Article by Alia Babapulle

Earth Day was ecotrends1celebrated this spring, which surely should mean every day but sadly we abuse and ruin Mother Earth throughout the year. However, there are ways in which we can look after our wonderful planet, and this month I am writing about natural materials for homes.

We are blessed with a plethora of materials to build our homes. It doesn’t have to be concrete and cement. More and more people are turning to using materials which are natural and just as efficient, or even more so, than the concrete jungle one is used to seeing. Featured here are some examples of what can be found in the world today and a few samples of how they are used. You can also see that where the materials are found bears a huge relation to what has been used.

 

Kicking off is ADOBE, used for centuries in South America and then North America, dating back to the Aztecs, who were master builders. It was used throughout the Americas in so many countries.

COB has also been around for a very long time. Like adobe, it is a mixture of various compounds. Here the main ones are subsoil, water and some kind of organic material, typically straw and sometimes lime. It is mainly used in the more northern countries, and the result is extremely attractive especially combined with a living roof. Using the grass as a protection is a natural fusion of both.

Rammed earth is just what the name implies, and it is at least as old as The Great Wall of China. Basically it is very compressed earth of clay and sand and can create flat surfaces for walls of up to one foot (one-third of a metre) in thickness, emanating tranquillity inside. The effects of rammed earth form their own design quite easily. I have looked at many rammed earth homes and the interiors are beautiful.

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Earthbags are literally bags filled with earth and covered with some sort of plaster, but the technology has advanced enormously. Cal-Earth Institute’s renowned Nader Khalili has been experimenting with earthbags, creating domes, vaults and arches. As he was familiar with Middle Eastern architecture it was natural for him to envisage building this way. The institute has been training people with his techniques and the whole field has expanded exponentially with experiments from his students.

Bamboo is earth’s wonder grass. I dedicated a whole article on the fabulous Green School in Bali (Indonesia) in last year’s March-April issue. Using this fast-growing, immensely strong, fungus-proof, insect-proof grass for building is surely one of the best ways there is. Nothing beats it in its versatility. I love the grass: it is pliable and can be twisted, it is easy to grow anywhere, with good drainage and plenty of sun it is perfect – and you can eat it too.

Stone is undeniably one of the earth’s most natural materials. Going back to the beginning of human history, stone has been used just about everywhere you look. Varying from the very simple to the imposing and majestic (think Taj Mahal), it is all over the earth and can be utilised for our benefit.

So you can see that our wonderful planet gives us the means to utilise all the natural products available, and there are many I have not mentioned. All we have to do is combine them with today’s technology to have a sustainable, eco-friendly functioning building. And that, surely, is the best of all.