Mud House Construction: Learning from the Old Ways

In many ways sustainable living is a return to the old ways of doing things. Unlike other construction materials such as concrete, wood, and steel, mud house construction is not environmentally destructive and it is relatively inexpensive.

Mud House Construction: Learning from the Old Ways

Just because a construction process, such as mud house construction, is an ancient method that does not mean that it has not been subject to technological advancement through thousands of years of use and innovation. For example, adobe, or sun-dried bricks, is a relatively advanced form of mud bricks requiring just the right mixture of mud and some form of reinforcement, generally straw or corn stalks are a good choice.

Probably the greatest challenge to wide-spread usage of mud construction in western cultures is the stigma attached to the building material. Many, especially urban planners and traditional architects, see the use of mud as a step “backward” to an “uncivilized” era.

However, this viewpoint discredits the majority of time that humans have experienced living in urban centers. Beginning about 10,000 years ago when agriculture became a constant presence in the lives of people and villages grew into cities, mud house construction was the primary material used to build most homes and buildings. The mud houses were long lasting and protected residents from both the heat and the cold. When the mud homes eventually fell into disrepair another was built atop the old foundation, thereby creating many of the residential mounds so important to archaeologists today.

An surprising example of how strong and long-lasting adobe brick construction can be is evidenced by the world heritage site, the Citadel of Bam (also known as Arg-é Bam) in the Kerman province of southern Iran; this structure is the world’s largest adobe building complex occupying about 45 acres of land and dating to at least 2,500 years ago. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 2003 destroyed the majority of the Citadel of Bam. Before this massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake finally collapsed the Citadel, it was in continual operation for more than two thousand years.

Besides the adobe method, other types of mud house construction techniques include cob, wattle and daub, cordwood/stone, rammed earth, earthen bag/sand bag, and straw-bale. All of these are sustainable construction methods with low energy cost to produce and to operate the structure. They can also be built to look like any other small home so as to discredit the stigma of building with earth. -KATHY FAIRCHILD

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