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141

EARTH CONSTRUCTION
EARTH CONSTRUCTION SERIES
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Modern social housing scheme at the Domaine de la Terre in the new town of Isle
d'Abeau, France, using compressed earth blocks, rammed earth and straw-clay
(Thierry Joffroy, CRATerre-EAG)
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GUIDE

PUBLISHING
ffbG
CRA Terre-EAG
EARTH

A COMPREHENSIVE
CONSTRUCTION
EARTH CONSTRUCTION SERIES

Hugo Houben and Hubert Guillaud


Published by TTDG Publishing
Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development
Bourton Hall, Bourton- on- Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9QZ, UK
www.itdgpublishing.org.uk

CRATerre-EAG
Maison Levrat, Rue du Lac, BP 53, F-38092, Villefontaine cedex, France
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Cover picture: T he earth constructed city ofHabban, Yemen (K.H. Bochow)

T his book was originally published by Editions Parentheses (Marseille) as


Traite de construction en terre de CRATerre byHugoHouben and Hubert Guillard

Editions Parentheses (Marseille) 1989

English edition first published by TTDG Publishing 1994


Reprinted 2001, 2003, 2005

ISBN I 85339 193 X

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form
or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including
photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the written
permission of the publishers.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

CRATerre-EAG, the International Centre for Earth Construction and School of Architecture at
Grenoble, has accumulated a vast knowledge of earth construction through experience over twenty
years in more than fifty countries. Its activities include research, technical asistance, dissemination and
training in economic construction, industrialization and preservation. As a member of the international
Building Advisory Service and Information Network (BASIN), CRATerre advises on every aspect of
the various earth construction technologies at all levels.

ITDG Publishing is the publishing arm of the Intermediate Technology Development Group Ltd.
Our mission is to build the skills and capacity of people in developing countries through the
dissemination of information in all forms, enabling them to improve the quality of their lives and
that of future generations.

Typeset by J&L Composition Ltd, Filey, North Yorkshire


Printed in Great Britain by Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham, Wiltshire
Authors
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Hugo Houben, CRATerre-EAG


Hubert Guillaud, CRATerre-EAG

Scientific Direction

Patrice Doat, CRATerre-EAG

Co-Authors for the chapter on earthquakes

Michel Dayre, University of Grenoble


Pierre-Yves Bard, University of Grenoble
Guy Perrier, University of Grenoble
Julio Vargas, Catholic University of Lima

Co-Author for the chapter on conservation

Alejandro Alva, ICCROM

Assistants

Titane Galer, CRATerre-EAG


Marie-France Ruault, CRATerre-EAG

Drawings
Fabienne Dath

Translation

Albert Gompers
Janice Schilderman

Editing
Theo Schilderman, ITDG
This work has been published thanks to the financial support of"
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The School of Architecture of Grenoble/The French Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and


