walls. 500 years those walls will stand.

How long will the Ford Probe survive? Not nearly as long as the walls. So why would anyone hurry through the soil selection process?