Editorial Feature

Is There a Rammed Earth Revival?

According to some experts and commentators, rammed earth is undergoing something of a revival currently in architecture as the desire for more eco-friendly structures becomes more commonplace. This article will discuss what rammed earth construction is and explore this seeming revival of this ancient building practice.

Rammed Earth Revival, rammed earth building

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What is Rammed Earth Construction?

Humans have used many different types of building materials throughout history, with new materials regularly emerging and falling out of favor. Whilst the modern built environment has largely been constructed out of concrete, brick, and steel, there is a growing desire for more eco-friendly architecture as the evidence of the impact of humans on the environment has become more apparent.

Rammed earth is an ancient building technique that is commonplace in hotter, drier climes, taking advantage of local resources. Aggregates such as mud, soil, sand, silt, gravel, and clay are combined and rammed together into a formwork. Once the formwork is removed, stable, strong walls that can withstand the elements are created.

Traditional wooden poles are used to ram the materials together. However, modern methods utilize more efficient mechanical rams. This ancient construction method has piqued the interest of many experts and commentators in the architecture and construction industries in recent years.

Rammed Earth as a Building Material: Benefits and Challenges

Rammed earth construction has environmental benefits for the modern construction industry. Depending on the materials used and their provenance, it is a less carbon-intensive approach than using alternatives such as concrete and steel. Rammed earth buildings have much less embodied carbon than their counterparts.

Rammed earth buildings can also be seen as a more interesting form of architecture with aesthetic benefits. The appearance of rammed earth walls varies depending on the types of aggregate materials used, with different color variations, though typically, buildings constructed of rammed earth will be red/orange in hue.

Another aesthetic benefit for some people is the “layered” appearance of rammed earth structures, which reflects the methods used to build them. Variations in the materials used create a striped effect once the walls dry. Whilst this is attractive for some, not everyone likes the look of them. However, this process is controllable, lessening the layered appearance typical of rammed earth construction.

Rammed earth has a number of properties that make it beneficial for buildings. It has suitable load-bearing capabilities and compressive strength, is a good insulator, and is durable in the right conditions. However, there are some drawbacks to the method, which make its use challenging for architects and professionals.

Firstly, rammed earth structures can be prone to cracking over time, and the use of reinforcement bars, whilst structurally sound, may encounter difficulties when ramming the earth/aggregate mix around them. To overcome this challenge, careful design must be employed during construction.

Providing insulation whilst retaining thermal mass benefits also requires careful design. Insulating the outside of the structure protects the material whilst ensuring residents benefit from its thermal mass properties. Moreover, protecting rammed earth buildings in wetter climates is highly challenging. Good design and water-repellent additives can help in this respect.

Making the Case for Rammed Earth Architecture

Traditionally, rammed earth has been looked down upon as a construction method and is even associated with poverty by some experts and commentators. However, its ecological credentials and fast construction time could outweigh these opinions. There is even the possibility that it could be used at scale for housing schemes and office blocks with the right preparation and material choice.

Indeed, there are many notable examples throughout history of durable, large-scale structures that incorporate rammed earth: take, for example, the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and many examples in the UK that are over a couple of centuries old.

Rammed earth structures can also take advantage of many different types of aggregate material, such as crushed and recycled concrete, stone, and brick. Locally sourced materials can further reduce embodied carbon. These structures are in keeping with the circularity aims of the construction industry and could help meet its net zero emissions targets.

Some Notable Examples of Rammed Earth Construction From the Past Few Years

Increasing interest in rammed earth architecture has led to the design of some intriguing, forward-thinking projects utilizing this ancient construction practice in recent years. This section will explore some notable examples.

Tembo Tembo Lodge, South Africa

Studio Asaï has designed a family lodge on the western edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa. Utilizing rammed earth as the main structural material, the lodge sits on a concrete platform, protecting it from localized flooding and pests. A structural skeleton is employed to ensure the stability of the entire structure.

Sealant is mixed with rammed earth to improve structural integrity, with exposed inner rammed earth walls in some areas a deliberate design choice to improve the lodge’s aesthetic appeal.

TECLA, Italy

Combining rammed earth construction and 3D printing, TECLA, a joint project between 3D printing company WASP and Mario Cucinella Architects uses local clay in construction. The project was started in 2019 and completed in 2021 and, if successful, could represent a new way of thinking in construction, marrying both the ancient and hyper-modern.

66o North Store, London, UK

Designed by Gonzalez Haase AAS, this store on London’s Regent Street incorporates freestanding plinths and curving walls constructed from rammed Cornish clay, evoking the volcanic landscape of Iceland, the home of clothing brand 66o North.

In Conclusion: A Viable Future Eco-Friendly Construction Technique?

Whilst there are some technical challenges with using rammed earth construction, this ancient method has some good ecological credentials, depending on the provenance and type of aggregate materials utilized in its construction.

Whilst not a common method outside of hot, dry climates, the interest in rammed earth construction is growing worldwide, with some notable projects demonstrating the suitability of this ancient construction method for meeting the needs of modern society. Whilst some commentators and experts may question if this is a true “revival,” this technique continues to elicit comment across the industry.

More from AZoBuild: The Challenges of Building in Extreme Environments

References and Further Reading 

Williams, F (2021) Saving the earth: making the case for rammed earth architecture [online] Architect’s Journal. Available at:

https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/specification/saving-the-earth-making-the-case-for-rammed-earth-architecture

First in Architecture (website) Rammed Earth Construction [online] firstinarchitecture.co.uk. Available at:

https://www.firstinarchitecture.co.uk/rammed-earth-construction/

Griffiths, A (2023) Gonzalez Haase AAS evokes Iceland's volcanic landscape at 66º North store [online] Dezeen.com. Available at:

https://www.dezeen.com/2023/02/15/gonzalez-haase-aas-rammed-earth-66-degrees-north-store-london/

Levy, N (2023) Tembo Tembo lodge hides among landscape of South African game reserve [online] Dezeen.com. Available at:

https://www.dezeen.com/2023/10/24/tembo-tembo-lodge-interiors-rammed-earth-studio-asai/

Pintos, P (2021) TECLA Technology and Clay 3D Printed House / Mario Cucinella Architects [online] Archdaily.com. Available at:

https://www.archdaily.com/960714/tecla-technology-and-clay-3d-printed-house-mario-cucinella-architect

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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