From the ground up ~ approaches to building a foundation for your natural building

Foundations for conventional building have, to a large extent, a one size fits all approach regardless of the type of ground you are building on i.e. a concrete and steel foundation that works equally well on all types of earth and varies only slightly in its design. It requires little thought and has been proven to be effective. The cement in concrete provides the compressive strength, and the steel tensile strength to resist cracking. It does however come at a cost to both your pocket and the environment.

When building with earth your foundation needs to be well considered as the integrity of your building rests here. Decisions you make about your foundation depend on the materials you have available, the type of ground you have to build on and what carbon footprint you want to leave. The goal should be to create foundations that are hard enough, move uniformly and resist cracking for the walls above it. Foundations will always have a higher Mpa value than the walls, however it does not need to be excessive. A 4 Mpa foundation is sufficient for a 1.6 Mpa mud-brick wall, which most types of foundations are suitable for. Furthermore, if after levelling the site the undisturbed earth is hard enough, foundations may well be unnecessary.

There are several strategies for foundations depending on the type of ground that you are building on. In this blog post, I discuss the four types of ground, (1) uniformly hard, (2) uniformly soft, (3) hard and soft, and (4) clay, their challenges and several strategies you may incorporate into your design. The discussion is quite technical in some areas so I recommend that you read my three-part series on understanding earth first. Continue reading

AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture + Innovation 2015/2016

Online entries for the 2015/2016 AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture + Innovation are now open and feature two new award categories. Alongside the two mainstays, Sustainable Architecture and Research in Sustainability, there are now two additional categories for Sustainable Products and Technology and Sustainable Social Programmes – making the Award South Africa’s premier platform for recognising excellence in sustainable practice and innovation.

Increasingly climate and social challenges are necessitating new solutions to persistent developmental challenges. The world needs visionaries that can imagine new answers and design new systems. This bi-annual Award recognises contributions that bring sustainable innovation to human living environments through an integrated approach to communities, planning, design, architecture, building practice, natural systems and technology.

Go to their webpage to find more detailed information on each of the categories, as well as the judging panel and closing dates, and to view past submissions and awarded projects. They have also created a seamless and accessible online entry platform should you have your own project, or be involved in one, that you believe qualifies for entry.

If you have any queries about the 2015/2016 AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture + Innovation, please email: briefing@sustainabledesign.co.za

First course of 2016

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TERRA Award ~ first international prize for contemporary earthen architecture

Earth is becoming increasingly popular in contemporary architecture: hundreds of projects of high aesthetic and technical quality are emerging across five continents. This material, which has low embodied energy, is readily available and appropriate for participatory buildings. It could help provide a solution to the needs for ecological and economical housing.

To enable both professionals and the general public to fully appreciate this building material, the following partners have taken the initiative, under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair “Earthen architecture, construction cultures and sustainable development”, to launch the first international prize for contemporary earthen architecture: the Labex AE & CC-CRAterre-ENSAG Lab research unit, the amàco project, the Grands Ateliers, the CRAterre association and EcologiK/EK magazine.

Wang Shu, 2012 Pritzker architecture prize laureate, is the president of honour of this TERRA Award, the trophies for which will be presented in Lyon on July 14, 2016 at the Terra 2016 World Congress.

Context

Since its creation in 1979, the CRAterre-ENSAG Lab has been considered as the international research and training reference centre for earthen construction. It will organize in July 2016, under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair “Earthen architecture”, the Terra 2016. This World Congress takes place every four years on a different continent and will be held for the second time in Europe. It is expected to draw around 800 professionals, teachers and researches to Lyon (France).

The TERRA Award was initiated within this framework. It will be the first international prize for contemporary earthen architecture and a natural furtherance of the national award launched in 2013 in France by CRAterre-ENSAG, AsTerre and EcologiK/EK magazine.

Objective

The purpose of the TERRA Award is not only to identify and distinguish outstanding projects, but also to highlight the audacity of the project owners for choosing to use earth, the creativity of the designers and the skills of the craftsmen and entrepreneurs.
An itinerant exhibition will feature 40 buildings from all continents, constructed using various techniques (adobe, cob, CEB, rammed earth, plaster, etc.) for all types of programs: housing, public facilities, activities, and exterior and interior designs. The exhibition will be completed with lectures and workshops by CRAterre-ENSAG and the amàco project.
The search for outstanding achievements deserving of this prize and the associated exhibition will make it possible to generate the first worldwide database on contemporary earthen architecture. The resulting virtual library will be available both to the general public and professionals via this website.