Tourism Directorate of Architecture and Urbanism

This book is based on the study realized in the context of the research programme 'Earth construction
technologies appropriate to developing countries', implemented by the Post Graduate Centre Human
Settlements of the K. U. Leuven, Heverlee, under the co-ordination of Han Verschure; in collaboration
with the Centre for Architectural Research, UC Louvain-la-Neuve, under the co-ordination ofFran<sois
Mabardi; and CRATerre in France, Peru and Belgium, under the co-ordination of Hugo Houben,
and financed by GACD, the General Administration for Development Co-operation, Brussels, with
support from UNCHS, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), Nairobi.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
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We would like to thank everybody who has contributed to the creation and
the realization of this book, which we want to consider above all as a
'technology survey'. Therefore, our warmest gratitude goes in the first place
to all researchers and builders who, over the past years, have worked
patiently and often in the margins of technical and architectural fashion in
their furthering of earth construction. We are no more than the heirs of
those pioneers; without their work, we would have been unable to
accomplish as much as we have. This patient and watchful survey work is
one of the major vocations of CRATerre, which will be continued and
widened in order to guarantee a broader dissemination of knowledge to a
larger public of potential designers and builders. We also want to express
our sincere gratitude to all directors and staff of the large international
organizations, non-governmental organizations, national institutions, and
numerous private companies who, over the past fifteen years, have expressed
their confidence and support, both morally and materially. We are especially
grateful to our supervising institutions for research and education, who
have most directly contributed to the new dynamics of earth construction
via the reinforcement of our team, the renewal of aid to research and
experiments, and credits to university and professional education. And we
particularly thank those organizations and institutions who, morally and
financially, have participated in the creation of this work, which could not
have been published without their help.
Hugo Houben, Hubert Guillaud
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Preface
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The international United Nations conference on welcome the publication of Earth Construction. This
Human Settlements- Habitat 1 (Vancouver 1976) is an ambitious project, aiming to grasp the totality
- called for the development and promotion of of a field that is constantly changing, rather than
building materials and techniques that would be to set out concrete facts, which will rapidly become
suitable for local conditions. The emphasis was fixed and obsolete. This project is more than a
placed on the production and use of audiovisual simple 'state-of-the-art' manual, it is in itself part
educational tools, documentation and the promo of a constantly-changing knowledge. The manual,
tion of debates provoking the creativity and self setting out a common language and the scientific
development of local communities. Internationally and technological culture of earth construction, will
it was accepted that the dissemination of information not only help the scientific community to take stock
and the decentralization of knowledge are the major of this area of study, but also to respond to the
success factors of appropriate use of a technology. expectation of non-scientists desiring to understand
The conference also stressed that, among all the the issues.
materials used by man over the years, earth
remained the one most frequently used by low This publication does not aim to 'define' knowledge
income populations in developing countries. Recent but rather it hopes to stimulate continuing intensive
research has shown the great potential of earth to research, i.e. test methods, practical rules and
respond to the enormous housing need of millions building regulations. It also deals with the problem
of people. This acknowledgement argues for the of questioning the entire production process, both
development of a more profound knowledge of upstream and downstream, and in this sense
earth as a material and its technology, as yet too induces a veritable 'philosophy' of earth construc
often poorly used, to allow a progressive and tion. This work is therefore a first in the study of
substantial improvement in its performances. All local building materials - a technology suitable for
the research efforts developed during the last few sustainable production is now the object of a
years are now beginning to show tangible results. professional approach. We do hope that this long
The large number of experienced scientists, term task, first initiated with the publication of the
technologists, architects and builders who have first volume of the Encyclopaedia of Earth Construc
worked on this are finally able to utilize their tion, may be a source of inspiration d will instigate
knowledge, that is, to shift from small-scale similar undertakings in other fields of technology,
experiments to large-scale project activity, includ to benefit a larger community which may desire to
ing production management. This new phase in know, understand and use the tools of its own
earth construction will undoubtedly contribute to progress and development.
an increase in its use and to the improvement of
the living conditions of the most disadvantaged
populations.
MAURICE FICKELSON
Secretary General of RILEM (International
However, to ensure that earth construction contri
Union of Test and Research Laboratories for
butes positively to the solution of the low-cost
Materials and Construction).
housing crisis, it is essential to become aware of its
advantages and requirements. If the technical
aspects are essential in terms of construction, the
vast number of practices and skills still have to be PROF. DR GY SEBESTYEN
taken into account and disseminated in order to Secretary General of GIB (International Council of
achieve the maximum effect. For that reason, we Building for research, study and documentation).

ix
Foreword
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For fifteen years, the CRATerre team of the industrialized materials which can guarantee a
Grenoble School of Architecture has been undertak massive and rapid access to decent housing by all
ing the considerable task of updating the scientific people. We will also, therefore, have to count on
and technical knowledge of unbaked earth. This unbaked earth and on the vast technical and
patient and continuous investment has been architectural potential that builders have always
supported by a will to modernize this age-old and been aware of.
modest building material in order to propose an
alternative to the prolific architecture that is costly As a result of development in the field of
in scarce energy and foreign exchange, particularly architectural research, university and professional
in the poor regions of the Third World. This aim education, the implementation of demonstration
was also linked to a strong wish to re-establish projects, international expertise and, within the
the necessary dialogue between the architect and latter, a large dissemination of knowledge and
the users who have been gradually deprived of any skills, CRATerre now presents us with a global and
legitimate participation in the conception and coherent action plan which can give a real
realization of their living environment by the future to earth architecture. Earth Construction
imposition of modern building techniques, which reveals an ethics strengthened by an aim to
are too sophisticated and in many cases not communicate skills meant to stimulate control of
accessible. their own environment by people themselves. This
book offers a unique and complete collection
World Habitat Day, commemorated on October of the current knowledge in this new techno
3rd, 1988, in the Palace of the United Nations logical area backed up by the well-proven field
at Geneva, confirmed our obligation to house a experience of CRATerre. It offers the tools for
quarter of the world's population decently. The action, which can be helped by theoretical as well
housing needs of this one billion homeless people as practical advice- elements which are all essential
amounts to hundreds of millions of houses. The for a useful extension of new knowledge.
national decision-makers of those countries, as well
as the whole international community, are really
powerless in the face of this overwhelming reality; JEAN DETHIER
they will have to mobilize the widest range of useful Architect consultant to the
human and material resources, since it is not only Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris.

X
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To Jacques Chaudoir (1948-81) who, in Algeria, brought me to the insight


that the practice of earth construction could be professional.

HugoHouben

To Professor Dr Jean Pieri, my grandfather, looking for a posi


tive and peaceful relationship between humanism, science and
technology.

