October 23, 2014
The winners of an international design competition to promote earth building and culture in Ghana was recently announced. Run by the NKA Foundation, the winners are listed below. I was fortunate enough to be on the jury. There were over 140 team and individual entries!
My favourite, was the second prize winner for its simplicity, flexibility and thermal performance for the tropics. More information on this design is available here. This is the design selected by the foundation to be built during upcoming workshops. Architects, engineers and builders (both students and professionals) are encourage to join in. More information is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or www.nkafoundation.org. Over the next few weeks I aim to showcase some of the entrants that were not winners but are quite notable. Please add your email address.
October 22, 2014
An Italian company has just exhibited an exciting concept of a 3D printer. It demonstrated a smaller version, but they believe they can build structures up to 3 meters tall.
“We will print a mixture made of clay and sand,” CEO Massimo Moretti said leading up to the event. “It takes weeks to print a real house, so we will print a smaller building because we only have two days. But the print, the mixture and materials have been already tested and they’re working.”
It opens up a world of possibilities. I really like the concept as it creates a opportunity to insulate the thermal mass of the earth by using air gaps. Alternatively the voids could be filled to create more thermal mass. It also fits in nicely with open source architecture.
More information at WASP.
June 24, 2014
Correctly designed earth houses out perform light weight on many levels. Here is another example.
A recent study in Australia and the US has found a link between obesity and diabetes with house temperatures. They tested people sleeping in different controlled room temperatures. The temperature influences the amount of brown “healthy” fat the respondants grew.
Dr Lee, from the Gavan Institute said “…,brown fat cells, I kind of see them as generators or powerhouses. Instead of storing energy brown fat cells actually burn energy and because of that, animals with lots of brown fat are actually protected from diabetes, obesity, and a full range of metabolic disorders.”
“I think the exciting thing with brown fat is it’s in a territory that we have not explored before and it opens new directions,” “Obesity is a global health issue, and most strategies in counteracting obesity involve reducing food intake or increasing exercise which can be difficult to sustain and ineffective in the long-run.”
The study reported house temperatures have risen on average 3 degrees in 20 years! Earth houses with higher thermal mass usually requiring more heating energy than cooling energy, I feel the current Australian system of NatHERs unfairly disadvantages high mass earth houses because they are slow moving. Earth houses with slow moving temperatures have a consistent temperature because of thermal mass.
The thermal lag means they are up to 12 hours slower to react to temperature changes. Light weight houses are easy to heat as you only have the air to heat, but heat in the air is easily lost. This means if the house drops below the perceived comfort zone you need to heat the entire thermal mass. If the temperature was only going below that comfort zone for a hour or two, you would need to add loads of energy to the whole house and thermal mass to increase the internal air temperature by 1%. Read about the study here.
May 16, 2014
A project built by a few years ago was featured on Steel.com by the architect James Stockwell. It was an interesting project for Justin and me. The finished house, in the Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia sure is pleasing on the eye. Go to Steel.com for an interesting interview with James and the clients.
May 14, 2014
The NKA foundation has started a architectural competition to design and promote the traditional Mud Hut. What is exciting about this project is their open source approach!
The challenge is to design a single-family unit of about 30 x 40 feet on a plot of 60 x 60 feet to be built by maximum use of earth and local labor in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. The client for the design is the middle-income family in the Ashanti Region. Total costs of constructing the design entry must not exceed $6,000; land value is excluded from this price point. The competition is aimed to serve as an example to the local people that mud architecture can be beautiful and durable.
What is the design problem? The cause is this: in Ghana, as in other countries in West Africa, stereotypes about buildings made of earth persist because of poor construction. Earth architecture is fast giving way to modern dwellings made of cement blocks and other modern materials that are not simply expensive but thermally and acoustically problematic. From the cities to the low-income villages, use of concrete – despite its dependence on imported resources – is considered indispensable for building. The rising cost of the modern building materials manufactured from imported resources makes it very difficult for low-income families to become homeowners. Yet an excellent, cheap and local alternative called laterite, red earth, is available everywhere in Ghana.
For example, in the Abetenim area, 98% of the homes are made of earth, however local stereotypes about buildings made of earth persist because there are several examples of mud homes that have eroded over time due to poor construction and water damage. That is why there is local stigma associated with mud architecture. The local perception is that mud buildings are only for the very poor. The NKA foundation reason that a design intervention can help generate alternatives to resolve the problem.
In light of the problem, NKA foundation is running a Mud House Design Competition to encourage designers, architects and builders to use their creativity to come up with innovative designs for modest, affordable homes that can be built locally. The design should aim at creating a single family and semi-urban house type that is a place to live, a place to rest, store modest belongings, and feel safe. The first place winning entry will be built on a site in the Ashanti Region.
What is the preferred construction method for the winning entries? The method to be used to construct the design concept can be cob construction, rammed earth, mud brick, cast earth (poured earth) by formwork, or any other earth construction techniques that can be easily learned by local labor. Roofing design could be of vault, fired mud roof, or corrugated zinc sheets, which is the conventional roofing materials because zinc roofing stands the heavy rainfall better. The design entry may therefore aim to accomplish a prototype, a durable mud house that promotes open source design for the continuity of building with earth under the feet for a more sustainable future.
Undeniably, the competition promotes open source design, as a sustainable development model. By Open Source, we imply that the submitted designs will be available for all to appreciate, use, or improve them to generate a more practical and contemporary design solutions for the region. The long-term goal is to enable the Ghanaian population and lots of other places, to overcome the stigma that mud architecture is architecture for the very poor.
