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Architecture: Using Mud to Build Homes

Posted on May 28, 2009
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Architecture, Science and Technology
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S.A.J. Shirazi

The future lies in mud architecture. Though this sweeping statement may sound prehistoric, but it is very relevant to modern times. Building living spaces with mud is a tradition dating back to the start of civilizations. Some excellent examples from the Great Mosque – the world’s largest mud building and UNESCO’s World Heritage site to the oldest surviving mud specimens found in the Harappa Pakistan, show the continuation and importance of mud buildings.

Having grown up in a mud house myself (before I moved to urban centre), mud buildings have a special place rooted deep into my cultural consciousness and this personal bond encourages a more intimate relationship between me and the mud as the material transformed from formlessness to form. That is the reason why I am interested in mud architecture and I see its bright future in Pakistan.

Why use Mud? Mud – a mixture of earth and water – is economical, practical, functional and attractive. It is easy to work with, and it takes decoration well. Mud is especially useful in humid and hot climates like we have in Pakistan. Mud is a natural material that is found in abundance, especially where other building materials such as bricks, stone or wood are scarce due to affordability and or availability. In Pakistan, use of mud has evolved from local necessity. Which is why the use of extremely sticky mud deposited found along river banks or elsewhere in Pakistan combined with appropriate technology makes an excellent material to build functional and climate friendly buildings.

Work has already started and many experts are critically analysing the more purposeful use of mud as a building material. Dr Gus Van Beek of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History is working on a book in which he is examining methods of construction and varieties of designs in contemporary as well as ancient structures found at many places. Dr Gus Van Beek’s research started when he uncovered arch and vault construction at Tel Jemmeh, Israel. Dr Gus Van Beek is covering major types of construction in Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, India and Pakistan.

At local level, Society for the Promotion of Art and Culture (SPARC), registered in Lahore since 1994, is undertaking the task of revival of much needed mud architecture in Pakistan. SPARC planning to hold workshops at different art and architecture institutions in order to restart the traditional building with mud in rural as well as urban areas of Pakistan. These workshops will not only create awareness and initiate a thought process at grass roots level but will also train SPARC employees in mud architecture. Dr Norbert Pintsch from Senior Expert Service (Bonn, Germany) is planning to present new techniques of mud building to adapt the construction technique mixed with appropriate technology in Pakistan.

Prof Dr Norbert Pintsch is an experienced architect by profession and mud enthusiast by choice. Since completing first building project as an architect at the age of 18, Prof Dr Norbert Pintsch has been in various activities as an architect and civil engineer all his life. One of the best starting point for Prof Dr Norbert Pintsch may be a mud building that stands in Peerzada Festival Area, Green Acre, Lahore. Renowned Pakistani architect like Ghayyoor Obaid are also interested in mud architecture. Any other example that I know of is remains of Sher Shah Suri built mud fort in historic village Sher Ghar near Okara.

The mud architecture is a great resource that focuses on architecture constructed of mud brick, rammed earth, compressed earth block and other methods of earthen construction. The proliferation of the concept to use mud and improved techniques in order to raise the level of living in the population is a very welcome idea and we in Pakistan need that. This can go a long way not only in the form of changing the look of population centres, rural as well as urban, but also in solving environmental problems and problems related to the use of energy and other finite resources.

A version of this post also appeared in the daily Nation

Photo Credits: 1. Alana McConnon; 2. Qaisar Raja Ghaffar; 3. It’s a Sorry Lorry, Morry

21 Comments on “Architecture: Using Mud to Build Homes”

  1. Asim says:
    May 28th, 2009 12:50 pm

    Quiet Interseting!
    but it should have mordern tough
    which attract people bcoz mud is MUD

  2. Zecchetti says:
    May 28th, 2009 1:35 pm

    SubhanAllah.

    Simply fascinating. The natural life is best.

  3. Owais Mughal says:
    May 28th, 2009 1:42 pm

    One question for my own knowledge. How do mud buildings survive intense rains? Does the mud layer wash away in rains? Do mud buildings require new layers of mud to be plastered after some time?