Hubert Guillaud

xi
Introduction
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The approach used and the form given to this enormous jumbled puzzle. However, long and slow
book have been determined by a desire to put work shows that the puzzle can be solved by
forward the widest possible range of solutions for assembling and ordering the pieces, and patiently
earth architecture, with a view to facilitating working out where they fit.
informed decision-making. A knowledge of the real
Our first wish has been to assemble the many bits
potentialities of the material means that they can
of information scattered throughout the abundant
be used to greatest effect, and, more important still,
general literature, classify, and order them, and
their misuse avoided. The latter is of key
finally simplify them so that they are accessible to
importance, if the capabilities of earth are not to
a wide range of interests and abilities. To this end
be denied because of failed demonstrations due to
texts and illustrations have been deliberately kept
ignorance, or even negligence.
simple and deal only with the essential. All
Building in earth can be approached from the same problems which could arise are dealt with at various
high levels of technology and science, as other levels as the process proceeds: in the decision
construction technologies. The current research making phase, passing through the logical and
effort in this field is the proof of this. There are ordered planning stage, to the design and, finally,
virtually no limitations on the use of the material, the realization of the project. This desire to order
if users are aware of how to profit from the wide the accumulated knowledge should, if these
range of its qualities and ameliorate its defects. ambitious goals are attained, make this knowledge
easily accessible, and most of all give it didactic
Both traditional applications, which represent the
form. As this manual is not only intended for people
accumulated knowledge and experience of centuries
involved in actual work on site, but also for giving
of use, and modern earth construction, which has
backers and other persons involved the necessary
been able to introduce considerable sophistication
training, applications are also discussed.
and highly advanced technical research, are rich in
possibilities and are easily adapted to numerous This book is furthermore intended to serve as a
different contexts. It is difficult, if not impossible, practical manual and teaching handbook. It is
to evaluate the relative importance of the tech aimed at all persons involved in earth construction
nological approach compared to that of traditional projects: decision-makers and planners, building
architecture and vice versa. In fact many traditional inspectors, architects and engineers, technicians of
codes of good practice conform to modern all levels, building promoters, bricklayers, and sub
standards: 'scientific' know-how combines with contractors. Apart from these it is our hope that
traditional savoir-faire and it appears that it can this work will also be consulted by students and
only confirm the correctness of traditional solutions members of the public in search of information.
to technical and architectural problems. These two
Inevitably the desire to classify and simplify
approaches have their inherent qualities and
information, so that the essential problems are
deficiencies and are similar in their effectiveness as
discussed at every level, will make some readers
well as in their inconsistencies.
wish for more detailed information. It is hoped that
The object of this book is not to make any such readers will make use of the numerous
fundamentally new contribution to earth architec bibliographical references, which will guide them
ture but rather to encourage reflection about to more specialized information, or to get in touch
building in earth taking the entire production with the authors. Even so this primer is the first of
process into consideration. This is a question of a collection of specialized works, currently in
providing the information upon which logical and preparation, which will go into more detail on the
sensible decision-making can be based, with a various subjects and matters mentioned here.
permanent exchange between the global approach
It is our sincerest hope that this book will be a
to the various problems, which takes cultural,
source of inspiration for training programmes, and
social, and economic parameters into account as
well merely technical factors, and an approach encourage effective and logical construction practice.
which concentrates on the details.
Hugo Houben, Hubert Guillaud
At first sight building in earth may seem like an Grenoble,January 1989.

xii
Contents
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1. Earth construction 3 4.10 Bitumen: principles 92


4.11 Bitumen: practice 94
1.01 Diversity 4
4.12 Resins 96
1.02 Universality 6
4.13 Natural products 98
1.03 History: Africa 8
4.14 Synthetic products 100
1.04 History: Europe and the Mediterranean 10
4.15 Commercial products 102
1.05 History: The East 12
1.06 History: The Americas 14
5. Soil suitability 107

2. Soil 17 5.01 Soils: general evaluation 108


5.02 Construction methods 110
2.01 Soilformation 18
5.03 Rammed earth 112
2.02 Nature of soil 20
5.04 Adobe bricks 114
2.03 Air and water 22
5.05 Compressed earth blocks 116
2.04 Organic and mineral matter 24
5.06 Stabilization: general evaluation 118
2.05 Clay types 26
5.07 Fibres and mineral aggregates 120
2.06 Binding forces 28
5.08 Cement 122
2.07 General properties 30
5.09 Lime 124
2.08 Fundamental properties 32
5.10 Bitumen 126
2.09 Geotechnical classification 34
2.10 Pedology classification 36
2.11 Specific soil types 38 6. Tests 131
2.12 Distribution of soils 40
6.01 Principles 132
6.02 Identification and development tests 134
6.03 Performance and characterization tests 136
3. Soil identification 45
6.04 Control and acceptance tests 138
3.01 Prospecting 46 6.05 Laboratory equipment 140
3.02 Preliminary tests 48
3.03 Field classification procedure so
3. 04 Visual analysis of fines 52 7. Characteristics 145
3.05 Texture: grain-size distribution analysis 54 7.01 Earth as a construction material 146
3.06 Texture: diagrams 56 7.02 Mechanical properties 148
3.07 Plasticity 58 7.03 Static properties 150
3.08 Compressibility 60 7.04 Hydrous properties 152
3.09 Cohesion 62 7.05 Physical properties 154
3.10 Mineralogy 64 7.06 Thermophysical properties 156
3.11 Chemistry 66 7.07 Norms, standards and
3.12 Geotechnical classification 68 recommendations 158

