Earthen Construction 101
“It’s just different in here.” These words or something like them spill from the mouths of earthen construction advocates the world over. “You need to experience it to really understand.” There is something to that notion, but don’t be surprised if when you first cross the threshold the feeling is oddly familiar. The human body has evolved to operate in a wide range of conditions. At the margins, we are capable of thriving in extreme heat or bitter cold, and yet who doesn’t relish that sweet spot in the middle? A shady path as the day begins to heat up, the warmth of a fire against the cold. Equilibrium just feels right to us. Earthen structures excel at equilibrium. Like giant climate batteries, they passively absorb and buffer the swings in temperature and humidity that feel like work to us.
Of all the reasons to build with earth, and there are many, this sense of “balance in place” may be the most compelling. Massive walls by their very nature impart a sense of strength, and with it, comfort. Natural surfaces and subtle forms that bear the unmistakable imprint of craft call out to be touched. Quiet is wrought from chaos, and even the light seems different, as if calmed by the presence of earth. The experience can be enchanting, but it’s the hand of physics at work, not magic. And largely it is the physics of clay.
Clay- the common denominator in all earthen construction. Best known as a durable natural binder, clay possesses the ability to absorb, store and release water vapor. This allows for the creation of beautiful, resilient, low impact structures that breathe. Coupled with the thermal flywheel effect of high mass walls, this “breathing” can create astonishing energy efficiencies in buildings designed to last centuries. All from a humble material found the world over beneath our feet.
Follow the links below to learn more; more about the science, the history, the types and the future of earthen construction.