Some people may be familiar with the concept of “Earth Building”, the practice of constructing with natural and readily available materials such as clay, straw and stone. Despite its labor intensity, this ancient practice has been applauded as
an inexpensive alternative to building a stable and secure home in the latest wave of the environmental movement.
The dense populations found in the earthquake prone regions of South East Asia has shown a high demand for low-cost housing that can stand up to the seismic activity that plagues the area. A project from CA Polytechnic State University called Earth2Block is using earth building technology to help supply that kind of housing to communities in need. Their innovative block press and accompanying instruction manual allows anyone to create an environmentally-friendly and secure home that won’t collapse in an earthquake. Earth2Block partnered with an NGO in Thailand who helps them to produce and distribute the presses.
The block press is used to create interlocking compressed earth blocks (ICEB’s) from a particular combination of silt, clay, sand, water and cement. Traditional cement blocks are made a high cement content, which makes them expensive, but ICEB’s require only half the amount of cement as a traditional block. The blocks are dried after being pressed and when they are stacked with rebar, they create a stable home that will allow residents enough time to escape in an earthquake before collapsing.
This project has been highly successful because it provides a basic need, low-cost shelter, and because it is a simple technology to implement. Communities can purchase a press together for the price of $1,700 US and rebuild all the homes in their community themselves with minimal training. Even more amazing is the fact that Earth2Block isn’t seeking to profit from this project, they have not patented the press and are hoping to reach the point where they can distribute the presses for free. As Polytech student Nicholas Kennedy explained, “You can’t put a price on safety.” No wonder they took home the first place prize in the 2012 NCIIA Open Minds Competition!
-Katia Chikasuye focus in environmental studies and global health