Gin Poles

“A gin pole is a simple and traditional method for raising a timber frame by hand, and straightforward solution to a site with little crane access. It’s constructed from a long, straight pole with a block and tackle hanging from the top, and two guy lines (in our case, come-alongs) that help to counter the weight of the pole and the timbers, and locate the posts in their mortises.”

“Sometimes the oldest technologies provide the best solution for the job at hand. From wedges and ramps to pulleys, I am surprised at how right my physics teachers were about the ubiquity of simple machines. When applied purposefully, with careful consideration, these approaches can be safer, simpler and cheaper. While I appreciate the romance associated with historic contraptions, ultimately, romance is not the reason we employ them.”

Read more: I’ll take a gin pole, straight up, Preservation Timber Farming.

Building With Salt

building with salt

“The Salt Project is a biomimetic attempt to create architecture using seawater in the desert. By using locally available resources we can grow plants and create architecture without producing waste. The idea is to pump up seawater in arid areas around the world, split it in salt and fresh water, use the fresh water for produce and use the salt for architecture.” [Read more…]

A World Made of Rotor Blades

public seating rotor blades close

Almost a quarter of a million windmills worldwide will need to be replaced by 2030. The rotor blades are made of valuable composite materials that are difficult to recover at the end of their energy generating life. New generation rotor blades made of glass or carbon fibre composite material have average lifespans of between 10 and 25 years. Recycling of glass fibre composite is possible though complex. Recycling of the more highly valued carbon fibre composite is currently impossible. In many EU countries landfill of carbon composites is now prohibited. Thus, many rotor blades at the end of their wind turbine life are currently shredded and incinerated. At current growth rates, by 2034, there will be about 225,000 tonnes of rotor blade composite material produced annually, worldwide.

The Dutch firm Superuse Studios has found a solution to the growing mountains of waste generated by the wind industry: making use of end-of-life rotor blades in design and architecture. The realised projects demonstrate the technical applications and potential for blade made designs and architecture. In their second life as design and architectural elements, rotor blades could be used for a further 50-100 years, or more. Blade made designs are durable, iconic, compete economically, and reduce the ecological footprint of projects in which they are used. [Read more…]

Stone Arch Bridges

how to build a stone arch bridge

“Stone arch bridges are amongst the strongest in the world. The technology has stood the test of time. The Romans built stone arch bridges and aqueducts with lime mortar more than twenty centuries ago. Arches and vaults were also the determining structural design element of churches and castles in the Middle Ages. There are stone arch bridges which have survived for hundreds and even thousands of years, and are still as strong today as when they were first constructed.”

“The main reason that western countries moved away from stone arch bridges is because of the high labour costs involved in their construction. In industrialised countries, it is cheaper to use pre-stressed concrete rather than employ a lot of masons and casual labourers. In the economic environment of East Africa and the majority of developing countries, stone arch bridges provide a more affordable and practical option.”

“A larger proportion of locally available resources are used in stone bridges as they can be built with local labour and stones. In contrast, raw materials and machines have to be imported for the construction of concrete bridges and specialized expertise is required. Compared to expensive aggregates, local stones are a strong, affordable material and they are often available in the vicinity (10-15 km) of the construction site. There is no need for expensive steel bars, aggregates, concrete or galvanised pipes that have to be hauled over long distances.”

Stone arch bridges, a strong and cost effective technology for rural roads. A practical manual for local governments, BTC Uganda & Practical Action.


The Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit (SUDU)


The ‘Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit’ (SUDU) in Ethiopia demonstrates that it is possible to construct multi-story buildings using only soil and stone. By combining timbrel vaults and compressed earth blocks, there is no need for steel, reinforced concrete or even wood to support floors, ceilings and roofs. The SUDU could be a game-changer for African cities, where population grows fast and building materials are scarce.

[Read more…]

Timbrel Vaulting Using Cardboard Formwork

Catalan thin tile vault 4Lara Davis, Matthias Rippman and Philippe Block from the Swiss BLOCK Research Group at the ETH Zurich University have taken the centuries old timbrel vaulting technique one step further by incorporating high-tech design tools (software and CNC fabrication) and low-tech materials (cardboard boxes and wooden palettes).

Find pictures and the research paper here or see the summary below.

[Read more…]

Building with Mud and Steel Frames

Building with mud and steel frames is an interesting hybrid between industrial and non-industrial technologies. Two examples:

Building with mud bricks and steel frames 2 “Kazakh architect and artist Saken Narynov created a superstructure able to host what we could call an adobe vertical city. In fact, the structure is used as a matrix that can be more or less densely filled with multifamily habitation units. The traditional earth based material thus hybrids with the steel structure in a very unusual and interesting way and the space resulting between the habitation units and the structure is beautifully occupied by mazes of staircases and elevated pathways.”

