Rammed Earth – Rammed World? 

By Angela Volken 

Concrete is the most widely used building material in the world. However, we all know that concrete has a very devastating impact on the environment. One of several reasons for this is that sand is needed to make concrete. Often, even a very specific consistency and type of sand is required in the process, which is why it often has to be imported. Sand is a natural material, but one that regenerates very slowly. Due to the enormous demand for sand, there has therefore been an increasing shortage of sand for several years now. Once sand has been processed into concrete, it cannot be extracted from it again – concrete is therefore a material that clearly reflects the linear economy. 

In my third year of architecture studies I came across the building material of Rammed Earth. It is a material that consists primarily of earth, water and gravel. By tamping these materials, they are compacted to such an extent that a high degree of stability is achieved. It has been used for centuries, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. The good thing about rammed earth is that even after the materials have been rammed together and formed into stable walls, they can still be easily broken down into their original materials – the earth and gravel can thus be returned to the soil. Therefore, rammed earth represents for me a material that clearly reflects a circular economy.  

For this project, I thought about the possibility of using rammed earth as an alternative to concrete. I have imagined a scenario in which some of the most famous architectures of the 20th and 21st centuries – which are actually made out of concrete – would work if they were built out of rammed earth. What would such a world look like?  

The collages I’ve made are primarily meant to serve as a thought experiment and represent some images familiar to probably many of us in an alternate scenario. Of course, various structural adjustments would have to be made in order for these iconic buildings to function in rammed earth. But I find it an interesting experiment to think of our existing world in a different material for once.