Cheap, tough and green: why aren’t more buildings made of rammed earth?

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Cheap, tough and green: why aren't more buildings made of rammed earth?
A modern, unstabilised rammed earth house in Austria

It’s fair to say that rammed earth, as a construction technique, has stood the test of time. It has been used to create buildings around the world whose beauty and robustness are still visible today, like the Alhambra in Spain and the Great Wall of China, both built more than 1,000 years ago.

Traditional rammed earth is made of a mix of clay-rich soil, water and a natural stabiliser such as animal urine, animal blood, plant fibres or bitumen. It is then compacted inside temporary formworks that are removed after the mix has dried and hardened. The resulting structure can withstand compressive forces of up to 2.5 megapascals (around 10% of the average compressive strength of modern bricks).

The walls can be reinforced using embedded timber beams or bamboo grids, and of course they need some architectural features to protect them from the rain and wind. Historical examples of buildings made of traditional rammed earth can be found in South America, China, India, the Middle East and North Africa. []

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