Throughout the history of mankind earth has by far been the most commonly used building material. Anyone with a piece of land have it, and it requires no huge transportation costs. With a shovel and some manpower, people throughout the ages have dug out caves, made earthbricks, rammed earth walls, and developed other ways to build with this abundant material. The picture above shows the Fairy Chimney Hotel in Turkey. (Click description in italic for image source.)
The earth-bag technique, which is popular in developing countries, is an example of this.
The photo to the left shows one of the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (CalEarth) designs.
Earth as a building material
Earth represents stability, regulates the temperature and humidity well, is easily accessible, and with low transportation cost, just to mention a few of its assets.
Earth is made up of grains in different sizes, that fit nicely together and make a more or less compact mass. When mixed with water it becomes plastic and shapeable, and when dried it recovers its stability.
The Cordwood Lodge in Ontario, Canada.
It is considered a highly ecological material, because it´s local, non-toxic, and biodegradable. Also, it is fireproof and termite-resistant. Newer building materials like concrete and brick are the descendants of earth.
The advantages of building with earth
A building made of earth takes advantage of its properties. Earth offer extra protection from the natural elements, is energy effective, provides an efficient use of land in urban settings, and low maintenance requirements. Earth dwellings commonly takes advantage of passive solar building design.
The illustration shows the traditional pit house from Canada.
The disadvantages of building with earth
However, the indoor air quality may become poor if the building has not been properly designed. (Healthy air circulation is a key.) There may also be problems of water seepage, internal condensation, and bad acoustics. Soil stability should also be considered, especially when the site is sloping.
Even though there are some disadvantages, there are many reasons why earth is the world’s most commonly used building material. It is even possible to use it in the most contemporary of designs, and there has been a surge in its usage, after a period of abandonment (following the industrial age). I suspect we will see more of it in the years to come.