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Rammed Earth: A Timeless Solution for Sustainable Architecture

Updated: May 25, 2023

Rammed earth construction is one the oldest types of construction on the planet. In fact, the oldest rammed earth building on record is around 8000 years old.

Rammed earth stands as a testament to both durability and beauty. Its sturdy structure is capable of withstanding the test of time while treading lightly on the earth.

The great wall of China dates back to the 7th century.

Today, rammed earth is going through a renaissance. With the current climate crisis and the high carbon footprint that the construction industry produces, architects and builders are increasingly looking at ways to be more sustainable.

In recent years, rammed earth has been patronized by world-renowned architectural firms such as Adjaye Associates and Foster & Partners.

Amoako Boafo gallery designed by Adjaye Associates

In this blog, we will go through rammed earth buildings through history, and explore their origins, techniques, and cultural significance.

Origins and Early Uses of Rammed Earth

The origins of rammed earth trace its roots back to ancient civilizations such as the Ming people of China and the people of Jericho. This ancient construction technique can be found in various corners of the world, demonstrating the ingenuity and resourcefulness of these early societies.

The Great Wall of China is one of the most well-known and oldest rammed earth structures. The wall was partially built with rammed earth and dates back to the 7th century.

The walls of Jericho, one of oldest known rammed earth walls date back over 10,000 years. The historical evidence of rammed earth's use showcases its durability and the craftsmanship of ancient builders.

Remains of the wall the Jericho date back 10,000 years

Golden Age of Rammed Earth

The medieval and Renaissance eras saw a golden age for rammed-earth construction.

During this time, places all over the world embraced rammed earth, leaving behind amazing earth structures.

Tulou clusters in China date back to the 13th century

In China, the rammed earth Hakka Tulou clusters are an enduring symbol of how elegant yet durable earth-buildings can be. These iconic buildings were built from the13th through to the 20th century. The Tulou clusters were built to serve as communal residences and defensive structures for the Hakka Tulou people.

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Morocco date back to the 17th century

In Morocco, Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou showcased the intricate beauty and practicality of rammed earth construction. Believed to have been built in the 17th century. It was constructed as a village and served as a strategic trading post along the caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakesh.

Tallest rammed earth building in Weilburg Germany

The town of Weilburg in Germany is home to many rammed earth homes built in the 19th century. Weilburg is also home to the tallest rammed earth building in Germany which goes to 7 stories and is still being used today.

The Alhambra in Spain built in 13th century

In Spain, the Alhambra built in 1238, showcases stunning palaces and intricate courtyards, highlighting the elegance and sophistication achievable through rammed earth construction.

Modern Revival and Contemporary Rammed Earth

The Industrial Revolution, brought significant changes to the construction industry, leading to a decline in the use of rammed earth. During this period, advancements in manufacturing such as the mass production of bricks and the development of concrete and steel, shifted the focus away from traditional techniques like rammed earth.

These materials offered advantages in terms of speed, standardization, and structural capabilities.

Additionally, the rapid urbanization and industrialization of cities created a demand for taller and larger-scale structures, which were more efficiently constructed using these new materials and methods.

However, in the 20th century, there was a revival of interest in rammed earth construction. The effects of climate change and the search for sustainable building practices prompted architects and builders to revisit traditional construction methods. Rammed earth, known for its low environmental impact, attracted attention as an eco-friendly alternative to modern construction materials.

The revival of rammed earth in the 20th century was also influenced by advancements in engineering, research, and experimentation. Architects and engineers started exploring innovative techniques to improve the durability, stability, and aesthetic appeal of rammed earth structures. This led to the development of new methods for reinforcement, stabilization, and waterproofing, therefore expanding the possibilities and applications of rammed earth in contemporary architecture.

House Rauch designed by Martin Rauch, built by Lehm

Renowned Austrian architect, Martin Rauch, has been influential in promoting and advancing rammed earth construction for over 20 years. He combines traditional rammed earth techniques with modern engineering principles, experimenting with different unstabilized earth mixes to enhance strength and durability. Rauch's innovative designs and research have been instrumental in elevating rammed earth to contemporary architecture.

Rammed Earth in the 21st Century

Recent years have witnessed exciting innovations in rammed-earth construction, particularly when it comes to the efficiency of the method.

One notable advancement is the development of precast rammed earth panels. This technique involves creating rammed earth panels off-site, utilizing controlled environments and form works to ensure consistent quality and precision.

These precast panels offer shorter construction times, reduced labor costs, and enhanced quality control.

Additionally, innovations in soil stabilization methods, including the use of additives like cement or lime, have improved the strength and durability of rammed earth structures, expanding their applicability in different climates and allowing more versatility.

Morocco Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai

The Moroccan Pavilion in Dubai stands as a great example of a contemporary stabilized rammed-earth that pushes the boundaries of what is possible. This project designed by OUALALOU+CHOI and built by the earth structures group utilizes precast stabilized rammed earth panels.

Although still not widely used, rammed earth is fast becoming a favored choice for environmentally conscious architects and builders, shaping a greener and more sustainable future in the realm of architecture.

In Summary

Looking into the history of rammed earth shows a construction method that has stood the test of time. From ancient civilizations to contemporary projects, rammed earth has been used to create long-lasting structures that blend seamlessly with their surroundings. Its thermal properties, energy efficiency, and low carbon footprint make it a compelling choice for eco-friendly architecture. Moreover, rammed earth carries a sense of heritage and cultural identity, connecting us to the craftsmanship and traditions of the past.

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