Mud as a building material in developing countries- Primitive or appropriate? by Hannah Schreckenbach.
"Mud" in context of our special interest means clay, loam, earth, laterite, adobe, atakpame, pise, in short: the traditional soil material (not humus) which has always been used in the past and still is used today by the "self-help" builder in rural and urban areas of developing countries for building his houses.
In the use of mud as the traditional construction material for walls, floors, plaster and roofs (in areas where the flat mud roof is used), the builder developed ingenious methods of coping with the material at his disposal. In the dry, arid areas in the South Yemen mud buildings of eight stories in Shibam, Wadi Hadramaut, the Kasbahs in Morocco, the mosques in the Sahel countries, the town houses in Zinder, Niger or in Kano and Zaria in Nigeria all bear witness to this ingenuity in the use of the material.
If we go even further back into the past of mankind, there are buildings of clay such as the palace of King Minos of Crete at Knossos (2000 BC) and the Egyptian pyramid of King Asydis near Cairo. In the Middle Ages in Germany, clay was often used together with straw or a lath of willow branches (wattle and daub) in filling the panels of half-timbered houses in towns and villages. One can say, therefore, that the use of clay material for building was not restricted to a specific social group. The traditional builder knew that this material was also appropriate to whatever climate prevailed in his particular region. This natural material has ideal thermal properties in that its use results in a natural balance between the outer macro and inner micro climate of a building ,between the external and internal temperature.
Building methods using mud as a construction material
Worldwide there are many different traditional methods which use mud as a building material, but generally they are variations of two basic methods which were assimilated into or adapted to the indigenous forms and ways of building. Solid rammed mud walls, also known as pise de terre, or pise. In this method the mud mixture is rammed between two movable shutterings. Walls are about 500 mm thick. The Ewes in Ghana developed their own adaptation of this method in the Atakpame wall. The wall is built of moulded wet mud balls (200 mm in diameter) to a thickness of about 300 mm.
Courses of up to 600 mm in height are laid, then allowed to set and dry out before the next course is added. Each course is properly levelled at the top, the sides of the wall are scraped smooth with an old cutlass. The rectangular walls of the house are properly laid out by the builder with pegs and string. Adobe mud walls: These are walls built with mud-bricks which are shaped in wooden moulds and then dried in the sun. The word adobe has its origin in an Arabic word used by the Berbers. It was used by the Spanish and brought to South and North America where it was assimilated into the English language (Dethier: Lehmarchitektur, page 12).
With the use of adobe and rammed mud walls the traditional builder soon learned to protect his buildings against the elements by design (stone foundations and large, overhanging roofs) and preparation of the mud (with the help of stabilizers, waterproofing agents in the form of different mixtures from plants, cow-dung or bitumen material, etc.). Or he plastered the walls on the outside and prepared the plaster mixture according to his knowledge to act as stabilizer for the wall. And here an incredible wealth of beautiful ornamental decorations were created in what we today know as mud architecture.
Resentment against the use of mud for building in our times
In mud the traditional builder had found a material which he could shape with his hands. And, by doing so, he moulded his own ideas, his appreciation of beauty, his spiritual power, his understanding of nature into it.
With industrialization, the advent of cement, the use of burnt clay bricks, concrete, steel, prefabricated building elements, the use of mud as a building material, although still practised even in towns for workers and middle-class houses, as in Lyon in France up to the end of the 1 9th century and in Germany even for rebuilding houses after the Second World War, there was a general change of attitude towards this material.
In the independent developing countries, many of which have had to cope with grave economic difficulties since the 1973 oil crises and with a rapid population growth, mud is regarded as primitive and backward. It is strange, but this prejustice is older than that. There is an inscription at the mud pyramid built by King Asydis near Cairo: "Do not despise me when you compare me with stone pyramids. I stand higher than those, like Jupiter from the mud at the bottom of the lake" (Dethier: Lehmarchitektur, page 14).
It has always been said that mud is a material the poor people use, that it does not last long and is out of fashion. Yet if you study the mud architecture of the past, you will discover that these statements are not true.
Yes, mud, if not treated correctly, is not waterproof and may deteriorate quickly. The traditional builder knew this and used a variety of natural binders, stabilizers and waterproofing agents. It is therefore the mentality of the people who reject the use of mud as a building material in our time which needs changing.
