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137 Research: Mud as a Traditional Building Material

Anil Agarwal

The problem of shelter in the Third World Table 1 Population in metropolises and uncontrolled settlements.
may not be the most immediate and highest
priority problem in the world but it certainly is Year Population of Population in
the most extensive and apparently unsolvable city (millions) uncontrolled
problem. settlements

There is hardly a developing country that is

meeting its own housing targets. As towns- Nigeria Ibadan 1970 074 0.55 75%
especially the metropolises - become Ethiopia Addis Ababa 1968 074 066 90%
stronger magnets of people, more and more Senegal Dakar 1969 065 039 60%
people are coming to live in slums and Somalia Mogadishu 1967 021 o 16 77%
Tanzania Dar es Salaam 1967 027 010 36%
squatter settlements. Between 1950 and 1975, Morocco Casablanca 1971 145 1 01 70%
the number of cities with over one million Zambia Lusaka 1969 028 013 48%
inhabitants rose from 48 to 91 in the deve- Ivory Coast Abidjan 1964 044 026 60%
loped countries. But in the Third World, the Cameroon Douala 1970 025 020 80%
number of such cities nearly quadrupled, from
Source Global Review of Human Settlements, UN Conference on Human Settlements, Vancouver,
23 to 90. In these cities, anywhere between 20 1976, A/CONF 70/AIl
to 90 per cent of the people today live in
Environmental Aspects of Human Settlements A L Mabogunje, R P Misra & J E Hardoy,
slums, shanty towns and other uncontrolled SCOPE. International Council of Scientific Unions, 1976.
settlements, and in most cities their proportion
is steadily increasing.
Table 2 Who can afford low-cost housing?
What is called 'low-cost housing' remains
accessible only to the middle classes, and The table shows the monthly income required to purchase the cheapest complete housing unit then
beyond the purchasing power ofthe majority. available (including a toilet and other services) in six Third World cities in 1970 (prices in 1970 US
The World Bank estimated that income dis- dollars) The figures assume that loans are available (usually they are not) and that interest rates are
tribution in cities like Bogota, Mexico City , 10% With interest at 15% (a common figure for 1981) the number of households unable to afford
Madras, Ahmedabad and Nairobi in 1970 was the cheapest 1970 dwelling would rise to 57% in Hong Kong, 61 % in Bogota, 66% in Mexico City,
such that 47,55,63,64 and 68 per cent of the 77% in Nairobi and 79% in Ahmedabad and Madras
total households, respectively, could not
afford the cheapest modern house on the Cost of Monthly Monthly Households
market built with modern construction income unable to
materials (Table 2). It is now widely recog- dwelling ($) repayment ($) required ($) afford (%)
nised that the problem of human settlements
planning cannot be separated from the overall Mexico City 3005 28 184 55
social and economic context of the society. It Hong Kong 1670 15 103 35
is directly related, for instance, to spatial Nairobi 2076 19 127 68
planning and to processes for employment and Bogota 1474 14 91 47
Ahmedabad 616 6 38 64
income generation.
Madras 570 5 36 63
With respect to housing itself, there is a
growing realisation that governments ought Source Housing, World Bank, 1975.
not to treat housing as a permanent end-
product that has to be delivered to the
population, but as a process, which is incre-
mental in nature for the majority of the
popUlation. The role of the government then
is that of an agency which creates basic policy
framework and infrastructure in a manner that
encourages and supports this process.
Research: Mud as a Traditional Building Material 138

