Using it involves a process of compressing a damp mixture of earth that has suitable proportions of sand, gravel and clay (sometimes with an added stabilizer) into an externally supported frame that molds the shape of a wall section creating a solid wall of earth. Traditional stabilizers such as lime or animal blood were used to stabilize the material, but cement or asphalt emulsions have been the stabilizers of choice for modern times. Lime, while hazardous to handle, is also making a comeback. After compressing the earth the wall frames can be immediately removed and require an extent of warm dry days after construction to dry and harden. The structure can take up to two years to completely cure, and the more it cures the stronger the structure becomes. When the process is complete it is much like constructing a handmade wall of solid rock.
Formwork is set up creating the desired shape of the section of wall; damp material is poured in to a depth of between 100 to 250 mm (4 to 10 in). A pneumatically powered backfill tamper — something like a hand-held pogo stick with a flat plate on the bottom or even a manual tamper — is then used to compact the material to around 50% of its original height. Further layers of material are added and the process is repeated until the wall has reached the desired height. The wall is so solid that, if desired, the forms can be removed immediately. This is necessary if wire brushing to add texture is desired; otherwise walls become too hard to brush after around 60 minutes. Walls take some time to dry out completely, but this does not prevent further work on the project. Any exposed walls may be sealed to prevent water damage — there are several proprietary products specifically designed to seal earth walls.
Taipa fortifications at Paderne Castle in the Algarve, Portugal
In modern variations of the method, rammed earth walls are constructed on top of conventional footings or a reinforced concrete base, sometimes with extra ground insulation from a horizontal layer of styrofoam. Some builders also add coloured oxides or other items such as bottles or pieces of timber to add variety to the structure.
Once completely cured the walls are very workable. It is easy to drive a nail or screw into them and they can be patched if necessary with the result being undetectable if the same material was used.
One of the significant benefits of rammed earth constructions is its excellent thermal mass; it heats up slowly during the day and releases its heat during the evening. This can even out daily temperature variations and reduce the need for air conditioning and heating. On the other hand, rammed earth is not a good insulator. Like brick and concrete (which also have excellent thermal mass), rammed earth is often insulated in colder climates. The thickness and density of the walls lends itself naturally to soundproofing and the materials used in the walls make them virtually fireproof.
Rammed earth has been used around the globe for millennia in a wide range of climatic conditions, from wet northern Europe to dry regions in Africa. Rammed earth walls may be placed within the weatherproof fabric of the building. Depending on conditions walls may also have external insulation, soft plaster, timber cladding or a number of locally specific finishes which are applied to masonry
"I have to wake up every morning and be optimisic... I'm designer."
– William McDonough
"The blending of architecture, solar, wind, biological and electronic technologies with housing, food production, and waste utilization within an ecological and cultural context will be the basis of creating a new design science for the post-petroleum era."
– John Todd
"Permaculture is the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing
appropriate technology and community development. It offers a practical, creative approach to the problems of diminishing resources and threatened life support systems now facing the world."
– Simon Henderson
"Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the
diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way."
– Graham Bell
"Adopting permaculture in your garden could be the first step towards limiting your personal consumption and planning your life to become more creative as time goes by."
– Graham Bell
"Permaculture is revolution disguised as organic gardening."
– Graham Burnett
"Observe Nature thoughrully rather than labour thoughtlessly."
– Masanobu Fukuoka
"Permaculture is defined as consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for the provision of local needs…more precisely I see Permaculture as the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organising framework for implementing the above vision."
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"... everything is in continuous motion."
"Biomass is the keeper of organization."
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"Function reforms form, perpetually."
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"The map is not the territory."
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– The Talmud
"By mimicking a natural vegetation structure, farmers can copy a whole package of patterns and processes that have developed and worked in an ecological or evolutionary time frame. With this structural approach, a multitude of beneficial processes can be incorporated into agroecosystems."
– Judith Soule and Jon Piper
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– Aldo Leopold
"We all have the forest in our blood."
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"The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings."
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"Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early successes, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same as optimism."
- Vaclav Havel
"Cathedrals are incredible testaments to human endeavour. It is not only
their grandeur or splendour, but the thought that they often took more
than fifty years to build. Those who designed them, those who first
worked on them, knew for certain that they would never see them
finished. They knew only that they were creating something glorious
which would stand for centuries, long after their own names had been
We may not need any more cathedrals but we do need cathedral thinkers, people who can think beyond their own lifetimes."
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