Affordable and still Green: Sandbag Houses by MMA Architects

by , 10/10/08

mma architects, south africa homes, south africa architecture, curry stone foundation prize, sandbag houses, ecobeam technologies, affordable housing, sustainable housing

On Fridays, we feature homes that we feel are environmentally responsible, but as one might suspect, architecture can also be good for the soul. MMA Architects recently completed a home built out of timber and sandbags – and became the winner of the Curry Stone Foundation Prize this year. The prize is awarded to individuals or groups that create architecture that has the potential to make positive changes in a community by offering shelter, community health, peace, or clean water, air and food. This sandbag house was built for a mere $6,000, making it affordable for low-income housing. The design also utilizes uncomplicated techniques- and was constructed with the help of its future residents who were able to gain a sense of ownership through the building process.

mma architects, south africa homes, south africa architecture, curry stone foundation prize, sandbag houses, ecobeam technologies, affordable housing, sustainable housing

While these homes are not necessarily decked out with solar panels and energy-efficient insulation, the design and construction of the home takes advantage of techniques that conserve money and resources. First, the home uses inexpensive local materials which cuts down on transportation. Second, the home utilizes EcoBeams, a system of building that replaces brick-and-mortar with sandbags. The system is reported to be just as strong as a brick system and uses less timber than traditional construction.

The home is the first in a community of 10 other homes to be built in Freedom Park, near Cape Town in South Africa. The homes are the result of the 10 x 10 Housing Project, a project challenging 10 architecture teams to develop plans for low-cost housing.

Luyunda Mpahlwa has said that he plans on using the prize money- $100,000- to build more of these homes, and to send underprivileged students to architecture school.

+ MMA Architects

+ Curry Stone Foundation

+ EcoBeam Technologies

via Dezeen, Green Building Elements and The Architect’s Newspaper

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  1. Kenny Roy December 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    how can i get more info and move fwd with getting a project started>?

  2. December 19, 2011 at 9:07 am

    This houses look affordable, where can one get a contractor to build an NPO facility centre or church hall

  3. earthbagdude August 6, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Just to address some concerns:
    @daveg First of all, generally, these bags are not all sand. If they were, puncturing a bag by accident could be detrimental to the home. They are stabilized earth, either with sand and clay, or some mixture of cement is mixed in. Generally it’s 70% sand, 30% clay. Normally, that’s the dirt below your feet, you just don’t notice it like that.
    When you moisten these bags and then ‘tamp’ them, the clay platelets align, and cause them to pack extremely well, nearly like stone. With the barbed wire between each row, this makes them nearly disaster proof. Fire, wind, flood, it doesn’t really matter, they’ll withstand nearly anything, if built correctly.
    @Lightbringer They DO trasnfer heat, yes. But not in the way you expect. In fact, it’s like being under ground, b/c your walls are made out of, well, earth. But it actually stabilizes the temperature. So, depending on the thickness of the wall, they’ll transfer heat at roughly a 12 hour flywheel. So if it’s 80F outside during the day, then 40F at night, the home will basically stay around 65F all the time.
    @chrisp68 You use bags, b/c they form the mix while you tamp them until solid. Using plywood for form work is actually using a method called “rammed earth”, of which there are tons of buildings around the world using that method. It works, although I prefer using earthbags (their official term), b/c they use barbed wire as mortar, making them stronger. The tensile strength is phenomeonal.
    @malawi20201 and @ray59davis , go check out and . Especially you ray59davis, b/c the guy who writes the most in that first blog, is in Thailand, and is an INCREDIBLE resource for earthbag knowledge. He is planning a community built out of earthbags.
    Hope that helps guys. I am the administrator for the facebook page called “Earthbag Building Blog Fan Page” so if you want more material, follow that page. :)

  4. ray59davis June 3, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Am considering building a sandbag home here in Thailand next year. can you please send me some more tips in how to do. Thank you

  5. malawi20201 May 20, 2010 at 6:31 am

    hi everyone im so so interested in building this home using sand bags , my wife and i are moving back home to malawi this year and would love help in advice and finding materials eg the sand bags …….