March 31, 2014
We have been following Chiangmai Life Construction for quite some time. They are are a company that specializes in modern earth and bamboo architecture and quality construction. They are based in Thailand and favor organic, free-flowing designs. They build using natural materials: earth, bamboo, rocks, wood and any combination of these. All bamboo used in the buildings are treated with natural Borax salts.
March 24, 2014
Are Rammed Earth houses appropriate for indigenous Australian housing developments id dry Arid environments?
Daniela Ciancio and Chris Beckett, from the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering at UWA are working on a project based in Kalgoorlie to assess the practicality of using rammed earth (RE) housing over steel framed houses.
“When you are in the middle of nowhere and you want to build a house you have to transport the materials to the construction site, you have to send labor force to the site and you have to provide accommodation for the people,” Dr Ciancio says. “If we use rammed earth then we can use the material available on site because it’s just earth. It saves a lot of costs,” she says.
RE is raw soil mixed with water and compacted into formwork to create strong free-standing structures. To increase the stability of RE it can be mixed with LIME. “If the earth that you are using is very rich in clay, then you can add lime. Clay, lime and water when they’re mixed together—they react in a way that is very similar to the reaction of cement,” Dr Ciancio says.
“It will work like glue binding together and making the materials stronger.” Dr Ciancio and fellow researchers have been conducting tests to determine the optimium lime content (OLC) needed to make RE more durable against the elements.
“Too little amount means that you don’t get enough strength, too high amount and you get up to the maximum strength. You can keep adding lime but it won’t improve the materials,” she says.
This will help investigate alternatives to the industry standard use of cement as the main stabiliser!
RE uses thermal mass, removing the need for artificial heating and cooling. In places that are hot during the day and cool at night the RE will absorb and trap the heat from the sun, releasing it out again at night. Fellow researcher Dr Chris Beckett says once the houses in Kalgoorlie are complete, families will live in them to test how effective they are compared to other housing.
“We know these houses will work better than the current transportable options. The material is cheaper, the maintenance costs post-construction will be lower because there will be fewer machines operating. For example they won’t need to use air conditioning all the time,” Dr Beckett says.
Dr Ciancio hopes the research will encourage local communities to get involved with the building of their own home.
A logical step would be to make formwork, a bobcat and training available for interested local communities!
February 9, 2014
One of the best guides to sustainable building in Australia is the Your Home web site. They discus designing to take advantages of natural heating and cooling that can increase comfort and use less energy, as well as materials selection relative to your climatic region. They have just updated their guides to using Rammed earth, Mud brick and Strawbale. It is a great reference source and well worth a look!
January 20, 2014
By Antony Kisilo
A sustainable city is organized so as to enable all its citizens to meet their own needs and to enhance their well-being without damaging the natural world or endangering the living conditions of other people, now or in the future.
Smart technologies have actually been used in the past and have proven to be successful at improving civic sustainability, but in many thriving cities, their underbellies – the transport, sanitation, energy and building technology – are filled with rot and decay.
To look one hundred years into the future, we really need to look back one hundred years to learn from our predecessors. The reality is that there is nothing new under the sun. For example, our forefathers in my country Kenya utilized rammed earth, sun-dried mud and twigs for construction that had near zero embodied energy, used pit latrines as a waste management technology that recycled nutrients back to the soil, captured water from fresh springs, and swam in warm, clean and unpolluted lakes. People worked and lived with natural materials within their environment and gave back to the environment. Now that’s smart.
What amazes me is that all over the world, we have evidence of ancient cities fighting drought with passive filtration and boxes within cities that partially purified the rain water runoff towards the city dams. These somehow mundane solutions are looked down upon as irrelevant as the issues being faced in our cities include more toxic levels of impurities. But who says we cannot improve their passive systems as opposed to centralized power-hungry water treatment systems that end up creating more dependencies and require need of more natural resource?
Why is it so hard to get back to our roots and redesign around principles that have worked for centuries as opposed to experimenting with the lives of our future generations? Now, I have to admit that cities’ populations have expanded exponentially since the second World War and shall continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, a smarter population empowered at the individual level can actually solve local city problems through local interventions. Human destiny will be played out, and the future of the biosphere will be determined, at the local level.
A smart city needs a smart population. As an architect, I was trained to understand the area of the usable space we are carving in our environment, but I have found it myopic to view the world through this lens as there is much more to living than the thousands of square feet we develop. Cities have a life of their own and keep growing and changing in reaction to the basic needs of individuals in transport, sanitation, water and housing.
Amazing satellite cities have been planned and built to be sustainable and smart, and we can thank the design of ancient cities and natural resources for the sustainability of these cities. Thanks to cities like Masdar, we can almost walk back in time to a desert village, with all the passive systems in place that are sustainable, but in this century.
Image credit: Flickr/Smart Cities
Antony Kisilo is an architect based in Kenya.
December 29, 2013
Earth Lab Studio is a great company with a vision “to see the integration of natural materials back into the main stream of industry and society. Where companies and individuals choose ecologically sensitive renewable materials to create products through all facets of their lives, to serve our common needs”.
Its worth checking out some of their ideas. I especially like their experimentation with materials like rammed coffee grounds which is mixed with clay and gravels.
plus a rammed earth candle holder.