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Cob and Bamboo School in Pakistan wins Holcim Sustainable award

December 6, 2011

Luke Mahony


This project in Pakistan just won the Holcim award for sustainability. Hopefully some aid agencies and NGO’s are watching and take note of the local materials used.

This school project in the small village of Jar Maulwi, 35km northwest of Lahore, is an extension of the existing Tipu Sultan Merkez School, which has provided education for underprivileged rural girls for more than ten years. The new two-story building, Earthen School Tipu Sultan Merkez, constructed from locally-sourced cob and bamboo will provide seven new classrooms. Mitigating earthquake risks, the structure is divided into two compact parts connected by a light gallery. The 60cm thick ground floor walls are made of cob, a mixture of clay, sand, straw, water and earth and supported by brickwork foundations which protect against moisture ingress from the soil or rainwater.

The upper floor is a bamboo construction with an earthen filling. Intense research on cob construction resulted in a useful increase in strength and durability, and extended maintenance intervals compared to former methodologies. The high humidity absorption capacity and significant mass of the earth walls reduce interior temperatures by up to 8°C during summer where temperatures exceed 40°C. South-oriented glazing produces solar gain during winter. The local residents build the school and are thereby educated in this improved approach which creates an opportunity to establish their own local enterprise and transfer this highly appropriate construction technology to other building projects.

Comment of the Holcim Awards jury Asia Pacific
The jury commended this project because it contributes to all of the competition’s “target issues” in a convincing way. Through engineering and design, a traditional building technology has been upgraded with effective low-tech measures. Bamboo is used in an innovative way, demonstrating the potential in construction of this fast-growing and widely available material, which also counters deforestation. The propagation of the new construction methods amongst the local population aids the establishment of local businesses and improves the economic situation in this rural area. All materials are locally sourced and can be processed with low energy requirements.

The new construction approach shows the rural population an affordable, high quality and durable alternative compared to widely-used, but higher-cost and less environmentally-compatible construction materials. The combined earth/bamboo structure allows two-level buildings which reduces land use. The low-tech but sophisticated approach creates the potential to develop a unique local architecture, and transfer the approach to many other regions, particularly in less-developed countries.

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