  6. EnergyEvolutions March 3, 2009 at 12:33 am

    Sand is actually a great insulator! Inside an earthdome building, which also uses sand, the temperatures stay moderate in the heat or cold, depending on the time of year.

    And you can make natural plasters to seal the dwelling… no chemicals or synthetic materials are needed. AT ALL.

    I can see more people adopting this design since people are use to square and rectangular houses.

    However, earthdomes are very strong, not to mention very cool in design in my opinion.

  7. vega November 24, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    i need more info,

  8. Lightbringer October 26, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    I only see one problem, sand transmits heat very well. These houses would need some good insulation which would make the walls even thicker. Other than that, nice houses. And who doesn’t want a house made of the same things we use to stop floods and bullets.

  9. janieliza October 16, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I can see the need to provide a wind and water barrier like dryvit to the construction. I agree that you can’t just use plywood and sand. Weather conditions in desert areas would be the first to damage that kind of construction. You simply MUST have a means to control the sand… and the air and water that will infiltrate the outer wall. I suppose without that layer you could call this the ultimate of dirt to dirt housing… because that is what would happen. Water vapor from inside and outside and wind infiltration would make short work of a sand only wall.

    I think too that it would help to include a sticky/tar layer to prevent nail/screw holes from puncturing all the bags with nothing to prevent the bags from leaking back into the interior when a nail or screw was removed. There must be some product that would seal those bags with repeated punctures that will occur over the life of the building… or simply make a rule that all wall hangings have to be dropped from a trim board near the ceiling. The exterior is much the same. You need a system to seal the exterior wall that does not damage the bags or provides for resealing the bags automatically when a siding nail hits one. Without protection from the wind which can easily rip things like vinyl off the building, your sand bags would begin to leak and would fill the remainder of the lower air space in the cavity rather than provide insulation and sound barriers to the outside at high as they were when originally put in place. Perhaps that would best be accomplished by using a urea based expanding foam… but then you get formaldehyde.

  10. Cathy Clemens October 15, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Incredible! I don’t see a downfall at all.
    @Chrisp68- That would A. Require more plywood in the construction and B. not possible to build.

  11. chrisp68 October 11, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    interesting building method by why use bags? just fill the walls with sand and use ply wood for the forms

  12. chrisp68 October 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    interesting way of building but why bags? Use just use a closed wall to hold the sand.

  13. Kategorisiz Bilgi &raqu... October 11, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    […] İngiltere’nin MMA Architects şirketi geçenlerde kum çuvalı ve keresteden ev yaparak bu yıl Curry Stone Vakfının tasarım ödülünü kazandı. Bu ödül sığınak, sağlık hizmetleri, barış, temiz su, hava veya gıda sunan kuruluş ve bireylere veriliyor.Kum çuvalarından yapılan evin maliyeti yaklaşık 6000 dolar ve düşük gelirli aileleri için çok uygun. Evlerin yapımında ayrıca evlerin gelecek sakinleri de katıldı.Diğer fotoğrafların linki. […]

  14. daveg October 11, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Great to see sandbag construction getting some press. In a country like South Africa, with an abundance of sand, it makes good sense. These guys have opted for the EcoBeam solution, where it is essentially a timber frame house with sandbags as the filler for the walls.

    Eternally Solar ( are punting a sandbag only construction method using an simple yet innovative adaptation of a standard polyprop bag.

    We’ve almost completed a set of stables using this method and sand from our own property.
    An as yet incomplete record of the construction can be found here, although the pictures on Flickr are up to date:

    The problem is getting people who have been historically disenfranchised and now desperate for “proper housing” to see that this sort of construction is vastly superior in terms of quality of life, energy efficiency and sustainability than a shoddy brick and mortar home. And it costs a lot less too.

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