Mankind has been tied with earth since time immemorial. From its appearance in ancient archaeological sites to contemporary residences in the 21st century, it is one of the most abundant and resourceful raw materials to have developed a strong foundation in the world of design and construction. The evolution and growth of mud as a material in architecture has not only led to its improvement, but also the advancement of several methodologies of construction in different parts of the world. To put it simply, building with earth has had a phenomenal past, but it also shows a promising future. On that note, here are 10 diverse, yet stunning examples of earth architecture from different times as well as parts of the world. 

1. Great Mosque of Djenné

The Great Mosque is the world’s largest earthen building and a pinnacle of Sudano-Sahelian architecture. It is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa and was built in 1907. The minarets and spired walls are made of baked mud and straw bricks, which were further plastered with mud to give it a smooth finish. The structure is decorated with deep palm woods embedded into its walls which are also used as scaffolding for annual repairs. The mosque was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, along with the old towns of Djenné. While the structure does benefit from regular maintenance, only small changes have been made to its design since its facade construction. 

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2. Hakka Houses

The earthen buildings of the Hakka people are large multi-family communal living structures in Southern China. The houses are formed as two to three circles and are considered wonders of oriental architecture. The earthen buildings, known as Tulou are made of rammed earth and timber. They are either round or square, with each floor serving a different function – the first-floor comprising livestock and a well, the second for storage of food, and the third and higher floors consist of living spaces. While the buildings were designed predominantly for defensive purposes, they also have several other advantages such as being quakeproof, fireproof, having good ventilation, and daylighting. 

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3. Auroville Visitors Centre

The visitors center in Auroville was constructed in 1988 and is known for its architecture as well as energy-saving construction materials. While the core function of the center is to educate visitors about the purpose of Auroville, it also demonstrates watershed management, renewable energies, wastewater recycling techniques, etc. The center is made of compressed stabilized earth blocks. It served as a training exercise for local craftsmen in earth construction techniques such as domes and arches, Ferro cement roofing techniques as well as block making during its construction period. 

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4. Fired Ceramic ‘Geltaftan’ Buildings 

Developed by Iranian architect Nader Khalili, the Geltaftan buildings are structures made of earth mixture that is high in clay which is fired to become ceramic. His idea of creating ceramic houses was based on the notion that permanent, water and earthquake-resistant houses could be erected with the application of the four elements: earth and water to attain the forms, and fire and air to finish them. 

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5. Cob House on Mayne Island

Located in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, the structure was designed by Co Workers in conjunction with the Cob Cottage Company in 1999. It was the first cob house in Canada to go through the building permit process. The load-bearing walls are made of a mixture of clay, sand, straw, and water. Since cob structures are built by hand in layers, the house features smooth surfaces, curved walls, archways, and built-in display niches that contribute to its process of construction. 

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6. Chapel of reconciliation 

Damaged in World War 2, the chapel was rebuilt as a symbol of reunion of East and West Germany. The chapel was designed by architects Rudolf Reitermann and Peter Sassenroth in 2000. It serves as a place of worship and is part of the Berlin War memorial. The minimalist oval-shaped chapel has a rammed earth core flanked with a translucent facade of wooden louvers. 

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7. METI Handmade School

Located in Rudrapur, a village in northwest Bangladesh, the handmade school designed by Anna Aeringer and Eike Roswag adapts and makes use of traditional methods as well as local construction materials. The construction method used was similar to that of cob-walling and the traditional materials used were bamboo, earth for the walls and foundation, straw for the roof, and jute rope for lashing constructions. The design aimed to reflect the philosophy of METI i.e. learning with joy, through its materials, techniques, and architectural design. 

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8. IHA Residence 

Designed by Wallmakers, the residence represents an oxymoron as it is serene with minimalistic decors but adventurous when it comes to design. Located in the city of Trivandrum, the residence is made of CSEB (Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks) and has an interesting bamboo facade that supports the staircase that serves as an entrance to the property on the front elevation. The distinctive use of jaalis in the inner spaces and an innovative brick facade not only acts as a visual delight but also ensures ample ventilation and entry of light. 

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9. Bayalpata Hospital 

The medical complex in Achham, Nepal was designed by the architecture office Sharon Davis Design. The rammed earth structure replaced an old clinic as it was too small to accommodate patients needing treatment. Due to the remote location of the site, local materials minimized cost in terms of transportation as well as procurement. The entire development was built in phases and consists of five medical buildings, an administrative block, ten houses as well a dorm for hospital staff. While usage of solar panels on the south-facing roofs help power the hospital, passive heating and cooling helped reduce dependency on mechanical air conditioning. 

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10. Library of Muyinga 

Located in Muyinga, Africa, the library is an installment of a school for deaf children. The library was designed by BC architects and built with help from the local community and local materials. The design of the building translates history with contemporary thought. The primary structure consists of columns and infilled walls made of compressed earth blocks, roofs with sun-baked clay tiles, and rafters while the interiors feature timber floors, step shelves, and a handmade net hammock. The nature and volume of the peripheral walls help create and maintain a comfortable environment on the inside. 

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Arathi Biju
Author

With a notebook and pen in her bag and an arsenal of questions in her mind, Arathi Biju has always had a keen interest in telling a story. Currently pursuing her degree in architecture, she has always been a strong advocate of expression be it through art, architecture or words.

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