Understanding Stabilized Earth Block Construction Using the
Nils Gore, Assistant Professor
University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Design
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These web pages are a documentation of some research into stabilized earth block construction I've done with undergraduate architecture students over the past few years. I started this work in a Materials class I taught for sophomore architecture students at Mississippi State University School of Architecture (MSU), and since moving to the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Design (KU), have resumed it here, in a design studio for third-year undergraduates.
The Cinva-Ram is a manual block-making machine developed by Raul Ramirez of the Inter-American Housing Center (CINVA) in Bogota, Colombia. It uses the principle of compression in making building blocks and tiles from a number of materials, including common soil. The ram is a steel box with a bottom that moves up and down. The mix is placed in the box, and a steel lid is placed on top. A lever is pulled to one side and the bottom moves up, compressing the mix against the fixed top. The lever is released, the top removed, and as the lever is pushed into the opposite direction, the bottom moves even further up, and the block is ejected.
The machine can be operated by one person, although a more efficient operation would be achieved by a team of four or five people. Production is reported to be as high as 500 blocks a day with such a team.Using inserts in the press can allow one to transform the rectangular volume for specific purposes, i.e. holes for reinforcing, patterns for decoration, grooves for attaching other systems, a hollow interior to reduce material volume and weight. See the Links page for commercial vendors of cinva machines or a source for plans to make your own. (I made this one.)
I consider the pedagogical value of the work to be as follows:
The work at Mississippi State University consisted of having students in my Materials class (for sophomore undergraduates) experiment with different mix designs, then understand the consequences of each mix with respect to compressive strength, aesthetic issues, durability, density, etc.
The work at University of Kansas took place in a third-year undergraduate design studio, and consisted of background research into understanding desirable soil properties in locally available soils, understanding how stabilized earth works with respect to the natural forces at work on buildings in this climate, development of stabilized earth building assemblies, and the design of a building on the KU campus.
I have compiled a links page of sites pertaining to stabilized earth, alternative construction, etc.
One of the most valuable lessons to come out of this work (for both me and the students) is the value of collaboration. Accordingly, grateful acknowledgement is given to the following individuals, without whom this work would have not been possible:
First of all, to the students at Mississippi State University and the University of Kansas:
MSU students: John Stantz, Nathan Jeffreys, Jason Labutka, Stan Gray, Dan Nelson, Nhan Nguyen, Mike Dykes, Ban Kavalsky, Heather Edris, Shomari Lacy, Kyle Overstreet, Brad Heath, Jeff Elder, Charlie Watson, Robert Blue, Michael Mann, Melissa Nelson, Elena Poole, Leigh Ann Black, Kandi Soliz, Eric Vance, Jenny McGonagill, Brian Conner, Ismael Sheik-Hassan, Jeremy Taylor, Kristen Rowell, Lena Coleman, Tiffany Boyd, Jai Jang, Jeremy Spencer, Greg Durrell, Anderson Ervin, Patrick Smith, Kwayera Franklin, Heather Ray, David Maxwell, Sean Talley, Mike Brooks, Ryan Flynn, Brandon Bishop, Jason Pressgrove, Michael Boerner, Amy Catherine Cox, Jeff Seabold, Eric Whitfield, Jamie Weir.
KU Students: Melissa Brown, Enjoli Dixon, Nathan Freise, Aaron Harte, Jennifer Morris, Marshall Morrison, Micki Prinster, Angie Stutte, Tyler Robertson, Branden Warden, Chris Walla, Kristin Winters, Ashley Whitham.
Thanks is also due to the following individuals who have assisted
us with this project: