Tune Tuesday #5-History Repeating

Core strength and correct lifting form was brutally tested (and proven inadequate for some of the crew) in the shoveling of around 200ish wheel barrows worth of gravel and earth.  The work was quite grueling, but a necessary evil.  With the 'buckets' of material, we were back-filling a few large trenches that had a French drains (which will be covered in next week's detailed sum up) in the bottom.  At one point we had to move the large remainder of a massive pile of gravel (more like fist-sized rocks), and we all put a wager down on how many wheel barrows of it was left.  Keeping tally on the footing with a pencil (pictured below), Doug was dead on with his guess of 63 full barrows.  Burn out.  In slight relation (we gotta try to tie it in) to our repetitive filling and emptying of the ever useful wheel barrow (as well as the fact that we were covering a French drain which has been in use for over 200 years), Propellerheads' "History Repeating" seems to fit the bill.  Bonne ├ęcoute! 



Adventure in NZ is magnetic! On the 27th, two AltShift team players participated in the 75.4km mountain bike event that challenged about 300 riders at the headwaters of the Nevis River. Fording this river about 25 times and gutbusting up to Duffers Saddle, the highest 'public' road in NZ, Travis and Doug plunged down the final 8km. Finishing together with a time of 4 hours and 37 minutes, they proudly tied for 125th place with huge smiles cracking their mud-plastered faces. Spectacular landscape, narrow gorge sections, deep water crossings and songs that they sang - are now their new energy-threads.

With more mud to shape and absorb, both men are back on-site today, continuing with their earthbuilding projects.


A Backbone Emerges

Witnessing the forging of the rammed earth walls over the past week has triggered an immense sense of wonder and inspiration amongst those on site. Not one person could resist running their hand over the raw elemental mass and giving it a good rap with their knuckles - these actions usually followed by a raising of eyebrows in an expression of awe and impression. Being the oldest building material in the world, earthen walls and structures seem to activate a vestigial memory and respect in our human psyche. After the final formwork was taken down for the 'keystone' piece (a technique that to our knowledge has not been put into practice in rammed earth structures) there was a certain astonishment and dream like surreality about the scene. Although the spanning section had its skeptics, the engineering seems to have transferred from paper to palpable existence. So without any further ado here are some pictures of the glory that is rammed earth:

This photo is of the 'keystone' piece nestled between its two supporting wall sections with angular and lip/notch connections. To give you a bit of a step by step here are two prior shots of the walls before the keystone and with the form work in place.

One of the most unique aspects of rammed earth, is the ability to place nooks and embed objects into the wall anywhere you like as it is being tamped. For this home's walls we kept it simple and did a few knock outs with Volume Displacement Boxes (V.D.B.'s). In the picture below are the 2 wall sections that will be what the headboard of the bed will be against in the master bedroom.

Above you can see the 3 day old wall segment on the left with its V.D.B.'s removed standing in contrast to the recently stripped section on the right with the V.D.B.'s still in place. We decided that we had to utilize the potential of the V.D.B.'s and created little spaces for 'nightstand' alcove areas on either side of the bed. Because the walls are 4 meters (13 ft.) we also decided to break up the face of the wall by adding a few more recessed spaces for candles/books/art or the insertion of a thick shelve. Below is a picture taken from the top of the form work looking inside the form's cavity (as it fills with earth). Although the photo below is a bit disorienting and confusing, you might faintly make out the top of a V.D.B. covered by a thin layer of sifted earth (one of the short ones in the bedroom wall). When trying to solve this view, keep in mind that you are looking down into the form and that the leg and foot on the left side is standing on the current tamped level of the rammed earth. The V.D.B. is screwed in the desired area to the inner-side of the panel, and buried carefully.

Along with the V.D.B. you can also see the white conduit for the electrical outlets (also implanted in the wall) on the left, and some black rebar on the right which connects the footing to the top of the eventual concrete bond beam.

