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!


  1. Wow! Amazing process. That first wall will make for a very quiet, cozy sleeping space. Thanks for the update.

  2. Just curious, how does rammed earth stand up to the elements? Rain, snow against the house, does that make it susceptible to deterioration?

  3. Anonymous11/16/2010

    Certainly, the rammed earth walls want to be out of a driving rain, excessive moisture on the walls over time would cause some of the portland cement, about 10% is used in the mix as a stabilizer, to leach out onto the surface of the wall. In our design the rammed earth walls are contained within the building envelope, so there is no exposure to the elements. The functions of the rammed earth walls are structural and more importantly, to act as interior "Trombe" walls; i.e. their thermal mass being heated by solar gain through the clerestory windows. Plus, they look really cool ;)