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Natural building as a community game changer

By Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Even though many buildings constructed of natural materials, particularly earth, have stood the test of time, the construction of buildings out of these materials almost completely disappeared during the 20th Century. This occurred due to the development of commercial building materials and labor saving methods which took on status and prestige connotations, even in Asia and Africa.

The skills and craft of natural building by artisans who were most often handed down specific situational knowledge by their forefathers almost disappeared, except for some small pockets of people scattered around the globe.

Consequently buildings constructed out of natural materials and methods are now rare and far between around the world.

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Buildings constructed out of mud and other natural materials were until recently considered primitive, where most likely mental images of African and Indian mud houses would arise in the mind of most, when the subject is brought up as a building option.

However small groups of people from the 'hippy' generation moved out into some of the scenic rural areas around Canada and the United States during the 1980s and '90s and built houses constructed through rammed earth, cob, bale, and adobe brick methods. Designer builders like Meror Krayenhoff have assisted many notable people like Randy Bachman of the former bands The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive build beautiful rammed earth homes.

Likewise, in Australia, even with flawed regulations biased towards conventional dwellings, many owner builders flocked out to the outer Melbourne semi-rural suburb of Eltham, building mud brick homes inspired by architect Alistair Knox's designs and methods.

The term earthen building incorporates a number of well known methods which include:

Rammed earth which involves developing a mixture of sand and clay, and compressing it within a mold to shape the walls, etc. Usually some form of insulation like polyurethane, or even old newspaper in the middle of the wall, which maybe also reinforced with steel rods.

Cob which involves developing a loamy clay like mud compound and mixing straw or rice paddy husks into it to build strength.

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Mud or adobe bricks which are fundamentally made by molding cob into bricks which are used in the construction on a dwelling, and

Mud based ferro cement, invented by Dr. Kamarudin Bin Mohd. Nor of University Kuala Lumpur, which incorporates a mixture of cement, sand and clay, which is rendered onto a steel or wooden frame sown through some form of insulation like conventional ferro cement.

Other methods important in the construction of natural buildings include straw bale dwellings which are usually rendered with a mud based mixture, and bamboo and thatches for the ceilings and roofs of mud based dwellings.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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