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Terra Awards – the first international prize for contemporary earthen architecture

July 29, 2016

Luke Mahony

Quite a significant award was announced recently in CRAterre in France. The Terra Awards was created  to “not only to identify and distinguish outstanding projects, but also to highlight the audacity of the project owners for choosing to use earth, the creativity of the designers and the skills of the craftsmen and entrepreneurs.” It creates an overdue showcase that reveals what can be accomplished with earth.

089_AUS_TheGreatWallofWA_LuigiRosselliArchitectsA notable prize was for collective housing category for Australia/Italian architect Luigi Roselli and “The Great Wall of WA”. Built by Murchison Stabilised Earth in the Pilbara region of Western Australia , it represents a logical approach to desert living. The high thermal mass of the walls and earth embankment will even out the high night and day fluctuations of temperature. Naturally cooled… naturally cool.

150_ESP_ViviendaVernacular_AngelsCastellarnauThe winner of the individual housing category was the “21st Century Vernacular House” by Spanish Architect Angels Castellarnau Visus. The house was built with rammed earth, but with a twist. They added barley straw to the mix to “increase the thermal behaviour”.  I would question the actual performance of this method as the straw does not provide a thermal break (i.e. the insulative property of the straw is by-passsed by the thermal bridges). Edra-Arquitectura_foto-doblestudio_004I love the look of the internal mud brick wall and their selection of natural materials like earth, straw and stone, hydraulic lime, ceramic tiles, sheep wool and wood and natural cork. It does a great job of continuing the tradition and vernacular of the region, whilst providing local employment and community.

305_Library_Terra_Award_Laureate_41-1In the Cultural Public Facilities category, local labour was used in the  construction of a library in Sri Lanka. It was used for knowledge creation and retraining – and the subsequent transformation of the army into a society-building institution – intends to support the much needed demilitarization of the country in the aftermath of its 30-year civil war. It is great to see earth building tradition of asia acknowledged.

178_CHN_MaanqiaoReconstructionProject_JunMuAnother award goes to the Chinese government for their Post Earthquake rebuild. Using a master plan that emphasised excellent thermal performance with traditional designs and materials, they have shown what is possible on a large scale with some government vision.

212_MAR_HimmelstreppeStadtOrion_GreenVoth_updVision of another kind comes out of the plains of Morocco that creates the stairway to heaven. Created by artist Hannsjörg Voth over 23years, it received the landscape award and has towers of over 17m and uses local techniques.

Congratulations must go to CRAterra for their great effort in organising and presenting these wards! For more information, go to

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