Building Materials 2-3 times more expensive at the cement on Science and Technology for Development
factory in Dar es Salaam; and in Indonesia, held in Vienna in August, 1979: "Though
Planning in terms of building materials, taking the price of cement is rarely below US$5OO per there exists a rich heritage in design and
into account the social and economic context ton. In various countries of the Third World construction from Hadhramut to Nubia, there
of the society, is probably one of the most transportation costs exceed the depot price of is very little concern for these technologies
neglected aspects of human settlements. cement after a distance of 100-200 miles. that may be within the reach of the bottom 70
There has been a wholesale and often in- Large parts of the rural Third World do not per cent of the population of the region. These
appropriate adoption of Western materials even possess the transportation infrastructure beautiful structures often decorate travel
and techniques - even including the large to allow the importing of cement. literature but apparently little engineering
scale importation and use of prefabricated or National self-reliance in cement production is attention has been devoted to studying and
modular housing units. In the last 20 years also not easy to attain. Firstly, the raw deVeloping traditional forms. "
many parts of the Islamic world, for instance, materials needed to produce cement may not Efforts are being made, or have been made in
have seen increasingly rapid and ill considered always be available within the country, and the recent past, in various parts of the world to
destruction of its architectural heritage, often even if they are available, they may be use and improve mud as a building material.
combined with indifference to, or ignorance of concentrated in one part of the country. This is not a comprehensive description of all
Islamic cultural traditions and environmental Secondly, the current scale of the techno- these efforts but some of the high points in the
conditions of the Middle East. But this dis- structure for cement production is often research in this field are mentioned below.
regard for traditional architecture and building inappropriate for many developing countries Let me first recount quickly the major defects
materials is not restricted to the Islamic world. - especially from the pqint of view of of mud as a building material. The major
It is shared by more or less the entire Third availability of skilled manpower to erect, disadvantages are:
World. As President Nyerere of Tanzania said operate and maintain large industrial plants. It is easily eroded by water.
in his 1977 assessment of the Tanzanian The entire plant has to be imported by most It has a low tensile strength which means
economy; "The widespread addiction to countries. Even in a country like India where that roofs are difficult to make with mud
cement and tin roofs is a kind of mental skilled manpower exists, it is not easy to install (except, of course, in the way that ancient
paralysis. " new plants at the rate at which the demand is Nubians did with vaults).
Nearly 50 per cent of the world's population growing. This leads to a perpetual scarcity of It is susceptible to mechanical damage.
still lives in buildings where mud has been cement. The cost calculations of ambitious Rodents, for instance, can easily make
used as a major building material. Given the housing programmes have frequently been holes in mud walls.
rate at which purchasing powers are increasing sabotaged by meteoric rises in cement and Mud does not adhere to wood properly, so
in the Third Word, a majority of people in the other building material prices because supply gaps often develop around wooden doors
Third World will in all likelihood continue to failed to keep pace with the increased and windows embedded in mud walls.
live in mud buildings well into the foreseeable demand. Mud soaks up water and becomes very
future. The rising prices of energy may cause Traditional building materials, on the other heavy. Wooden beams supporting a heavy
modem building materials to move even hand, offer several advantages. They are mud roof can begin to sag when it rains.
further out of reach of the purchasing capa- cheap. They are readily available. Capital The effects of water on mud buildings can be
bilities of many in the developing world. requirements are lower. A house built with greatly reduced by taking a variety of preven-
Cement, for instance, is an extremely energy- traditional building materials can be easily tive measures according to the local climatic
intensive product. Fuel costs make up extended as the occupant's income increases; and rainfall conditions in the region. The
between one-third and one-half of basic and, such houses can be built in far greater Building and Road Research Institute at
cement production costs. In Denmark, the variety as each householder builds according Kumasi, Ghana, has published a series of
cement industry accounts for about two per to his choice, thereby creating a far better papers on earth buildings. Table 3 outlines a
cent of the national energy bill, while in social, cultural, and psychological environ- series of preventive measures against common
Jamaica, imported energy makes up over one ment than that provided by most low-cost defects of mud buildings in different climatic
half the cost of a locally-produced bag of mass housing schemes in the Third World. and rainfall conditions.
cement. Rising energy costs also affect cement That traditional building materials should be We notice as we study this Table that the
prices via transport. As cement production is given adequate attention, is widely recognised general principle is to protect walls and finally
generally centralised in large plants, this in the literature and lip service is paid to them the foundations, as the climate becomes
means that the price of cement is invariably at many conferences and meetings of experts. wetter and wetter. In very dry regions, such as
higher in the rural areas (where purchasing But still little is ever done. those of the Middle East, it is not necessary to
powers are lower) than in the urban areas. To take a quote from the regional paper for have overhanging roofs to protect walls from
The price of cement in rural Tanzania is often West Asia presented to the UN Conference rain. But this does become necessary as we
139 Research: Mud as a Traditional Building Material

Table 3 Preventive Measures in Different Climatic Conditions

Climatic Conditions Common Defects Preventive Measures

A. Desert and semi-arid area with 1. Settlement and shrinkage 1. Good soil selection - sandy clays or clayey loams or gravely clays
annual rainfall less than 10 cracks but not extensive 2 Provision of non-erodable rendering such as lean concrete plasters
inches 2. Erosion of walls caused by 3 Planned layout
wind laden with sand. 4 Improved workmanship.
3 Mechanical damage 5 Loans scheme in cash or in kind for preventive measures

B. Dry areas with annual rainfall Settlement and shrinkage 1 Good soil selection - sandy clays or clayey loams or grave ley clays
of 10-30 inches cracks 2. Provision of non-erodable and waterproof rendering such as lean
2 Erosion of walls by wind or concrete or soil cement plaster
rain 3. Planned layout with good drainage facilities.
3 Mechanical damage. 4 Good roofing and long overhanding eaves.
5. Improved workmanship
6. Loans scheme in cash or in kind for preventive measures

C. Wet areas with rainfall of 30-50 Settlement and shrinkage 1 Good soil selection - sandy clays or clayey loams or grave ley clays
inches. cracks - very extensive. 2. Planned layout with good drainage facilities.
2. Erosion of walls and 3. Concrete aprons and platforms around building
foundations. 4 Vertical down pipes and rain gutters.
3 Underscouring 5 Good roofing, long over handing eaves or verandahs
4. Mechanical damage 6. Provision of waterproof and non-erodable rendering
7 Improved workmanship
8 Loan scheme in cash or kind for preventive measures

