When it comes to building materials, contemporary architecture is marked by the rampant use of concrete in construction, and we are quickly depleting our forests to produce lumber. On the other hand, earth is a traditional and plentiful building material that has weathered the test of time - although many building codes around the world do not even address it. In an effort to bring back soil as a building material, Tokyo-based Atelier Tekuto began the Earth Block Project to develop techniques and materials that meet building codes. Their first project was to create a curvilinear single family residence made with 2,600 soil bricks - read on for a look inside!
Atelier Tekuto’s goal for the project was to utilize an environmentally friendly building material that was not limited or hindered by the economy. They focused their attention on soil and researched methods and techniques that improved its strength. By adding magnesium oxide to natural clay soil, they increased the strength and longevity of the material so much so that it can pass Japanese structural standards. Magnesium oxide is produced almost everywhere in the world, is non-toxic (it’s even used as a food additive), and it can safely return to the ground.
In 2008, Atelier Tekuto started the Earth Block Project, which drew together universities, corporate entities, and specialists to develop a 100% natural earth brick that could be used anywhere. Clay soil is very common throughout the world, and bricks can easily be produced in factories or even by hand. Handmade bricks can be stronger than concrete masonry, and they can be made locally with local materials.
Atelier Tekuto designed and built a single family residence with 2,600 bricks as a testament to their architectural viability. All of the work to create the material – including mixing the ingredients, sourcing the soil, and manually making the bricks – was completed in the same prefecture. A volunteer staff of 4-6 people can make about 30 bricks a day, each of which weighs 20 kilos. Because of building codes, the house also required 400 mm thick walls, a supportive wall every 10 meters, and a top beam of concrete or steel. The home also features glass blocks below the roof line, LVL layered veeners, and a terrazzo floor.
Images ©Toshihiro Sobajima