This variety and diversity can be challenging to our
modern sensibility of what earth building might be and how it 'should'
look. For this reason a visit to a rammed earth area of France is
extremely inspiring, not only for the practical demonstration of
detail and finish, but for the grandiose and ubiquitous vision of a
material which has not been well used for the past half century.
The formwork and organisation of rammed earth work
achieved a high level of understanding of materials, tools and design.
The wide range of different building types have different degrees of
finish, earth and lime plasters, paints, cladding and no finish at
all. Additionally earth was combined with lime to make a series of
details around openings and corners. Lime and sand was also laid in to
achieve both finish and aesthetic purposes.
French rammed earth builders in the 19th century were carpenters,
those with the skill to assemble formwork, and they assembled and ran
ramming teams, Evidently they achieved a level of market control in
some areas and quality was driven up as costs came down under the
pressure of competition.
Rammed earth was by
no means a rural material, urban centres such as Lyon and Grenoble had
extensive multi storey rammed earth buildings, often hard to spot due
their ornate plaster finishes. This level of finish has often worked
against the wider recognition of the material in countries as diverse
as the UK and Zimbabwe where extensive building programs are now all
but invisible while still enjoying a high market value and easy
acceptance by mortgage lenders.
Some of the
densest and finest examples are to be found in the region between
Grenoble and Lyon, a region with a lot of high quality earth building
material. It is this heritage which led the team which started the
earth building group Craterre to base themselves in Grenoble. They
have subsequently established the
UNESCO chair of Earthen Archtecture.
of this highly sustainable material during the 20th century has a
number of causes but the continued market value, comfort and utility
of the existing building stock should point a way for this building
material to find a wider use in this.