D. Extremely wet areas with Severe settlement and 1. Good soil selection - sand clays or clayey loams or grave ley clays
rainfall above 50 inches shrinkage cracks 2. Planned layout with good drainage facilities
2. Erosion of walls and 3. Concrete footings, concrete blocks, soil-cement and stones for
foundations foundation Where the annual rainfall is 80 inches and above, it is
3 Underscouring desirable to have foundation height extending to at least two feet
4 Mechanical damage above ground level
4 Damp-roof course
5 Concrete platforms and aprons around building.
6 Vertical pipes and rain gutters.
7 Verandahs with floors designed in such a way as to throw outwards the
water from driving rains; desirable for areas with frequent driving
8. Good roofing and long over handing eaves
9 Provision of waterproof and non-erodable rendering
10 Loan scheme in cash or in kind for preventive measure

Source' A.A Hammond, Prolonging the Life of Earth Buildings in the Tropics Building and Road Research Institute, Current Paper CP14173,
Kumasi, Ghana, May/June 1973
Research: Mud as a Traditional Building Material 140

move to regions with higher rainfall. In actual construction on highways, irrigation

regions which are extremely wet, it becomes canals and ditches, airfield runway shoulders
necessary to protect the foundations as well. and sub-bases. It has also published work on
In fact, many of these considerations are taken the fatigue of cement-soil and design thickness
into account in traditional architectural for pavements.
designs. The United Kingdom has a very wet The amount of cement required depends on
climate and yet it had an extensive tradition of the clay content of soil. For low-cost housing,
earthern buildings before the era of cement the following amount of cement is recom-
destroyed it. In Cornwall, there is a local mended:
saying about cob buildings: "All cob needs is a
good hat and good pair of boots," referring to Composition of soil Cement required (%)
the over hanging roof and the protection of
the foundation. Clay (%)
Sand (%)
A good selection of soil is very important,
particularly as clay tends to expand when wet 70 30 8
and to contract when dry, causing cracks. 60 40 12
Sand, on the other hand, crumbles easily and 50 50 15
erodes when dry. Clayey loams or sandy clays
are, therefore, most suitable. It is important to Cement-soil structures have been built in
formulate simple techniques by which villagers various parts of Africa and South America
can find the best soil, or obtain the best mix. and today cement-soil is being promoted as a
In Pondicherry, for instance, certain inmates building material in several upgrading schemes
of the Aurobindo Ashram have encouraged for slums.
local villagers to build a new village with Construction of a rammed earth wall using
rammed earth. Research on soil-cement in developing coun-
sliding form work, near X'ian (Shanxi)
tries has focussed on the development of
For rammed earth construction, a mixture of Photo: C Little/Aga Khan Awards. block-making machines. The most important
four parts clay (including loam and silt) and six development was the invention of the CINVA
parts sand (no big gravel) - i.e. less than 50% Ram in 1950's at CINVA, the Inter-American
clay - is good. Housing Centre in Bogota, Colombia. The
They promoted a simple technique to explain ling of the site and drainage are very machine is a simple, hand-operated producer
to the villagers how to make good soil for important. This is seldom adequately planned of stabilised earth blocks. It is cheap and
construction. This is described as follows: in Third World rural settlements. A drainage portable, and can be easily carried on mule-
ditch around many mud settlements would back through difficult terrain. Hundreds of
Step 1 Prepare a mixture of earth, containing probably do more good than anything else.
six parts of sand and four parts of clay; add thousands of low-cost dwellings have been
water (not too much, it should not stick). With If all these factors are adequately taken into built with blocks compacted with the CINVA
two hands form slowly and carefully a account while constructing a mud building, Ram, and the machine itself is being manu-
symmetrical roll about 20 cm long on the rear there is little reason to believe that it will not factured locally in many countries, from
side of a spade give good service for 50 years or more with Ghana to Indonesia. CARE, an American
Step 2' Take it carefully into your hands, let little maintenance. agency, has used it extensively and its largest
one end of it project out until it breaks. housing programme using the CINVA Ram
Step 3' The broken part falls down. If it is was in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in
between 8-12 ern long, it is suitable for 1968. Nearly 20,000 houses were built over 6
Soil Stabilisation or 7 years in the delta region of that country
rammed earth.
Step 4: If it is more than 12 ern, add more affected by cyclones.
sand. There has been considerable research into soil There is still considerable scope for promotion
Step 5' If it is less than 8 ern, add more clay stabilisation, and three materials have been of soil and cement in various parts of the Third
employed and studied in some detail: cement, World - and one soil-cement enthusiast even
Finally, certain other elements which bitumen, and lime. Cement-soil research has visualises an industry comprised of mobile
seemingly have little to do with housing per se, been conducted by the Portland Cement soil-cement rural firms, each using a battery of
have to be taken into consideration as they do Association in the USA for many years. It has CINVARams.
affect mud houses in particular. Proper level- published manuals for laboratory use and
141 Research: Mud as a Traditional Building Material

