This page has moved!!           Research in Earthen Construction

School of Engineering & Computing Sciences + Dept of Archaeology, Durham University

This page (last updated 28/6/12) provides links to information on the aspects of earthen construction research active at Durham University

Just published (July 12):
Modern earth buildings: Materials, engineering, constructions and applications to which I have contributed a chapter

Earth Building: History, science and conservation by Paul Jaquin
and Charles Augarde, published January 6th 2012

In what are we interested?

At Durham, since 2005, we've taken a geotechnical engineering approach to the study of earthen construction materials. We think that these materials deserve better scientific understanding and that this must be obtained through rigorous analysis and experimentation. Too much previous research into these materials has failed to be carried out with rigour and this has in part led to these materials remaining as niche and bespoke instead of mainstream. Without strong scientific backing to explain the sources of mechanical and hydraulic properties, earthen construction and the materials themselves will not be accepted for routine construction and  potential benefits in terms of low carbon and sustainability will not be realised.

Earthen construction materials can be regarded as manufactured unsaturated soils ...

We are interested in insitu earthen construction materials such as rammed earth & cob and in unit-based materials such as adobes and unfired clay blocks. We are not restrictive, as some seem to be, in the use of stabilisers such as cement in stabilsed rammed earth.

Contact: Dr Charles Augarde in Engineering and Computing Sciences or Prof. Chris Gerrard in Archaeology

Historic Rammed Earth

We are also interested in appropriate methods of conserving earthen construction materials in old structures. To do this requires a deeper understanding of the original construction technique, the history of the structure, what repairs have been carried out, as well as an engineering understanding of the material (see diatribe above).

Past student projects

Students have provided much of the hard work in the lab and in their heads to advance understanding of these materials over recent years. Some of the projects are given below. If you would like details please email. If I have left you out, please get in touch.

MEng Students

2012 Andrew Corbin: Design of flexural members in rammed earth
2011 Matthew Woodhams: Geotechnical properties of Cob
2010 Josh Bargh: Geotechnical properties of Cob. First time for cob in a shear box?
2008 Chris Beckett, Cracking in rammed earth . Went on to do a PhD (see below), now working
            still in rammed earth with Daniela Ciancio in Australia.
2008 Steven Perkins , Water movements in rammed earth
2007 Tom Howard , Jointing in rammed earth : use of geogrids for interlayer strengthening in
             RE; basic strength of layers in shear
2006 Tom Horncastle , Rammed earth materials : Use of BOS as stabiliser for RE
2004 Paul Jaquin , Modelling rammed earth : where it all began. Paul went to Spain to look at
            RE buildings and did some laboratory and computer modelling. This work led him to do
            his PhD at Durham (see below). Still very active and a Director of EBUK.

MSc Students (our MSc course in geotechnics closed in 2006)

2004 Cindy McChlery, Study of RE buildings at Ambel, Aragon, Spain looking particularly at the repairs carried out there over time.

PhD students

2008 - 2011 Chris Beckett: Working on microstructures of compacted earth materials
2005 - 2008 Paul Jaquin: Full details are at Paul's webpages. or you can read his theses (all three volumes) here.

Current Projects

Current PhD student Joe Smith - Joe started his PhD in October 2011 which is concerned with understanding compaction processes in highly unsaturated soil mixtures, like rammed earth. Joe looks like he will concentrate on microstructural formation in soil mixtures and possibly the use of wastes as additives.

PhD opportunities

Funding for PhD studies is always very difficult to obtain (full details for Durham are here) so if you can provide any funding from another source that is helpful. Here are some suggested PhD project titles.
  1. Modern rammed earth makes considerable use of additives and stabilisers. What are the ingredients/additions to earthen buildings materials of the past? The PhD would make use of documentary evidence, oral history, compositional analysis, published secondary literature. 
  2. Have we a historical map of earthen construction in the UK? Some studies exist but are not comprehensive. These could be brought together into a coherent whole. A title might be ‘Innovation and tradition in building design. The use of earthen construction techniques in the UK’.
  3. What is the true source of strength in earthen construction materials such as adobe and cob? With this knowledge, could these materials be modernised to become sustainable replacements for cement-based products?
  4. Tradition and chronology of earthen construction in Iberia. Take 2 or 3 regions, look at well-dated buildings, use compositional analysis of fabric.
Further ideas are on the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences Mechanics group pages here.