Involved projects

The projects must have been completed after January 2000.
There are eight categories covering all types of programs, whether new or renovated:

  • Individual housing
  • Collective housing
  • School, sports and health facilities
  • Cultural facilities and religious buildings
  • Offices, shops and factories
  • Interior layout and design
  • Exterior design, art and landscape
  • Architecture and local development

Text from the Terra Award website.

How to incorporate passive solar design in your building, using thermal mass and insulation.

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Passive solar design is the starting point of sustainable building. Once one understands the basic principles of using the abundant natural renewable resources at our disposal we become more creative in our approach to design, more in tune and observant, reconnecting us with the natural rhythms that surround and sustain us, if only we would pay attention. Sustainable buildings save money, reduce your carbon footprint and provide a healthy living environment, transforming buildings from consumers of energy to producers and forging buildings that meet our needs.

From a permaculture perspective, incorporating these aspects into the design of your home are excellent examples of several permaculture design principles. To mention the most obvious: Observing and interacting with your environment to make the most of the sun’s migration, catching and storing energy, using and valuing renewable resources and services, integrating functions and elements rather than segregating them and obtaining a yield from the planet’s most abundant energy source, the sun.

Passive Solar Design uses the energy provided by the sun and stored in the earth. First we need to look at how this energy is utilized by defining insulation and thermal mass and then look at the strategies of how to incorporate them into our designs.

Continue reading

The dynamic qualities of African Vernacular Architecture

In this guest post written by Jon Sojkowski, he chronicles common misperceptions of African vernacular architecture and how it is being abandoned for the status that comes with living in conventional Western style buildings. He asks whether these modern materials are truly better than the vernacular options.

By Jon Sojkowski

African vernacular architecture is a subject that has had very little attention. The lack of documentation and available data on the internet has led to a severe misunderstanding of a type of architecture that a large percentage of the population in Africa living in on a daily basis. The lack of data has led to negative perceptions regarding African vernacular architecture, mainly that it is temporary, primitive or for the poor. Most people, when they think of a mud hut, get an image of a dilapidated mud structure which is quite small and has a thatch roof. Sadly, this perception exists both inside and outside the African continent, but it is simply not the truth. Continue reading

Earth and Straw building conference, March 2016, New Zealand

Natural building materials have been used for centuries and today a large proportion of the world’s population continue to live in houses made from earth, stone, fibres and other naturally occurring materials. Natural Building is as valid in the 21st century as it ever was.

Globally the construction industry is not sustainable, placing large demands on both energy and material resources. It is vital that we learn to build and repair buildings in ways that not only minimise damage to ecosystems, but which also promote their regeneration. We need to actively explore and encourage different and better ways of building so that the well-being of both the environment and the people who occupy it are not harmed.

The conference will be a celebration of Natural Building worldwide and provides a rare face-to face opportunity for networking with others in the field from all over the globe. Builders, home owners, engineers, architects and designers, building officials, housing providers, building suppliers, farmers, researchers and academics, and anybody else who cares about the quality of the built environment and its impact on the world we share – come join us.

The 5 day, 6 night conference will feature keynote addresses, presentations from delegates, hands-on workshops and displays, trade shows, uniquely Kiwi social events, house tours (may be before and/or after the conference proper), the all-important Straw Bale Olympics and most importantly the opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and develop new ones.

Natural Building is an important part of this strategy and this conference provides an international forum for the critical exchange of diverse viewpoints and experiences. The aim of the conference is to foster development, education, and awareness of the positive impacts of natural building and related sustainable building approaches. We also intend to have a lot of fun, after all, this is a Celebration of Natural Building in the 21st Century.

When: 3 – 9 March, 2016

Where: Canterbury, New Zealand

Costs: from $280 – $1200 all inclusive; excluding travel and accommodation

Website: http://www.strawbuildconference.co.nz/

Contact: registrations@strawbuildconference.co.nz