Asphalt Stabilised Soil passive solar houses. A recent investigation in Ghana revealed that
A pilot project of 200 houses using soil tropical lateritic soil rich in alumina-containing
This product was, in fact, first produced as stabilised with bunker oil is currently under- minerals can be stabilised with lime to increase
early as 3500 B.C. in Babylonia. The addition way in Khartoum, Sudan and according to its strength for use in'wet conditions and improve
of small amounts of asphalt (bitumen) to durability. Soil not rich in alumina-containing
sponsors, the United Nations Centre for
certain soils to produce a more durable, minerals can also be stabilised with lime but
Human Settlements, asfadobe bricks and
structurally superior building material has mortar produced as a result of the project should be used with caution, mainly for
become an important industry in the southern construction of single-storey dwellings carrying
were 30 per cent lower in cost than other
USA during the past 45 years. a lightweight roof, and in environments which
available building materials. The UNDP has
also supported an asfadobe project in Juba, do not give rise to abnormal loading con-
Asphaltic cement is mixed with water con- ditions. It was also found that blocks suitable
taining an emulsifying agent (usually soap). Sudan.
for single-storey low-cost housing in the
The best mixes are: The largest manufacturer of asfadobe is Hans tropics can be produced using a simple block
Sumpf Company in California which has a press (CINVA ram) but improved perfor-
Composition of soil Asphalt highly automated plant for production of mance is obtained by increasing compaction
asfadobe bricks. The International Institute of pressure.
High sand content 4-6% Housing Technology, of the California State
University, Fresno, which specialises in In making a good choice at the local level
Medium sand content 7-12%
13-20% research on soil stabilisation techniques, is a between the various stabilisers, it is important
High clay content
leader on asfadobe research. The rising price to organise research programmes that
of oil is forcing the company to study other evaluate all possible local resources and
Bunker oil and some other petroleum deri-
stabilisers like sulphur and latex. identify the spectrum of choices available to
vatives can also be used to make asphalt-
local builders for different applications. And
stabilised bricks. in the evaluation of these choices, it is also
Several factors are responsible for reviving important to consider whether stabilisation is
asfadobe technology. Asphalt stabilisation Lime-stabilised Soil required at all, that is, whether protective
gives the soil greater durability without the detailing would be sufficient, for instance.
need for firing it; greater stress and pressure
Lime strengthens the soil by reacting chemi- There is a fear that interest in the uses of earth
resistance is obtained while reducing the need
cally with the clay contained within it. It as a building material may become an exclu-
for maintenance, and, it renders the soil
should be therefore used to stabilise soil with a sively technocratic interest in stabilisation.
insect-proof and waterproof. In addition to
clay content higher than 50 per cent. How- There appears to be a strong desire to tum
having greater structural strength than un-
ever, cement is better suited for stabilisation of mud into something like cement - regardless
treated adobe, sundried asfadobe is almost
sandy soils. of the need to do so. For low-cost housing to
impermeable to moisture and actually may be
Stabilisation with lime has had less research remain low-cost, increases in cost must be
submerged for extensive periods of time
than stabilisation with cement and bitumen. minimal.
without erosion or loss of its weight-bearing
capability. Because of its internal dryness, But bitumen and cement may not be easily
asfadobe does not host vermin, bacteria or available in many developing countries,
insects and, therefore, is an extremely sanitary especially in small towns and villages. An
Basic Research Towards the Conservation
medium for domestic use and for construction effective and versatile stabiliser which can be
of Mud Bricks
of stores for agricultural produce. produced efficiently on a small scale near the
point of use is therefore needed. Lime,
Again, as a result of its internal dryness, The International Council of Monuments and
although dependent upon chemical reaction
asfadobe acquires excellent thermal qualities; Sites (ICOMOS), together with the Inter-
with clay minerals for its stabilisation function
its heat conductivity is less than that of poured national Centre for Conservation in Rome
- and thus is more restricted in its application
concrete, concrete blocks or fired brick. With has sponsored three international meeting; on
than Portland cement - broadly fulfils these
proper consideration of roofs floors doors mud brick conservation. The first meeting
windows and other sources of heat l~ss or '
criteria. Most countries have accessible
sources of calcium carbonate (chalk, lime- attempted to assess the technical and socio-
gain, asfadobe homes have very desirable heat economic problems involved in conservation
stone, coral, etc.) which can be readily
transfer characteristics. Generally, asfadobe and the second identified various research
decomposed or burned to give quicklime;
walls maintain heat equilibrium by functioning measures. The U.K. Committee of ICOMOS
hydrated or slaked lime is then obtained by
as heat storage and heat dissipation units and has recently started a major research pro-
addition of water. The whole process can be
make an excellent medium for the design of gramme aimed at developing improved con-
carried out economically on a small scale.
Research: Mud as a Traditional Building Material 142

