What is Rammed Earth Construction?

Think Like a Modern Sand Castle Builder

Detail of rammed earth textured layers at the Sirewall-built China Pavilion
Detail of rammed earth textured layers at the Sirewall-built China Pavilion. Photo detail of rammed earth courtesy SIREwall news page

Rammed earth construction is a structural building method of compressing a sandy mixture into a hard sandstone-like material. Rammed earth walls resemble adobe construction. Both use soil mixed with waterproofing additives. Adobe, however, requires dry weather so that the bricks can harden (cure) enough to build walls. In rainy parts of the world, builders developed "rammed earth" construction, which is more like building a sand castle with forms.

A mixture of soil and cement is compacted into forms, and later, when the forms are removed, the solid earth walls remain.

Definition of Rammed Earth:

"A material usually consisting of clay, sand, or other aggregate (such as sea shells) and water, which has been compressed and dried; used in building construction."— Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, Cyril M. Harris, ed., McGraw- Hill, 1975, p. 395

Other Names for Rammed Earth:

This building process is an ancient method that has been practiced throughout the world for centuries. Rammed earth and forms of earth construction similar to rammed earth are also known as:

  • pisé
  • jacal
  • barjareque
  • hāng tǔ

Modern Rammed Earth Method:

Rammed earth buildings are environmentally-friendly and water, fire, and termite resistant. It is naturally sound- and mold-resistant. Some modern-day designers also say that the thick earthen walls create a sense of solidity and security.

Canadian builder Meror Krayenhoff has modified the ancient practices of rammed earth, creating what he calls Stabilized Insulated Rammed Earth or SIREwall®. "We use a little bit of cement—5-10 percent cement—and we use some steel reinforcing to make it strong against earthquakes. We put the soil in on either side of the foam [insulation] and compact it."

The price of a rammed earth wall is generally a bit more than poured concrete, but cost is dependent on location. Since a majority of the price tag is labor, the market price for installation fluctuates depending on where in the world you're building.

Learn More:

Source: Rammed Earth with David Suzuki, The Nature of Things, YouTube accessed July 21, 2014