How to preparate the way for the use of mud as an appropriate building material today
There have been many attempts in the past, above all by the architect Hassan Fathy, to promote architecture and construction using mud. Many have dedicated their whole work and life to this end and have tried to defend and demonstrate the use of this material. We, who are employed as lecturers at universities or in development aid work, are having the same struggle against the misconceptions of "progressive development", a resentment against the use of this age-old material which is available nearly everywhere. Clays and laterites form over 70 percent of the earth's soil.
The following are a just few ideas indicating how to prepare the way for the use of mud:
An educational process to change the attitude that "mud is primitive" must start at primary school level in developing countries. It must aim at the future policy makers in these countries and use all the available platforms, political and non-political, to reach the peoples' minds and hearts. The same educational process is necessary in the industrialized countries to reach those in charge of donor agenciens and those who plan and work out details of project programmes in developing countries. There are many ways of managing this process:
- Through the media: films, TV, broadcasting, press, etc.
Building regulations and statutory bye-laws
Most of the building regulations and laws in developing countries are a legacy of colonial times and hopelessly out of date. In most cases mud, or even timber, are prohibited building materials, especially for urban areas.
It is high time that new regulations and laws are prepared which suit each country's particular circumstances, which take full account of that country's locally available materials and which include the use of clay and laterite, in short mud. In order to achieve this, it would be necessary to investigate, test and demonstrate fully how mud should be correctly and safely used.
Tasks of research institutions
There is much research going on at present, whether in Peru (at the Department of Civil Engineering of the Catholic University in Lima) or in Ghana (at the Building and Road Research Institute of the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi) or in the Federal Republic of Germany in Kassel at the Department of Architectural Research and Experimental Building, or in many other places throughout the world. In order to achieve the acceptance of mud as a building material, it is very important to coordinate this research in such a way that the results achieved and the knowledge gained are easily available to anyone who is interested. There are a number of questions in this field which have not yet received satisfactory answers. These are:
Stabilizers, binders and waterproofing agents. Mud must be stabilized so that it can be used as a structurally safe material not only for single-storey structures, but for higher buildings in the humid tropics, i.e. in countries with high humidity and precipitation and the danger of earthquakes. A great number of different stabilizers and binders are known, from plant extracts to bituminous material and lime, which can be added to the mud either before ramming, or when the mud balls are formed, or when the clods are kneaded for the adobe bricks, or which can be mixed together with the mud plaster. The task of research institutions would be to issue simple questionnaires in which the specific details of soils, prevailing climatic conditions, traditional knowledge of binders, plants, fibres, etc. could be listed. As a result a "recipe" could be drawn up as to how to use the particular clay or laterite in that area.
In order to solve the great problems of providing decent shelter to millions of people in developing countries, the working out of national housing policies must be influenced by a new attitude (the accepting of mud) and by the results and experience of national and international research into the use of this material.
No government anywhere in this world is able to provide enough money for all the housing needs of their citizens, it must enable people to participate in the planning and construction of their own houses. Technologists, architects, engineers and planners should all make an important contribution to this.
The prerequisites for the use of clay and laterite (by hand or with block presses) must be clearly defined, so that people's aspirations for better types of houses and their developing needs can also be satisfied by using this building material.
The author shows that building with mud has a long tradition, both in the Arab and African countries as well as in Europe. What is so looked down upon nowadays in particular in many developing countries used to stimulate architects and builders to create artistic masterpieces: the building material mud. The question is investigated as to why mud has the reputation of being something for poor people only. The author describes how this attitude could be changed, above all among those who are responsible for building projects.
L'auteur montre que les constructions d'argile ont une longue tradition tant dans les pays arabes et africains que dans les pays européens. Ce qui est aujourd'hui fort mal considere dans de nombreux pays en vole de dévelopement a suscite autrefois la naissance de chefs d'oeuvre chez de nombreux architectes et maîtres d'ouvrage. La question est de savoir pourquoi l'argile a la réputation d'être un matériau de construction destine uniquement aux gens pauvres. Comment pourrait-on faire évoluer cet état d'esprit surtout chez les responsables?
La autora demuestra que la construcción con barro tiene una gran tradición, tanto en los paises árabes y africanos, como también en Europa. Lo que hoy esta tan mal visto, sobre todo en muchos paises en vias de desarrollo, inspiro en otros de grandes obras de arte. Es decir, el barro como material de construcción. Se analiza porque el barro tiene la fama de ser un material solo pare gente pobre y se exponen soluciones pare conseguir un cambio de opinión a este respecto, sobre todo en aquellas personas a quienes corresponde tomar las decisiones.
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