servation technologies for structures built in examine the presence of such microbial
mud brick and related materials. If this products in mud walls, which could arise as a
programme is successful, it could generate result of the fermentation of the organic
valuable information for development of low materials traditionally added to mud. The
cost housing materials as well. team also proposes to encourage the forma-
Over the last 20 years, attempts to conserve tion of such products by the addition of simple
mud brick monuments have generally failed. nutrients (starch, molasses, etc.) to see
These measures were undertaken on a trial whether the strength of mud bricks is
and error basis and usually involved spraying improved. If this research is successful, a
of chemicals such as silicones, polyvinyl cheap and simple technology that is within the
acetate and bitumens on decaying walls. capabilities of rural communities could
Incomplete coverage, or a small failure, soon become available.
reintroduced the decay process and the Direct use of sundried bricks is also gaining
materials readily peeled off. popularity in many parts of the world. The
The ICOMOS research approach in the most celebrated work has been that of
United Kingdom is to go back and to analyse Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy, particularly
and understand in detail the geotechnical and because of the ingenious ancient techniques
engineering parameters of the decay process that he has revived for making roofs with mud
in mud structures. In another project, efforts bricks. But the most extensive use of sun-dried
are being made to understand certain micro- bricks for constructing buildings is today
biological processes that might be taking place taking place in the southwestern United
in mud walls. Traditionally, a variety of States. It is estimated that about half a million
organic materials have been mixed with mud Americans today live in 176,000 adobe homes
to stabilise it, or used for rendering mud walls - 97 per cent of which are located in the four
Use of sundried mud bricks for construction in contiguous states of New Mexico, Arizona,
water-resistant. For example; in northern the town of Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) Recently
Ghana, an extract of boiled banana stems is Texas and California - and probably some
made bricks are seen drying nearby
mixed with lateritic soils; in Upper Volta and 1500 new ones are being built each year.
Photo C. Little/Aga Khan A wards Fifteen years ago only 3 or 4 builders in
northern Ghana, a plant extract locally known
as 'am' is used as varnish, which colours the Albuquerque - the 'adobe capital' of the
walls red; in northern Nigeria, 'laso' (an USA - constructed adobe houses. Today,
extract from the vine Vitis pallida, locally over 20 adobe builders exercise their trade
known as 'dafara') and 'makuba' (made from there. This pattern is evident in Santa Fe,
the fruit pod ofthe locust bean tree) are used Tucson, and other towns throughout the
for waterproofing mud walls; cow dung mixed southwestern USA. Ten per cent of the
with clay is used widely in India; in Sudan, homes built in 1980 in the state of New
'jaloos' houses are treated with 'zibla', a local Mexico, according to one estimate, were
waterproofing material made from cow or made from adobe. However, because of the
horse dung; and, straw has been widely mixed high labour costs involved, adobe buildings
with mud since Biblical times, especially in are mainly being constructed either by the
West Asia. In Ethiopia, straw (preferably poor, who build their own homes, or rich,
'chid', the straw of millet) is used in mixing artistically inclined persons. Adobe houses can
'chika' or soil paste. virtually become sculptures in their own right.
Research has shown that forces that attract A major factor in the revival of adobe is the
mud particles and hence determine the rising cost of energy, which is not only forcing
strength of bricks are governed by the elec- builders to reconsider energy-intensive con-
trical charges on the surface of the particles. struction materials, but is also creating a
demand for energy-efficient houses. While the
These electrical charges can be modified by steady-state thermal resistivity of adobe is not
the both organic or inorganic coatings Certain Brickyard at a commune near Kashgar Using as great as some high technology construction
microbial products like extracellular poly- moulds for making two bricks at a time, workers
materials, protagonists of adobe value its
saccharides are known to bind particles. A set bricks out to dry ability to store energy and stabilise tempera-
Cardiff University team is planning to Photo: S Niroumand
143 Research. Mud as a Traditional Building Material

Table 4 Thermal Conductivity of Walling Materials plain and stabilised adobe walls as com-
ponents in buildings The testing facility,
Material "k" Source consisting of eight structures, is located nine
miles north of Santa Fe. This study should
B Th. UPersq ft.
per hr per deg F
generate precise data about the thennal
difference per characteristics of mud walls and whether mud
inch thickness walls do eventually lead to savings in energy
Rammed Earth 47 University of Saskatchewan Adobe, meanwhile, is already being used
Pressed bricks or blocks 47 Assumed extensively in the construction of passive solar
Adobe Blocks 3.50 University of California houses, whose numbers are growing rapidly in
Adobe - sundried brick 358 University of California the USA. The enonnous demand for energy
Stabilized adobe brick 4.00 University of California in the Middle East to cool residences can be
Common clay brick 800 Building Research Station U. K
partly attributed to the change away from mud
Limestone 10.60 National Physical Laboratory U K.
structures that is taking place in these coun-
Dense concrete 700 National Physical Laboratory U.K
tries. In the middle of summer, up to 66 per
cent of Kuwait's installed electrical capacity is
utilised only for air conditioning. And with a
Table 5 Over-all Heat Transmittance Coefficient (Air-to-Air) "u"
power-generating capacity failing to keep pace
with demand, even oil-rich Kuwait is today
Type of Walls Over-all Transmittance Coefficient "U" contemplating energy conservation pro-
B Th. U , Sq ft., Nr. Deg F. Temp Diff grammes.
for wall thickness:

6" 9" 10" 12" 14" 18"

Building for Earthquake Resistance
Pressed Brick or Block 041 032 031 0.28 026 022
Rammed in Situ 0.41 0.32 0.31 0.28 026 022 The susceptibility of mud structures to earth-
Adobe Brick or Block 0.34 027 0.26 022 020 0.16 quakes has been widely recorded. The major
Stabilized Adobe 038 030 027 024 022 0.18
portion of the housing stock in the seismic
zones of the world is made with earth, and the
Common Brick 0.44 035 majority of deaths in earthquakes are attri-
Concrete (dense) 050 0.42 039 butable to collapse of earthen structures. The
engineers' response to the problem has been
to roundly condemn earthen structures and to
tures: the so-called "thennal mass" effect. concrete. But a range of figures are reported encourage a gradual abandonment of such
The literature is full of references to the in the literature. The thennal condUctivity of a buildings. This response was, among other
excellent manner in which traditional archi- material such as stabilised soil is affected by reasons, conditioned by the belief that grew in
tectural designs and building materials are the moisture content of the material. A the 1950's that the disappearance of earthen
adapted to local climatic conditions. But in no saturated sample may have a conductivity housing was only a matter of time. Now,
area is there a greater dearth of detailed several times higher than a dry sample. Precise however, realisation is growing once again
studies as in this. Little precise data exists even values for thennal capacity of plain or stabi- that earthen structures are here to stay, and
with respect to mud bricks and their energy - lised soil walls are also not available, especially that people will continue to build and live in
related parameters. This is partly because of when the effects of interaction with other them far into the forseeable future. There also
the total lack of standardisation which exists components of the building are included. remains some divided opinion about the
with respect to the material or the manner in Several New Mexico organisations are today susceptibility of constructions in mud brick.
which it is used across the world. The available pooling their technical resources to take a Archaeologists and architects report buildings
data does show that both the thennal con- close look at the energy-efficiency of adobe. thousands of years old, situated in earthquake
ductivity 'k' and the overall air-to-air heat areas, that still stand.
The objective of their three-year study, for-
transmittance coefficient 'U' of rammed earth, The manner by which knowledge about
mally known as the Southwest Thennal Mass
stabilised adobe bricks, and sundried adobe disaster-resistance has evolved is apparently
Study, is to measure the perfonnance of both
bricks, are better than that of fired bricks and
Research. Mud as a Traditional Building Material 144

