The Materials Book

224 and barbecue stand at the edge of our campus that used rammed-earth walls, stabilized soil blocks, and unfired clay bricks made on-site. All mortars used in the project were clay and sand variants meant to replace the cement mortar typical in our area. The idea was to form a business—selling pizza—that would give the project a higher profile in the university community and dispel lingering concerns about earth construction, which is often deemed less safe and durable than modern building methods. Undergraduate students were asked to critique the design and participate in the construction, which proved that such buildings can be constructed by mostly unskilled workers. This approach helped illustrate that it’s possible to transfer technology and skills to local artisans while increasing awareness of the environmental costs of building. We managed to salvage materials such as stone aggregates, gravel, clay, and sand at no cost from abandoned construction sites nearby, and all mixing was done with simple hand tools. We didn’t have enough time to make and dry unfired clay bricks (which takes several months) before the end of the semester, so we bought some from a nearby manufacturer. And we had to purchase eucalyptus poles, roofing sheets, and cement (used to stabilize the earth blocks). Our aim was to recover those costs from running the pizza business, a strategy that helped us investigate the possibilities of crowd- sourced funding to pay for a project through a community enterprise. Expert trainers volunteered their time, and local residents provided artisanal labor in exchange for the opportunity to learn new earth techniques. One unforeseen result was that patrons of the pizza kiosk spread the word about our rammed-earth wall, which has led to our participation in four other projects. For one in Kampala, local regulations didn’t address earth walls so we had to prove that our construction methods were safe. After correspondence that lasted over a year, we got permission, and the wall was built in a day. We were then invited to take part in a pilot project for a two-story rammed-earth building in the Kampala suburb of Gayaza, which allowed us to train a further group of skilled artisans. These people could then teach new builders—which helped them get more involved in the construction and gain greater skills by tutoring the next team. The adoption of alternative technologies faces frequent barriers: the bureaucracy of academia, regulatory statutes, the construction aspirations of local communities, and the opposition of entrenched producers of construction materials. But our project has proven that when communities embrace alternative solutions such as rammed earth, innovative methods that are more suited to local needs can thrive.

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