The Greenest Building Is The One Already Standing

“Until now, little has been known about the climate change reductions that might be offered by reusing and retrofitting existing buildings rather than demolishing and replacing them with new construction. This groundbreaking study concludes that building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction. Moreover, it can take between 10 and 80 years for a new, energy-efficient building to overcome, through more efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts that were created during the construction process.” Read more.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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How to Build a Medieval City

how to build a medieval city

The “Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle” is an overwhelming reference work consisting of 9 books (some 5,000 pages in total) on medieval and renaissance architecture in France. It is written in French, as you already suspected, but the detailed illustrations make it worthwhile for all architecture and history devotees. There is really all you need to know to build, for instance, a gothic cathedral, including the gargoyles. The work appeared in 1856 and was written by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, an architect known for his restorations of medieval buildings. The separate volumes can also be found on the Internet Archive.


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.