  4. May 28th, 2009 1:42 pm

    Learn more about architecture made of mud at: http://www.eartharchitecture.org

  5. Owais Mughal says:
    May 28th, 2009 1:46 pm

    Shirazi saheb, I read your article with complete fascination. It is very informative. I am however, not yet sold to the idea that mud architecture is the way forward. For single family homes in rural settings, mud buildings may be workable but in urban centers where space is prime, can we build high-rises from mud? This is by no means criticism, I am open to be educated.

  6. Aalia says:
    May 28th, 2009 5:53 pm

    There is a lot of to said for mud. Actually it is catching on in many parts of the world and in pakistan there is also weather reasons to consider it. Thank you for this very insightful piece.

  7. Anwar says:
    May 28th, 2009 8:12 pm

    There are a number of nice designs of houses made from stacked hay straw and mud available online. The only difference is that in the US, treated wood, stucco (synthetic mud) and a variety of sealants make them last just as long as the regular lumber house. These materials also do not encourage termites or other bugs…
    Some alternate life style websites also list the volunteers ready to visit and setup a hut for anyone interested..
    If stucco is manufactured in Pakistan, it will eliminate the problem of mud washing out during rain… Plus, the Adobe style is really attractive…

  8. TrailBlazer says:
    May 28th, 2009 10:47 pm

    Thanks for the great article. Specially the pictures. I like the one with goats and child in “jhlungi”.

  9. Shabbir says:
    May 29th, 2009 12:01 am

    I appreciate your article very much, there are three brilliant Architects when it comes to mud brick houses and sustainability that are great examples for the future of Pakistan mud buildings.
    1. Hasan Fathy, a legend and re-inventor of mud houses. His basic principles quoted from the article below:
    -Belief in the primacy of human values in architecture
    -Importance of a universal rather than a limited approach
    -Use of appropriate technology
    -Need for socially oriented, cooperative construction techniques
    -The essential role of tradition
    -The re-establishment of national cultural pride through the act of building

    http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1158658335452&pagename=Zone-English-ArtCulture%2FACELayout

    2. Samuel Mockebee – Rural Studio
    http://archrecord.construction.com/features/aiaAwards/04mockbee-1.asp

    3. Nader Khalili – Calearth
    http://www.calearth.org/naderkha.htm

  10. Rafay Alam says:
    May 29th, 2009 12:34 am

    Thank you for posting this article. Please find more about urban dwellings in our climate (the article below is about a house in Gurgaon, just outside Delhi) that are made of mud and operate at 10% of the electricity cost of a home made of cement and brick:

    http://www.business-standard.com/india/storypage.php?autono=320533

    Also, mud/adobe/rammed earth constructions can be built as high as 4 floors, like in Morocco. They last for centuries. Even in the rain. They have much better heat properties than cement and brick and reduce the operating costs of a dwelling.

    Some new technologies get the mud/adobe/rammed earth polished to look like marble, so there’s no longer that “village home” feel to a place.

  11. Owais Mughal says:
    May 29th, 2009 12:45 am

    Rafay thanks for the info. It was educational for me to learn that 4-storied buildings could be built with mud.

  12. Hasher says:
    May 29th, 2009 3:11 am

    Adobe architecture is nothing new and is perfect for our climate. For those who are surprised by multi-storied buildings made of mud-brick, take a look at pre-modern mud sky-scrappers in Shibam, in the Hdrmawt region of Yemen:

    http://www.eartharchitecture.org/index.php?/categories/66-Yemen

    Today, there is a great need to find practical ways of constructing modern houses with adobe, thus not only brining down the costs of construction but also of keeping a habitable climate indoors. Thanks for the article.

  13. shirazi says:
    May 29th, 2009 8:41 am

    Owais Mughal: The ideas which I am working on says, “the future lies in the rural area.” I see people shifting from urban centers (they are already becoming un-liveable) to rural habitats. I suggest you see mud architecture in rural areas with me.