“The design recalls recent works by the Chilean architect Marcelo Cortes, who employs a steel meshwork onto which mud is sprayed, but on a far greater scale. Cortes has developed a “quincha metalica”, a form of traditional quincha construction (mud and straw packed between a bamboo or wood frame) that uses a steel frame work.”

[Read more…]

Building with Pumice

building with pummice“This book represents a first-ever attempt to explain and illustrate how the volcanic material pumice can be processed using simple technologies suitable for developing countries.

In Germany, the first wall-building brick made of pumice and a slow-hardening binder (milk of lime) dates back to the year 1845. That marked the starting point of a local pumice-based building industry in volcanic regions of the Eifel Mountains, where pumice deposits were abundant. As time passed, the material’s market area expanded steadily.

Today’s pumice industry in the Rhineland operates large production facilities and has enough raw material reserves to last beyond the turn of the century at the present rate of production. Pumice, an extremely light, porous raw material of volcanic origin, can be found in many parts of the world, including various developing countries with areas of past or present volcanic activity. In some countries, volcanic ash (with a particle size of less than 2 mm), pumice (with particle sizes ranging from 2 to 64 mm) and consolidated ash (tuff) are traditionally used, on a local scale, as versatile building materials.”

Building with pumice” (pdf-version), Klaus Grasser & Gernot Minke, 1990. More links: 1 / 2. Thanks to Zeltia González Blanco.

The Agricultural Building and Equipment Plan List: over 300 Free Plans

The Agricultural Building and Equipment Plan List

“The University of Tennessee Extension maintains a collection of over 300 building and equipment plans, and all are now available in electronic format for download. The plans are primarily intended for use in Tennessee, but many are appropriate for other locations as well.

The plans came from many sources. Some were developed in The University of Tennessee Extension Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Department, but most were developed in a cooperative effort with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Farm Building Plan Exchange. The Plan Exchange no longer exists, but the plans remain on file and are available.”

Via The Survivalist Blog.

Innovation & Tradition: The Complete Works of Hassan Fathy Online

Hassan fathy 8 “Since antiquity, man has reacted to his environment, using his faculties to develop techniques and technologies, whether to bake bread or make brick, in such internal psychological balance with nature that humanity historically lived attuned to the environment. Man’s creations were natural when built of the materials offered by the landscape. Learning to manipulate clay, stone, marble, and wood, man penetrated their properties, and his techniques gave expression to his aspirations toward the divine. In architecture, environmental harmony was known to the Chinese, the Indians, the Greeks, and others. It produced the temples of Karnak, the great mosques of Islam, and the cathedral of Chartres in France.”

Hassan fathy 5 “With the advent of the industrial revolution, the inherited techniques and perfected knowledge of creating, using handmade tools, were lost and are now forgotten. Energy-intensive mechanized tools have diminished man’s personal, cellular contribution to the fabrication of objects, the building of structures, and the growing of food. The lesser the challenge for man to imprint his genius, the less artistic is the product. The resulting economic and political disturbances are visible today. Production of beauty, once the prerogative of millions, is replaced by industrialization, even of bread, under the control of a minority of owners. The negative consequences of the industrial revolution have disturbed the natural organization of the divine concept for humanity.”

Hassan fathy 2 “Sixty years of experience have shown me that industrialization and mechanization of the building trade have caused vast changes in building methods with varying applications in different parts of the world. Constant upheaval results when industrially developed societies weaken the craft-developed cultures through increased communications. As they interact, mutations create societal and ecological imbalance and economic inequities which are documented to be increasing in type and number. Profoundly affected is the mass of the population, which is pressured to consume industrially produced goods. The result is cultural, psychological, moral, and material havoc.”

Hassan fathy 7 “Yet it is this population that has an intimate knowledge of how to live in harmony with the local environment. Thousands of years of accumulated expertise has led to the development of economic building methods using locally available materials, climatization using energy derived from the local natural environment, and an arrangement of living and working spaces in consonance with their social requirements. This has been accomplished within the context of an architecture that has reached a very high degree of artistic expression.”

Hassan fathy 1 Quoted from: “Architecture and environment” by Hassan Fathy, a noted Egyptian architect who pioneered appropriate technology for building in Egypt, especially by working to re-establish the use of mud brick (or adobe) and traditional as opposed to western building designs and lay-outs.

Fathy demonstrated how elements from vernacular Arab urban architecture, such as the malkaf (wind catch), shukshaykha (lantern dome) and mashrabiya (wooden lattice screen), could be combined with the mud-brick construction traditionally practiced in Nubia in Upper Egypt to form a distinctive, environmentally and socially conscious building style that linked the use of appropriate technologies with co-operative construction techniques and the guiding thread of tradition (source).

All his wonderfully illustrated books can be found online, free to download (in English, French & Arabic). Via TECTONICAblog (Thank you, Zeltia).