For your video viewing pleasure, we have posted two new clips on our youtube channel (both embedded below) associated with the rammed earth process.
First off, is a short segment capturing a part of the mixing and preparation of the 'brew' to be put into the forms.

The 'brew' consists of earth sourced from the Cardrona Valley (30 km/19 mile away, near Snowpark) which itself is roughly 80% gravel& sand and 20% clay. This is then mixed with a 10% add mix of cement and water. The mix is kept surprisingly (at least to the novice eye) dry and then transported to the wall and shoveled in approximately 100 mm (4 in.) loose layers and tamped down to slowly build the wall. Below is a quick glimpse at some of the tamping action.

The video above was taken from a scaffold and the end pan of the site is an attempt to show the scale of the home (final drawings/plans coming soon!!), but we will leave of with a couple more shots of the two rammed earth monoliths, as well as the staple before and after shot.

And the biggest visible change yet!

If you have any additional questions or requests shoot us an e-mail at: altshiftnz@gmail.com, or post them in the comment box below. If any of you are looking for a greater amount of detail and info on the rammed earth procedure, look on the weekly detailed blog this coming Sunday. Also, Blogger has changed its photo formatting recently and the photos in this post are unfortunately as large as I can get them, but we should be able to figure something else out soon, so if you are looking for larger pictures check back in a few days or e-mail us and we will be happy to send them to you as an attachment.

Lastly, many thanks to Jimmy Cotter, Joe, and Shane of Down to Earth - it was great working with all of you! To have been a part of the experimentation (evolution?) of rammed earth construction with the implementation of the keystone piece, 4m. high walls, and XPS foam V.D.B.'s was remarkable and rewarding.

As always, thanks for reading and talk to you soon.


Tune Tuesday #4-Everlasting Light

Shooo-eeey! What a week of enlightenment sparked by the magic of Rammed Earth! Almost as illuminating, was the first listen to the entire 'new' Black Keys album Brothers-killer stuff. In line with all this enlightening and illuminating going on, we'll make a stretch and share a song from the album entitled "Everlasting Light". Enjoy!


Brace ya-self!

Don't want to freak you all out, but there is a train chock full of info, photos, and video of rammed earth that is a hurtlin' down the tracks of the internet towards your computer-which will most likely smash up your life. With the 'keystone' piece (a first for rammed earth construction down here!) being revealed from the form work tomorrow, there will almost be too much to handle. So rest up, and set aside a good few hours tomorrow to fully soak in all the earthy goodness we have in store for yee.
Hasta pronto!


Tune Tuesday 3!!

This week, as you may know, the rammed earth wall sections are going up, and the monoliths of compacted earth are stunning. Although we will never disrespect our rammed earth walls in the way depicted on the album cover of Who's Next, the photo does share similarities to the current scene at the construction site. So for this weeks tune we give you "We Won't Get Fooled Again" from the aforementioned album. The lyrics also carry a some messages of change which we also like to think falls in line with the project/rammed earth walls:

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me."



2010: A Rammed Earth Curiosity

Humans have made a lot of progress over the past 200 years in terms of technology, healthcare, and associated standard of living- yet the simple idea and practice of building with earth is over 7000 years old.  As we become hyper industrialized, the oft neglected building technique of Rammed Earth could be used to shelter people for much less cost than 'modern' concrete homes.  One of the thoughts occupying the minds of the Altshifters down here in New Zealand, is using appropriate materials and time-tested, simple, earth friendly, and climatically suitable construction methods.  With the help of Jimmy Cotter and his 'Down to Earth' (website: http://www.downtoearthbuilding.co.nz/ ) crew, the first section of rammed earth wall was completed today!  The process was a bit like a slow moving magic trick in which the magician (Jimmy Cotter) dissapeared into the form,  seemingly buried by the loose earth mix.

