One idea that is much discussed at the Information/Awareness Days for the 4th international ArchiTerre festival is the use of local materials in future construction projects. The festival, which promotes earthen architecture, took place at Ahmed Draia University in Adrar, Algeria.
According to Abdelhamid Benouali from the National Center for Integrated Construction Research and Studies (CNERIB), local materials are those which are natural, clean, and offer low-energy consumption during production and use. “Soil is the oldest material used in Algeria. It is even older than locally-fabricated stone and plaster. In housing plans today, bricks and concrete blocks are the most commonly used materials. These materials give houses a mediocre thermal performance,” he revealed.
He pleaded for a return to ancestral construction practices, notably in the south of the country and in the Aurès Mountains, in order to save energy and respect the environment. All of the participants in the festival's debates revealed that concrete constructions consume much more electricity and gas (for air conditioning and heating) compared to houses built from soil or stone.
Architect Yasmine Terki, Commissioner of the ArchiTerre Festival, noted that ksour (singlular ksar) in the south of Algeria are close to disappearing today. The reason? A plan developed by the Minister of Housing to “fight against precarious construction,” was adopted, creating misunderstandings surrounding its application.
In regions of the south, town councils demanded that citizens destroy their homes built using traditional stone methods and replace them with concrete houses in the middle of the Sahara. Financial aid is given to those who agree to reconstruct their houses and replace them with those falsely presented as more solid.
“The problem is not in the construction materials of ksar houses, but in the fact that the State did nothing to modernize these spaces. People can absolutely live in houses built of soil or stone while also having modern, comfortable conditions,” explained Yasmine Terki.
Ilhem Belhatem, Architect and Director of Atelier D in Paris, France, discussed the European return of wooden constructions built using organically-sourced materials. Several European architects are currently pushing the use of hempcrete, which is made of quicklime, hemp fibers, and water.
This concrete is equally as solid as cement, but it is more elastic and resistant to earthquakes. According to Ilhem Belhatem, ancestral construction techniques were adapted to work with natural ecosystems long ago. “In bioclimatic architecture, it is important to observe the levels of sunshine and rainfall, the direction of the winds, and which winds are dominant in the area. Wind allows us to passively cool the interiors of buildings. We need to rely upon local expertise and vernacular architecture, which provide us lessons on how to adapt ourselves to the climate, heat, and cold,” she noted.
She also underlined that local expertise is linked to local building materials. Ilhem Belhatem and her team notably built a brick apartment building in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.
The civil engineer Horst Shroeder, former President of Dachverband Lehme and former Professor at the University of Bauhaus, presented the standards adopted in Germany for earthen architecture. “Everything is noted in a Lehmbau Rules pamphlet put together by our association. These standards, which cover all aspects of construction, were approved by the German construction authorities in 1999. The interest in earthen architecture in Germany began in the beginning of the 1980s with the emergence of environmentalist culture. Since this time, they have been mindful of energy consumption, the climate, and sustainable development. Everyone is in agreement on the necessity of reintegrating soil as a construction material in contemporary homes,” explained Horst Shroeder.
After their time in Adrar, guests at ArchiTerre 2015 will move to Timimoun. In addition to other places, they will visit the Algerian Cultural Heritage Center (CAP Terre), which was built from soil and is managed by Yasmine Terki. CAP Terre, established in 2012, was set up in the former Oasis Rouge Hotel.
Are there any examples of earthen architecture in your community? What alternative construction materials have been used in your city? Would you live in an earthen house? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.
Original article, original published in French, here.
Credits: Images by Wiki Loves Earth 2014. Data linked to sources.