First International Rammed Earth Conference

international rammed earth conference group

Earlier this year Paul was invited to the first International Rammed Earth Conference at the University of Western Australia. The range of speakers were incredible – from engineers, architects, researchers, academic specialists...from China, India, New Zealand, Australia, the was a brilliant event. Both Stephen Dobson and David Easton, guys considered to have done the most in bringing RE into our age gave talks and it was total pleasure for Paul to catch up with David, whose book had been the inspiration for his first RE build, his old home in Whale Bay.
Held over four days – a two day workshop in Perth and a two day technical conference in Margaret River (an area brimming with RE homes and commercial properties) – this was the first chance for many practitioners to be among significant numbers of other rammed earth builders and specialists  – all deeply dedicated to this form of construction. A real opportunity for a RE builder like Paul to talk to others in this field, swap business cards, techniques /experiences and hear about all the research we know has been needed for long time but never had the resources.
Topics covered included:
·         Construction methods, standards and guidelines
·         Laboratory procedures,
·         Heritage and conservation
·         Thermal performance, analysis and design

For Paul, just to see how much work and academic resources is being poured into bringing RE and all it’s qualities into our modern era – to quantify what many cultures have known for thousands of years – is heartening.
Discussed during the conference were some remarkable historical examples of RE including:
·         Rath House in Weilburg, Germany, still in use, seven stories high, load bearing and built in 1828.
·         World Heritage site of Wasid Hadramaut in the desert of Yemen at Shibam – 1500yrs old, over 500 buildings built out of cob, mud brick and rammed earth to 14 stories high – all again load bearing and most still in use today)

What was surprising was the revelation that RE is the most common form of construction that humans have ever known. With 7 billion people on the planet, it is believed that 3 billion live in an earth building (there are over 20 different types - from RE to cob, mud brick, etc…with RE outstripping mud brick in popularity J ). In China alone, 100,000,000 people live in rammed earth homes.
An interesting development Paul noted was the use of rammed limestone in WA – producing particularly white walls. We are currently experimenting with NZ limestone for this - the colour is coming up beautifully, getting much admiration from those we’ve shown and a test cylinder sent to Opus Labourites for testing has come back at over three times our usual target strength for RE. (How do you start to describe really, really, really freakin’ strong?!)

rammed limestone in Western Australia
It was good to see that despite there being no other exclusively RE builders in the Auckland region (Terra Firma is solely RE) our rates are in line with our Western Australia counterparts - where there are many RE wall building contractors. Part of the ethos of Terra Firm is affordability as part of our sustainability. The quality of Terra Firma’s RE walls are at least as good as anything Paul saw while at the conference. In fact there was much praise from other practitioners on discussion of Paul’s techniques and of the photos he had taken along of Terra Firma’s work.
A book has been put out on the conference for anyone interested – “Rammed Earth Construction – Cutting Edge Research on Traditional and Modern Rammed Earth” – containing all the keynote papers presented. These have all been anonymously peer reviewed by two other experts in relevant fields.
It’s not a cheap book (a link below for the economical we’ve found online), is very academic but also extremely interesting and readable too. Talking to the Auckland Library, it’s a bit too academic for their stock but for a small fee ($4-5?)  they can borrow it from the Auckland Uni Library on anyone’s behalf. If you’re interested in RE and would love to read more about its history, it conservation and all the most up to date research being done on RE right now, it would be well worth taking the library up on this offer.
(free shipping as it’s over $35…and available for Kindle for still a lot of money)

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