M.Arch Post-Professional

Open Access
Pritz, Connor C
Graduate Program:
Master of Architecture
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
May 03, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Marcus Shaffer, Thesis Advisor
  • Mehrdad Hadighi, Committee Member
  • Ali Memari, Committee Member
  • Compressed Earth Block Construction
  • Earthen Construction
  • Mechanized Production
  • Design as Research
While the use of earth as a building material is as old a concept as the human act of building itself, the mechanized compression of earth to create structural block is a relatively recent development that has pushed earthen construction towards modern standards of efficiency and material performance. Since the invention of the CINVA-Ram manual block press in the 1952, Compressed Earth Block has become a widely used construction material in the realm of low-cost, self-built construction in rural areas across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Developments to the material and the design of interlocking block geometries have addressed the lack of specialized labor in these regions and have allowed the construction of higher quality earthen homes than those built with other earthen block types, such as adobe or sun-dried mud brick. Although CEB construction methods have seen great improvements through technological development, the use of CEB at present is restricted to the construction of walls and foundation blocks. When it comes to the issue of roofing a CEB structure, current conventions default to the use of imported and comparatively expensive corrugated sheet materials with high requirements for specialized labor and technology. In the closely related field of mud-brick construction, the Nubian Vault serves as an ingenious precedent for providing an earthen roof without the use of wasteful centering, however this is an extremely specialized skill that takes years of training and practice to perfect. This thesis therefore examines the question, How may we achieve an earthen roof while retaining the benefits of low specialized skill, low construction cost, and strong environmental performance inherent in CEB construction? A study of the cultural contexts in which CEB is used by self-builders will yield a set of parameters for a process of iterative design as research. The reciprocal processes of designing and making will show that engagement with all aspects of a proposed materials production triad (machine, architectural element, architecture) is necessary in order to address this cultural and tectonic problem.