4. Soil stabilization 73 8. Construction methods 163

4.01 Principles 74 8.01 Earth construction methods 164


4.02 Mechanisms 76 8.02 Dugouts 166
4.03 Densification by compaction 78 8.03 Earth-sheltered space 168
4.04 Densification by grading 80 8.04 Fill-in 170
4.05 Fibres 82 8.05 Cut blocks 172
4.06 Cement: principles 84 8.06 Compressed earth 174
4.07 Cement: practice 86 8.07 Shaped earth 176
4.08 Lime: principles 88 8.08 Stacked earth 178
4.09 Lime: practice 90 8.09 Moulded earth 180

xiii
8.10 Extruded earth 182 10.13 C>penings:arches 270
8.11 Poured earth 184 10.14 Groundfloors:principles 272
8.12 Straw clay 186 10.15 Groundfloors:design details 274
8.13 Daubed earth 188 10.16 Floors:principles 276
10.17 Floors:design details 278
9. Production methods 193 10.18 Flat roofs:principles 280
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10.19 Flat roofs:design details 282


9.01 Production technology 194
10.20 Pitched roofs:principles 284
9.02 Excavation and transport 196
10.21 Pitched roofs:design details 286
9.03 Pulverization and mixing 198
10.22 Vaults:principles 288
9.04 Rammed earth: production and
10.23 Vaults:design details 290
products 200
10.24 Cupolas:principles 292
9.OS Rammed earth:preparation of the earth 202
10.25 Cupolas:design details 294
9.06 Rammed earth: principles of
10.26 Fireplaces 296
formworks 204
10.27 Plumbing and electrical systems 298
9.07 Rammed earth:types of formworks 206
10.28 Renovation and conservation 300
9.08 Rammed earth: formworks for corners 208
9.09 Rammed earth:rammers 210
11. Disaster-resistant construction 305
9.10 Adobe:production and products 212
9.11 Adobe:preparation of the earth 214 11.01 Earthquakes: origins and
9.12 Adobe:manual production 216 mechanisms 306
9.13 Adobe: mechanized production 218 11.02 Earthquakes: natural origins,
9.14 Compressed blocks: production and magnitude and intensity 308
products 220 11.03 Earthquakes: impact on soil
9.15 Compressed blocks:pulverization 222 structures 310
9.16 Compressed blocks: screening and 11.04 Earthquakes: pathology of
mixing 224 structures 312
9.17 Compressed blocks: principles of 11.05 Earthquake-resistant engineering
compression 226 measures 314
9.18 Compressed blocks:types of presses 228 11.06 Principles of earthquake-resistant
9.19 Compressed blocks:manual presses 230 construction 316
9.20 Compressed blocks: motorized 11.07 Earthquakes: some
presses 232 recommendations 318
9.21 Compressed blocks: mobile units 234 11.08 Storms:origins and mechanisms 320
9.22 Compressed blocks:industrial units 236 11.09 Hurricanes:some recommendations 322
9.23 Factories 238 11.10 Floods:origins and mechanisms 324
9.24 Production- product quality 11.11 Floods:some recommendations 326
relationship 240
12. Earth wall finishes 331
10. Designguidelines 245
12.0 I Basic considerations 332
10.01 Water pathology 246 12.02 Surface protection 334
10.02 Structural pathology 248 12.03 Plasters and renderings 336
10.03 Foundations:principles 250 12.04 Earth renderings and plasters 338
10.04 Foundations:design details 252 12.05 Paints and sealers 340
10.05 Base courses:principles 254 12.06 Whitewashes 342
10.06 Base courses:design details 256 12.07 Slurries 344
10.07 Walls:principles and mortars 258 12.08 Pathology 346
10.08 Walls:brickwork 260 12.09 Good practice 348
10.09 Walls:corners and partitions 262 12.10 Lathing and anchoring 350
10.10 Walls: reinforcements and 12.11 Finishes and decorations 352
ring-beams 264 12.12 Tests 354
10.11 C>penings:principles 266
10.12 C>penings:design details 268 Bibliography 359

xiv
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