A few hours later he emerged from the cavity with his wand (pneumatic tamper) in hand, and pulled away the masking-cloth (formwork) to unveil the solid mass of the transformed earth.  It was quite the show and the result was awe-inspiring.

As we approached to feel the texture of the finished wall, we couldn't help but laugh at the similarity between ourselves and the monkeys from 2001: A Space Oddity and the mysterious black monolith- maybe we'll do a remake/remix.  (if you aren't familiar with Kubrick's masterpiece here is a clip of the aforementioned scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y15NnGZIBuM ).

Standing at 4 meters (12+ ft.) tall & 400 mm (16") thick, this wall is massive. The rectangles in the wall (above) are VDB's (volume displacement boxes) that were affixed to the inside of the form to create functional alcoves.  This wall will be what the bed buts up to in the master suite, and the idea behind the VDB is to have a 'nightstand' space.  There will be one more wall section put up next to this one which will have a mirrored alcove for the other side of the bed, and another asymmetrical VDB for books/candles.  Rammed Earth works will continue through this week with 3 more sections (and a 'keystone' like piece above a door!), so check back to see them turn out.  More beautiful simplicity on the way!


Tune Tuesday

Well hello again, and welcome to Tune Tuesday number two.  Today we have a track all the way back from 1958, but sweet sally was it groundbreaking.  It also carries some literal significance as the rammed earth compaction is set to begin tomorrow and the earth will be a 'rumblin''.  Enjoy and get ready for some rammed earth pics!


Well Read Weekend Post-Joke Edition

Are we already three weeks in to this crazy ting called a blawg?!  Whoa.  Anyways this week's post is not so much focused on making you a more sophisticated individual in regards to literature, but more to peddle some possible additions to your lame joke arsenal.  Here are a couple New Zealand gems:

What do you call a sheep with no legs?
A cloud

A New Zealander walking along the road with a sheep under each arm.
He meets another New Zealander who says "you sheerin' mate?" and the first guy replies "naw, they're all mine"

And to close, we will leave off with an exceptionally 'Deep Thought' by legendary Mr.Jack Handley.  Have a great weekend!!

“When I was a kid my favorite relative was Uncle Caveman. After school we'd all go play in his cave, and every once in a while he would eat one of us. It wasn't until later that I found out that Uncle Caveman was a bear.”


Bring on the Rammed Earth! + First Youtube Video!

In just 8 hyper-productive working days, the majority of the footings have been poured! We have been putting the hustle on because Jimmy Cotter will be coming on site next week to put up some rammed earth walls and wanted to have it all prepped for him. Today we is an exciting post because with it comes the introduction of our youtube channel and our first youtube video (embedded below). If you have a youtube account and would like to receive notifications of when new videos are added you can subscribe to the channel which is:


(In the video Napz (in the blue shirt) brings over a laser level to show the level that the concrete should be poured to.)

Here are a few more pictures from the day showing other details, and a view of before and after the concrete pump's magic
. The following shot is a simple 400 cm deep hole in which a rebar cage has been placed to act as a base for some timber posts that will help support the green/living roof. Just behind the hole are some of the forms or 'shutters' that were put into the trenches to contain the cement and make the faces nice and flat.

Here is an elevated view (on the earth mound we have accumulated from the trench digging) of what the trenches looked like before and after the pour.

And lastly, here is a detail of the Hebel blocks (an aerated concrete block that has insulative properties) that will serve the thermal break for the base of the rammed earth wall.  The Hebel blocks are the white ones that have the rebar coming through them and in the immediate foreground you can see the face of the concrete footing which will be right next to the front door.

Thanks for reading and get excited for Friday (back in the states and already happening in NZ!). Well Read weekend post coming soon!  PEACE.


Tune Tuesday!!

In trying to make a fun weekly skedge sprinkled with regular treats, we will attempt to have Tune Tuesday.  This first song is a song we frequently play everymorning to remind ourselves what we are doing. More photos of the upper level footing pour coming tomorrow. Enjoy!