responsible for this inconsistency in views and (8) There are not enough cross-walls to rooted social and cultural practices. To
opinions. TIris knowledge had developed resist the horizontal forces of earthquakes; improve the seismic performance of earthen
partly from analogy, based on an examination (9) The roof is too heavy; buildings, light-weight roofs, for instance, are
of what types of adobe dwellings fail and why, (10) The roof supports are inadequate; being uniformly recommended by engineers.
and partly, from the application of structural (11) The eaves are not large enough to However, the roof is used for a variety of
design theories originally developed to obtain protect the walls from rain; social activities: for sleeping, for drying food.
resistance to disaster forces in industrialised (12) Elements of the pediment or gable Lightweight roofs will not be socially accept-
countries where the materials used and the are poorly joined to the rest of the able in such circumstances.
construction practices relate to different tech- structure; The Albuquerque workshop may result in a
nical standards, and supervisory capabilities. (13) The height from floor to ceiling is too major research programme on earthquake
Putting these two types of knowledge together great or the structure is more than one resistance in earthern buildings but it would be
and superimposing them on the highly storey high; unfortunate if the direction is only towards
variable, unstandardised, building processes (14) The lintels are insufficiently 'hi-tech' adobe - pre-stressed adobe, rein-
and materials used by local communities in embedded in the walls. forced poured adobe, etc. - a phrase that was
different parts of the world with varying levels B. Defects related to the material used: often repeated during the workshop. The key
or workmanship, has obvious limitations. (1) Use of inappropriate soil, poor pro- question is how do we acquire greater under-
The recent International Workshop on portions of stabilising material and/or standing of the social processes by which
Earthen Buildings in Seismic Areas held in excessive water used in fabrication; communities can be involved in the improve-
Albuquerque (May, 1981) heard about several (2) Improper dimensioning, especially ment of their housing stock. The universal
efforts to improve earthquake resistance. A adobe bricks of excessive thickness. experience is that there is considerable com-
general consensus was that only those efforts munity interest in incorporating earthquake-
C. Construction Defects:
would succeed which aim to bring about resistant features immediately after a disaster
(1) Use of very fresh adobe bricks;
simple improvements in the structural system but seldom in pre-disaster or non-disaster
(2) Absence of filling in the vertical joints;
of the building without changing substantially situations. It is in social organisation and
(3) Poor workmanship in laying the
the basic material or forms of construction. (A mobilisation that most learning still needs to
bricks, which is reflected in the poor
dangerous trend in certain seismic areas of the be done.
geometrical quality of the walls (bricks out
world - in Kashmir, for instance - is the of line or out of plumb);
slow but steady abandonment of earthquake- (4) Building during the rainy season
resistant forms of traditional arcpitecture and without adequate protection;
the adoption of less-resistant modem designs A Future for Mud Housing?
(5) Very rapid elevation of the wall
in their place). causing settling in the lower courses.
Interest in mud appears to go in cycles. The
Eric Carlson has listed a number of common A variety of simple technologies and educa- first major period in this century of interest in
defects found in self-made adobe structures tional programmes but not sophisticated earthen structures began in the 1930's and
with poor workmanship: structural solutions appear to be the best lasted until the early 1950's. During this phase,
A. Structural Defects: strategy at the moment to mitigate the effects researchers in developed countries experi-
(1) There is no foundation, or it is not of these defects. For instance, ring beams can mented with the material in great detail.
deep enough, or it is very poorly made; be used to tie the top of the walls together and Several manuals were published; prestigious
(2) No consideration has been given to to prevent tensile cracking from developing at journals like The Scientific American reported
the important function of a foundation as the upper comers. Soil stabilisation together on the importance of earth as a building
protection of the wall against ground with the use of split cane for reinforcement material; and, in Britain, an entire village
moisture (capillarity); can also substantially increase resistance to using earth was even built under government
(3) Poor overlapping of the adobe bricks; lateral forces. Construction of openings auspices. (The village, built in Wiltshire in
(4) There is nothing to anchor the struc- requires special attention - especially their 1920, still stands today). TIris interest in earth
ture (tie-beam of adobe clay at least); location, size and need for effective reinforce- arose because of the shortage of construction
(5) The distance between columns, wall ment around them. Some standardisation materials created by war, migrations, etc. In
intersections or other load-bearing mem- could also be of help, such as promotion of developing countries there has been only
bers is too great; more symmetrical shapes and establishment of sporadic experimentation, and more with
(6) The area of the openings in the walls upper limits to length and span of mud walls. earthen housing itself. The development of
(doors and windows) is excessive; Changes in certain structural elements may, the CINVA Ram is a good example of this
(7) The openings are too close to wall however, be very difficult because of the close effort.
intersections or junctions; relationship they have with various deep-
145 Research Mud as a Traditional Building Material

Mud bricks, cut with a special wooden shovel rather than moulded, being passed to a mason building a Applying a coating of cement over a lecently
wall near Kashgar. completed wall of mud brick Kashgar (Xinjianf().
Photo: P. Collard. Photo: P Collard.

Today we are witnessing another period of built and have an alternative to build with that we see today?
revival of interest in earth. This revival is modem materials. Earth is used mainly in the From a sociological standpoint, all the forces
partly due to concerns that have arisen as a walls, and as the cost of walls usually does not of exclusion are operating against the
result of wholesale destruction of our archi- exceed a quarter of the total cost of a building, material. Firstly, who wants to study or teach
tectural heritage. It is also because of the the use of mud does not lower costs substan- about building in earth? There is hardly an
scarcity of modem construction materials. tially. There may be an overall cost reduction architectural school which teaches how to use
Purchasing powers are not keeping pace with of 10-15 per cent but this is probably too low traditional building materials. Secondly, who
the rising costs of modem construction an amount to constitute a serious alternative wants to allow the building of earthen
materials; poverty remains a tenacious - unless labour is supplied by the house structures? Most building codes do not allow
phenomenon, and increasingly it is being builders themselves, in which case they can building in earth. The entire engineering and
realised that mud structures are here to stay. also take advantage of the substitution architectural profession is prejudiced against
A third reason now is the spiralling price of between material and labour costs that the use the material.
energy. The rising cost of energy is not only of earth allows.
driving the cost of construction materials up, it In the urban areas, however, the most
The justification for using earth really comes important factor is the current nature of urban
is also creating a movement towards energy- in those circumstances where earth is the only
efficient structures. Earth is becoming a part plans. The design of buildings, also like the
alternative - a situation in which probably choice of materials to be used in them, must
of the movement towards passive solar the majority of the world still finds itself. In
housing. ultimately have a basis in the urban plan,
many parts, even traditional construction which itself is a part of the overall social plan.
What then does the future appear to hold for materials like timber and thatch are reportedly The advantages of using traditional building
improving earthen housing in the developing becoming scarce. materials are essentially similar to the advan-
world? Purely from a cost point of view, there Should we then expect a real movement tages of planning for low-rise housing as
does not appear to be an enormous advantage towards earthen buildings in the future - against high-rise housing:
in pushing people towards mud buildings, over and above the intellectual romanticism
especially those people who get their houses An individual can build his own house.
and the artistic fascination with the material
Research: Mud as a Traditional Building Material 146

