Mechanizing Rammed Earth: making New Earth Construction Viable in the Us

Open Access
Bick, Zoe Ruth
Graduate Program:
Master of Architecture
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
April 06, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Marcus Steven Shaffer, Thesis Advisor
  • Daniel E Willis, Thesis Advisor
  • Mehrdad Hadighi, Thesis Advisor
  • Ute Poerschke, Thesis Advisor
  • rammed earth
  • mechanization
Rammed earth and stabilized rammed earth, two common forms of earth construction, are readily accessible techniques with long histories of use as building methods in many parts of the world. Despite this global commonplaceness, they are currently considered specialized and/or antiquated forms of construction in the United States (US). While mechanization and industrialization have significantly enhanced other materials and methods commonly used in building construction, modern forms of rammed earth and stabilized rammed earth used in the US still employ traditional labor intensive construction processes, and simple tools. Although contemporary technology has been applied in refining the earth material mix and toward creating better understanding of the material behavior and the ramming tools themselves, it has not been brought to bear on the rammed earth construction process. In response to this technological stasis, this thesis imagines the mechanization of rammed earth construction processes through industrial potentials that range from a hand-cranked gravity ram to automated robotic labor enhancement. Three distinct machines – Monument, Mass, and Needle – were designed and are presented as means to advance earth as an US building material through mechanization/industrialization, with the ultimate goal of re-inserting it into the portfolio of contemporary US building methods. This thesis primarily focuses on rammed earth construction methods, not on public perceptions of rammed earth in the US. The machines are also an exploration of mechanized earth’s new and/or resultant architectural potentials and possibilities.