Rammed earth is essentially manmade sedimentary rock. Rather than being compressed for thousands of years under deep layers of soil, it is formed in minutes by mechanically compacting properly prepared dirt.
The compaction may be done manually with a hammer-like device, mechanically with a lever-operated brick-making press, or pneumatically with an air-driven tamping tool. Dynamic compaction using manual or power tampers not only compresses the soil, but it also vibrates the individual dirt particles, shifting them into the most tightly packed arrangement possible. Rammed Earth structures are about as strong as concrete when finished.
Houses built of rammed earth have several advantages over wood-frame construction. The walls are fireproof, rot resistant, and impervious to termites. The solid, 18-24 in thick walls are nearly soundproof. The massive walls help maintain a comfortable temperature within the house, damping temperature swings that normally occur on hot summer days or cold winter nights. When designed and oriented to take the best advantage of the sun, a rammed earth house can be comfortable with 80% less energy consumption than a wood-frame house.
Humankind has used the earth to build homes and other structures for thousands of years. Jericho, the earliest city recorded in history, was built of earth. Temples, mosques, and churches were built of mud bricks and rammed earth throughout the ancient Middle East. Egyptian pharaohs ruled cities constructed of rammed earth. In the Far East, the technique was used not just for houses, base portions of the Great Wall of China are composed of rammed eart. Romans and Phoenicians brought the technology to Europe, where it was used for more than 2,000 years.
In the United States, rammed earth construction enjoyed a period of popularity from 1780 until about 1850, when mass-produced fired bricks and sawed lumber became readily available. War I and during the Great Depression brought rammed earth construction back into favor for two decades. Frank Lloyd Wright took advantage of this opportunity by designing houses made of rammed earth showcasing their strength and beauty.
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