Earth Architecture - Towards a Sustainable Future?

University essay from Lunds universitet/Institutionen för arkitektur och byggd miljö

Abstract: It is widely recognised that the two major challenges of the 21st century are climate change and poverty. The building sector is responsible for over a third of all global carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, we see vastly overcrowded and rapidly growing informal settlements in developing countries, where people lack the basic right to decent shelter. This is simply not sustainable and forces us to rethink the way we produce architecture today. Since the middle of the 20th century, the awareness of human impact has led to a strong desire to promote solutions that are based on more sustainable principles. An increased interest in earthen building materials is seen all around the world, mainly due to their low climate impact, availability, low cost and ability to support thermal comfort. Earth is one of the world’s oldest building materials and many people still use it for building construction today. This thesis looks into the potential for earthen building materials for contemporary architecture. The purpose is to increase the understanding of unburnt earth and investigate how a greater use of it in building structures can impact social, environmental and economic sustainability. The work highlights the latest research, presents contemporary earthen architecture, discusses architectural qualities and reviews challenges, potentials and required future steps. It also brings forward a construction project in Tanzania where we have carried out practical field work together with the NGO TAWAH, where local earth was used as the main building material. An increased use of earthen materials has the potential to save natural resources, drastically decrease emissions, create healthy indoor climates, strengthen local economies and support cultural heritage. Despite the many advantages from a sustainability point of view, earthen materials face many challenges to be considered a contemporary building material. Until more standards and codes are established, we believe their future use in modern architecture is most likely to be seen in various types of hybrid buildings where conventional materials are used where they are most needed. Earth has the potential to be used as infills in such structures. It comes down to the matter of integrating earth and using the right material in the right place where the philosophy should not be to completely substitute conventional materials with earthen materials, but rather to minimise the use of highly processed building materials. Although earthen materials have their limitations, their unique advantages might eventually become predominant in the light of the challenges we face today. Using the best of the old and the best of the new could be one way to achieve sustainable architecture.

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