(please email you would like copies of these papers)

Beckett, C.T.S., Augarde, C.E. 2012. The effect of humidity and temperature on the compressive strength of rammed earth in Unsaturated Soils: Research and Applications (Mancuso et al. Eds), Springer:Heidelberg, 287-292. 

Beckett, C.T.S., Augarde, C.E. 2011. A novel image-capturing technique for the experimental study of soil deformations during compaction. Geotechnical Testing Journal, 34(6):571-578.  doi: 10.1520/GTJ103517

Beckett, C.T.S., Augarde, C.E. 2011. Structure creation in earthen construction materials: information from dry soil mixtures. Frontiers of Architecture and Civil Engineering in China, 5(2):151-159. doi: 10.1007/s11709-011-0109-7

Beckett, C.T.S, Augarde, C.E. 2010. Development of microstructure in compacted earth building materials, in Unsaturated Soils - Alonso & Gens (eds), Proc. UNSAT2010, Barcelona, Sept 6-8, 139-144.

Jaquin, P.A., Gerrard, C.M., Augarde, C.E., Canivell, J. 2010. Damage in historic rammed earth structures: A case study at Ambel, Zaragoza, Spain, in Fernades, M. et al. (eds) Proc 6.Seminario Arquitectura de Terra em Portugal, & 9. Seminario Ibero-Americano de Arquitectura e Construcao com Terra. (CD only),ISBN 978-972-8479-67-1, publ. Argumentum.

Canivell, J., Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C.E., Gerrard, C.M. 2010. Sistemas de reparacion en fabricas historicas de tapial, in Fernades, M. et al. (eds) Proc 6.Seminario Arquitectura de Terra em Portugal, & 9. Seminario Ibero-Americano de Arquitectura e Construcao com Terra. (pg69), ISBN 978-972-8479-67-1, publ. Argumentum.

Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C.E., Gallipoli, D., Toll, D.G. 2009. The strength of unstabilised rammed earth materials. Geotechnique. 59, No. 5, 487–490 [doi: 10.1680/geot.2007.00129]. pdf.

Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C.E., Legrand, L. 2008. Unsaturated characteristics of rammed earth materials in Toll et al. (Eds), Unsaturated Soils. Advances in Geo-Engineering, Proceedings of the 1st European Conference, E-UNSAT 2008, Durham, United Kingdom, 2-4 July 2008, Taylor and Francis, London, 417-422.

Jaquin P.A. 2008. PhD Thesis, Durham University. Details here.

Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C.E., Gerrard, C.M. 2008. A chronological description of the spatial development of rammed earth techniques, International Journal of Architectural Heritage: Conservation, Analysis, and Restoration, 2(4):377-400. doi: 10.1080/15583050801958826. Preprint available

Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C.E., Gerrard, C.M. 2007. Historic rammed earth structures in Spain: construction techniques and a preliminary classification. In: B.V. Venkatarama Reddy & M. Mani eds. International Symposium on Earthen Structures, 22-24 August 2007, Bangalore, India. Bangalore: Interline Publishing, pp. 327-333. ISBN 81-72960514.

Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C.E. and Gerrard, C.M. 2006. Analysis of historic rammed earth construction. In Lourenco et al. eds. Proc. 5th Int. Conf. Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions , Nov 6-8, New Delhi, India. Delhi: Macmillian India Ltd. Vol.2, 1091-1098. ISBN 1403-93156-9. Paper as pdf (1077K)

Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C.E. and Gerrard, C.M. 2004. Analysis of Tapial structures for modern use and conservation in Modena et al. (eds) Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions: Possibilities of numerical and experimental techniques, Proc. Symposium on Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions, Padua, November. Taylor and Francis:London, Vol. 2, 1315-1321. ISBN 04 1536 379 9 Paper as pdf (473k)


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