Top 10 Natural Building Materials For Sustainable Architecture
The quote by famous architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe is apt to begin the discussion for the article. The very basic unit required to bring the vision of an architect to reality is the bricks, the mortar, the wood, or the glass, the building material to be specific. Given the need of the hour, the awareness is to go green and opt for natural building materials that not only increase the sustainability quotient of the project but bring down the economic investment to a lot extent. Let us now navigate through the top ten natural building materials that fit the bill as below-
Adobe is basically sun-dried bricks which are made of mud. Occasionally straws and other additives are added to a better mixture. However, the plaster of mud is ultimately required to give the finishing touch and even down the texture of the adobe bricks. Historically, this method dates back to 6000 BC and apparently has its native in South America. Going by the technicality this material is good with thermal mass which means it keeps cool in summer and warm in winters. Having said that, it does have its limitation when it comes to insulation. An example image of a building with adobe construction is given below.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Vmenkov
In terms of the contents, we can consider Cob to be somewhat a first cousin of Adobe. On a serious note, Cob is also made up of mud and water with the additives of straw and clay, the difference being the technique of construction. A cob is generally a spherical unit which is used to build a wall, pressing in such a way that there are no gaps or cracks. The advantage with the cob is it gives the flexibility of the form of the building. One can go for organic forms as well because the cob units can be fit into the desired form.
Image credit: Flickr/graphx311
Wood is one such universal material that it has diverse applications. Right from the basic skeleton structure of beams and columns to wooden flooring, name a building part and wood fits the part. Now which form of wood is most suitable, that is the question. Whether to use softwood or hardwood or wood veneer it all depends on the other factors like the climate, the region, and the use. Wood has excellent thermal properties. It can sustain very high temperatures without collapsing. Talking about its acoustic properties it is very good in absorbing sound. Thus, it can be used for concert halls etc. Wood also has excellent electrical and mechanical properties.
Image credit: Sanaksenaho Architects
Speaking of Bamboo, it is quite commonly known that it is one of the fastest growing plant species. But as a being from the tropics, especially an Indian child, I was fascinated by how temporary structures at functions have been crafted by skillful workers. From using as a scaffolding element to full-fledged housing element, bamboo has many applications, all thanks to its excellent compressive strength and low weight.
Image credit: Vo Trong Nghia Architects
Rammed Earth is actually an ancient building method in revival. It is a technique in which the right proportion of earth, sand, clay, and gravel is mixed with added stabilizer that helps in attaining a mixture which promotes sustainability to the structures. However, we have to admit that it is highly labor-intensive. Rammed Earth buildings are durable, fireproof and have good thermal mass.
As the name suggests, the non-edible part of grains, rice, oats etc. are used for construction. That is true in many western countries. One will be amazed to see that pros that the baled straw gas over conventional building materials. Whether it’s sustaining high temperatures or the durability. The houses made of baled straw have high insulation values that go up to R-35.Higher is the R value, higher is the insulation.
Cordwood construction or the more famously “firewood” construction is the one in which small roundly cut pieces of wood are used as basic masonry units. Mud or cement plaster is required to give the finishing. The yield of such building materials is a rustic and beautiful creation. Cordwood has an advantage of good insulation and thermal mass.
These are actually the sacks of the locally available earth which are stacked up to build houses. Adapted from the technique of bunkers in the army, this method is quite inexpensive and fast in terms of a building process. It also gives flexibility when it comes to giving the building its form. Barbed wire is used to keep the bags in position.
Image credit: Flickr/tigrepickett
The building construction industry itself produces a lot of waste or materials which are unaccounted for. Building wastes include the scrapped wood, railings etc. which often constitute to a lot of materials which can’t be fitted into one category. Hence they can be reused for the building purposes.
When we speak about masonry, we often tend to look at the conventional form of a brick building but we forget the roots of it. The natural masonry includes the stones and the bricks which have been used from prehistoric times. The structures built are extremely durable and can survive the harsh climate of the tropics. It is so optimum to use that we still use it today, just that the materials have been replaced. Not that it is the best form of building construction but nothing better has been invented.
Image credit: Flickr/Shihmel Barger
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