Using earth to build a home has many sustainable advantages, while also keeping costs down. And a rammed earth home can also be very modern. The latter has been proven before, and now again by the Chinese design firm Hypersity. They drew inspiration from traditional cave houses of the Shanxi province and created a gorgeous home with curved walls and a very modern look.
The home was designed for an Internet star who already had a cave house in the area and wanted to renovate it into a more modern version. The so-called “yáodòng” or cave houses have been built in this area for a long time, and they are still getting constructed. They are normally carved out of hillsides or dug from a pit that later acts as a central courtyard, and by some estimates 40 million people still live in them. The firm Hypersity began the renovation by first demolishing a part of the existing home to create space for a bigger courtyard, while also creating a rammed earth perimeter.
The home is made up of several rammed earth volumes, which are connected by five outdoor courtyards that allow for great ventilation and let lots of natural light into the living space. The home features a lining area, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and storage rooms. These are located in the different volumes of the home, while the courtyards that connect them also act as a Chinese garden of sorts, letting more nature into the dwelling.
The interior design of the rooms is very minimalist yet warm and cozy, which is primarily due to the use of natural materials and simple, functional furnishings. The living room, for example, features a barrel-vaulted ceiling, and is screened off from the rest of the home by a wooden partition. They also installed a so-called “light well” in the area between the bedroom and living room, which lets plenty of natural daylight into these rooms.
The firm used locally sourced earth to construct this home, which brought down the costs considerably, but there is no word on how much the renovation costs. This project is a great example of how traditional architecture still has an important place in the modern world, especially one where promoting sustainable living is so important.
Our forbearers used what was on hand to build their homes and shelters, and striving for a more sustainable world inevitably means that we have to get back to those basics. A great example of doing just that is the so-called Casa Candaleria, which was designed by Cherem Arquitectos. It is located near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and was built using primarily the earth on which it stands.
The home is perhaps not the most attractive or unique example of modern architecture, but it is very functional and sustainable. It was built using rammed earth, which gives it a unique color. They also used wood, concrete tile, stone, and glass in the construction.
Using the soil they found on-site in the construction process greatly offset a large part of the home’s carbon footprint, while also substantially reducing costs. Building out of rammed earth is a very old technique, which involves compressing damp earth into a mold then letting it dry. This material is not as strong as concrete, but it still works very well in home construction, though it is also a lot more time intensive.
Rammed earth has the added benefit of having very good thermal mass, which offers a high level of insulation. It actually naturally cools the home during the day, and heats it during the night. In a climate such as the one in Mexico, no other insulation was needed.
The home features ample glazing in the living area, which is separated from the other living quarters by a covered outdoor hallway, which extends into a wooden deck that looks great for lounging on. The rest of the home doesn’t have many windows, likely to prevent solar heat gain, though the ones that they did install are large floor-to-ceiling ones. Judging from the photos these feature wooden shutters, which are likely very effective at keeping the home cool.
A team of architecture students from the California State Polytechnic University have designed a sustainable community garden, which will be constructed using a combination of recycled shipping containers and rammed earth. It will also run entirely on solar power. They are currently raising funds through a KickStarter campaign to begin making this innovative plan a reality.
The project is called the Huerta del Valle Community Garden and it will serve low and middle income people in the Ontario, Los Angeles area. Here, residents can currently pay $10 per year to rent a their own plot of land on which they can grow vegetables and fruit. These plots measure 20 x 10 ft (6 x 3 m), while there is also a larger, communal section. The produce grown on the latter is sold and this money is then used to keep the garden going.
The students have designed a series of new additions to the community garden namely an amphitheater, library and classroom, as well as a kitchen and playhouse, which would be made out of a used shipping container. Before, all meetings and get-togethers in the garden would take place outdoors. Now, the amphitheater will be used for weekly meetings. To build it, they will first have to excavate the site, then they plan to use car tires used to retain the soil and create seating space. The excavated soil will then be used to make the rammed earth walls of the library and classroom, both of which will be covered by a green roof. The earth wall will contain about 10% cement to make it sturdier.
They will also build a shaded structure for storing tools and materials. This structure will be topped by a solar panel array, which will produce enough power to keep the garden running, while the extra electricity will be fed back into the grid.
The rest of the project will go ahead regardless of the funding campaign, but they are currently raising funds to help build the kitchen and playhouse. They plan to use two shipping containers, which will be used to make two semi-outdoor spaces. To protect the spaces from sun and rain, they will use heavy canvas curtains, which will make the structures useable in all conditions and seasons.
No, I’m not talking about the simple, bare bones homes of workers in ages past. The Australian firm Luigi Rosselli Architects have adopted this sustainable and energy efficient building material and practice to construct a residence for seasonal workers at a cattle ranch.
The workers’ residence takes the basic shape of a rammed earth wall, which forms a zigzagging line that is 754 feet long. Some have even dubbed it “The Great Wall of Western Australia,” due to its impressive length. The wall acts as a façade that faces an embankment of sand, under which twelve small but functional residences are located.
The residence is built using locally sourced sandy clay, which is rich in iron. The facade is 17.7 inches thick, which together with the roof, also made of earth, works great at reducing solar heat gain and keeping the interior of the units cool in a natural way. Each of the residences has its own private deck, while there is also a shared garden.
For binder in the wall, they used gravel from a river flowing nearby, and water from the well on the premises. The wall was rammed by hand, which gives it a beautiful and layered look. The residence rests on a poured concrete slab. To give it the same color as the wall, they added the same gravel and aggregates from the river to the concrete mixture.
It’s nice to see this sustainable and eco-friendly material making a comeback. Also, if naturally cooled structures can function in a climate such as that of West Australia, then they can easily do so elsewhere as well. It is also a great example of just how well traditional building techniques, are still relevant and can easily be adapted to modern purposes.
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