A low-rise building has a shorter construc- especially rural housing, is caught up in this Earthen Buildings in Seismic Areas of India, Jai
tion period, and involves less capital. social web. Extricating it is going to be very Krishna and Brijesh Chandra, ibid

Low-rise housing can be extended as the difficult, unless a mechanism can be found by Social and Cultural Aspects of Earthquake
occupant's income increases. which status can be bestowed on earth. This Resistent Adobe Housing Program, David Oakley,
Low-rise housing has far greater variety, as would probably call for a revolution in atti-
each householder builds according to his tudinal changes, which one cannot see coming Earthquake Resistent Construction of Earthen Housing,
choice. even far into the foreseeable future - though A.S Arya and T Boem, ibid
Multi-storied buildings have to be built with clearly all those interested in housing of, and "The Endurance of Earths as Building Material- and
scarce and expensive construction by, the poor must strivefor it. Ironically, there the Discreet but Continuous Charm of Adobe" ,
is just a very, very remote, but distinct chance Aydine Germen, M STU. Journal of the Faculty of
materials, such as cement and steel. Low- Architecture, Vol. 5. No 1, Spring 1979
rise houses can be built with traditional that the rich may bestow status on earth by
materials like mud, brick and thatch. incorporating it as an energy-efficient material Cluster Layouts: A Basis for the Design of (Earthen)
Structures in Urban Dwelling Environments. Mark H.
The future of traditional building materials in in their palatial solar houses. Butler, International Workshop on Earthen Buildings
urban areas will be intertwined with the in Seimic Areas, op cit
importance that housing planners attach to "Third World Housing: Space as a Resource", Charles
low-rise housing. As governments tend to M Correa, Ekistics 242, January 1976
encourage schemes for slum upgrading, the
advantages of low-rise housing will come to be
Mud, Mud. The potential of earth-based materials for
regarded as outweighing their disadvantages. Third World Housing, Anil Agarwal, International
And in such schemes, traditional building Institute for Environment and Development, London,
materials will certainly obtain, however 1981

grudging, a role to play. Housing, World Bank, 1975

But finally, we have to ask who wants to live Prolonging the Life of Earth Buildings in the Tropics,
in earthen buildings? Here too, unfortunately, A A Hammond, Building and Road Research Insti-
the answer is: very few. Earth is today tute, Current Paper CP/4173, Kumasi, May/June, 1973.
regarded as a low-status material. Housing is RuralIndia Village Houses in Rammed Earth, Pop-
not the first priority of a poor family on its poswamy, Dienste in Ubersee, Stuttgart, 1979
ascending scale of perceived needs - at least Construction Standards and Methods Appropriate for
in the tropics. Higher priorities are food, job, Simple Building Needs, UNDP, Interregional Project
water, and sometimes even education. Until No INT177/0211A/01l42, June 1979
these are obtained, just about any shelter is Research and Promotional Requirements for Earthen
acceptable. Improvements in housing con- Buildings in Developing Countries, Eric Carlson,
ditions become an immediate need only after International Workshop on Earthen Buildings in
Seismic Areas, Vol 2, Albuquerque, New Mexico,
all these basic needs have been met; in other May 24-28, 1981
words, only after a poor family has moved
Lime-Stabilised Soil Building Blocks, J R Load,
several rungs up on the socio-economic Building Research and Practice, March/April, 1979
ladder. But by then it has also acquired
enough notions of status and it then generally Built in Earth, ICOMOS (Mud Brick Research Pro-
gramme), London
wants a house built with modem materials
instead of simply an improved earthen house. The Extent of Adobe Use in the United States, Herold
Usually at this point, the family is still not able Qerbrandt and Gerald May, The University of New
Mexico, Albuquerque, Mimeo.
to afford a high-quality modem house. But for
reasons of status, it still decides to move into a Is adobe energy-efficient?: Researchers take a close
look, Energy Source, December 1980, published by
modem house even if it is sub-standard and New Mexico Energy Institute, University of New
ill-constructed. In fact, this phenomenon can Mexico
be seen in operation all across the rural Third
Simplicity in Adobe, David Godolphin, Solar Age,
World today - especially in those areas June 1981
where new agricultural practices are today
generating increased agricultural incomes, and Social and Economic Constraints to Modification and
Obstacles to Technology Transfer for Making Mud
are generating a demand for better housing. Houses Resistent to Seismic Forces, G C Mathur,
International Workshop on Earthern Buildings in
Mud as a component of low-cost housing, Seismic Areas, op cit.

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