Rammed Earth: Old Meets New in Hybrid Material

Rammed Earth: Old Meets New in Hybrid Material

Rammed earth is an early construction technique dating back to the 2nd century B.C. in China which is finding its way to contemporary buildings. Even in the face of construction codes and authorities which might not comprehend it as a acceptable material such as walls. What’s essentially soil compacted to rock-hard structures, rammed earth walls are actually of the ground they sit upon. They consequently help anchor a house to its website and provide a sustainable option to materials such as concrete, even though some installations may mix portland cement with the dirt.

Cases of buildings using rammed earth walls on Houzz are rare, so interested people should certainly check out Ronald Rael’s excellent book Earth Architecture, which includes contemporary projects in rammed earth and other variants. The few examples which follow illustrate that rammed earth veers from people’s perceptions of this substance, which might be associated with older structures devoid of modern comforts. The projects feature rammed earth along with other materials, in a way that highlights the exceptional substance while making it a complementary element of something larger.

This house in Palo Alto, California by CCS Architecture is the most thorough case of rammed earth on Houzz. A C-shaped exterior wall to the first floor is shaped from dirt excavated from the website (the thick walls on this floor plan). This wall is visible in this photo beneath the ipe-wood-clad volume on the second floor.

Another view of the outside shows one terminus of the rammed earth wall, as it comes toward us in this photo. Walls painted a similar color of the ground turn the corner toward the interior yard, which leads you visually to the house on the first floor having ample glazing. This end of the house on the first floor is the living area…

… Having a seating area beside the distinctive rammed earth wall. We can start to see the horizontal striations of this wall, which is created since shallow sections are compacted as well as the formwork is increased as the process persists. Rael compares this process to the coursing of brickwork, although the expression is much more subtle.

The opposite end of the rammed earth wall (barely visible in the middle-right of the photo) stops just short of this distinct studio structure (at left). The second floor bridges the difference between these one-story volumes.

The entrance to the house is in the gap between the main house and studio. The rammed earth walls in this photo are from the background as well as the left.

Notice: See how the wood walls inside the house have an identical “coursing,” originating from a completely different type of construction.

The wood’s horizontal layering is much more pronounced in this view of the stairs in the elbow of the major house’s first-floor volume. A gap between the stair and the rammed earth wall permits access between the two, but more importantly it allows the rammed earth wall to be constant and therefore valued.

Between the entrance and the stairs lies the kitchen, in which a very long horizontal window is put to the rammed earth wall. Contemporary rammed earth walls are hybrids of old and new techniques, so strengthening and supplementary structure may be utilized to frame openings which traditional techniques would not otherwise allow.

This last view of this house — seen towards the close of the plan with the living area envisioned before — leaves the poles evident, buried inside the rammed earth walls, which hold the roof up. Rammed earth may be used structurally, if local building codes enable it, but the insertion of clerestories atop the walls made these slender steel poles necessary.

Furman + Keil Architects

Another house, the aptly called Rammed Earth Ranch in Austin, Texas, is the renovation of a classic barn constructed of this material. As architects Furman + Keil attest, “The conversion treats the rammed earth walls in regard, touching them assembling multi-level living quarters inside the larger quantity.” A new glass-walled entry inserted in an opening in the rammed earth outside surely indicates that something new is occurring.

Furman + Keil Architects

Inside, awaiting the entrance, the rammed earth walls are two feet thick according to the architects, and could be observed beneath the off-white ceiling.

Furman + Keil Architects

Further interior we can see exactly what the architects describe as “a cabinet interior of a casing, a wood mezzanine reap the benefits of this spaciousness inside the barn.” Like the house from CSS Architecture, walls and other objects are held back from the rammed earth, in a indication of respect which makes the walls component of the occupants daily lives.

Blasen Landscape Architecture

Last is the house in Napa Valley, California designed by New York architects Eliot Lee and Eun Sun Chun with landscapes by Blasen Landscape Architecture, who won an ASLA award for the project. This photograph clearly illustrates the nature of rammed earth walls; its color, its texture, and also the signs of its own making.

Blasen Landscape Architecture

Another view shows how these walls appear to fit so nicely with the native plants. The red earth has a distinctive synergy with all the bark and leaves of the trees, for example, as well as the rock from the home. Rammed earth is not just a description of the substance; it is a place that links the occupants with the land upon which they dwell.

Read More Ideabooks out of John Hill:
Fascinating Industrial Materials: Cor Ten Steel
Material Choices: High Marks for Reinforced Concrete

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