    BTW, we already have a start in Lahore as I have mentioned. People come and see that mud building and say, oh, I like this one. I need this one. They dont still say, I will make this one, though. May be in future they will.

  14. wasiq says:
    May 29th, 2009 9:37 am

    A great article. Mud is a wonderful building material that keeps houses cool and comfortable through the hot dry summers in Pakistan. The one issue that one should be aware of though is that the structure requires continual maintenance throught the application of new layers of mud to compensate for erosion due to wind and rain — this means having people familiar with the work to, not only, build the structure, but to maintain it regularly. When I tried to restore and rebuild a mud house in my parent’s native Ahmadpur Sharkia several years ago — many opposed my idea saying that concrete required no such frequent maintenance work, but mud homes did and hence were not cost-effective (I disagreed and still do, but the nay-sayers succeeded in forcing me to abandon my project).

  15. Owais Mughal says:
    May 29th, 2009 10:36 am

    Hasher and Shirazi sb, thanks for the information you have provided. It is eye-opening for me :) Something I never paid attention to before.

  16. Rehan says:
    May 29th, 2009 11:17 am

    Very interesting article and great comments. My ancestral home in- once-suburb now within lahore- baghbanpura, was constructed of burnt clay bricks cemented with mud. The brick walls are 9 to 18 inches thick.

    The house is three stories with 20 rooms. The walls were plastered with cement layer and painted. The painted cement surface does not give out the mud wall construction. However better thermal characterstics are evident. Its much comfortable in summer. I recall some rooms, especially ones with high ceilings were much cooler and we would spend the summer days in them without even needing use of fan.

    The home is now being used as a school.

  17. Naeem says:
    May 29th, 2009 12:56 pm

    One can romanticize the mud architecture, but it goes only with a completely different life style.That life style is linked with living in a village where cheap labour, raw material (clay) and wheat chaff (binder), and highly plastic clay for a yearly plastering (from the local pond) are readily available.

    Mud architecture is more sucessfull in arid regions where clay is avaialble but rainfall is insignificant, areas in Baluchistan (Sibi planes) and Upper Sindh and south Punjab are more suitable for such an architecture than North Punjab and Pakhtunkhawa. Sahel region of Africa (Niger, Mali etc ) has some wonderfull historical mud arcitecture, where clay is avaialble from inland lakes and it is extremely arid.

  18. Zecchetti says:
    May 30th, 2009 4:16 pm

    I just saw the following photo series on the BBC News website:

    http://tinyurl.com/pvj4ab

    The Muslims of Gaza are now re-building their lives using mud bricks! A Palestinian had travelled to South Asia and saw how the people lived in mud dwellings, and used the idea in Gaza. Now it is recieving funding and help, and the people are building their own mud brick homes.

  19. May 30th, 2009 9:35 pm

    S.A.J. Shirazi,

    Please visit our web site to view the next technology for construction of homes utilizing earth. We are currently in research and this technology has the potential to be used world wide.

    I would like to communicate with Dr. Gus Van Beek and Dr. Norbert Pintsch.

    Thank You for the article on Earthen Construction.

    Warmest Regards.
    Gary Hames
    EarthCo Building Systems, Inc.

  20. nripal says:
    June 6th, 2009 10:01 pm

    Interesting article. I was in a village called Kasur, near Lahore. They had some flat roofed earth buildings which were just fascinating. The mud plaster, craftsmenship, the roof were exquisite. But unfortunately they are being replaced by modern construction material. I asked an elderly person about his perception on the mud building and he said, there is a “firman” that when all the mud buildings are replaced, then the prophet will come back again. Is that a common perception?

    But anyways its a great initiative. We are doing similar stuff in Nepal, please check http://www.abari.org

  21. Hayami Shira says:
    July 3rd, 2009 10:15 am

    i really admire the practice of mud architecture. i myself is an architecture student trying to gather some information about it.
    i would love to read more about mud architecture and techniques.

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