What Houses and Sustainable Societies Are Made Of

June 3, 2011
Dept of Social Work, Amritapuri

Homes provide one of the most fundamental needs of man: shelter. They protect us from the elements and are the center of daily existence.

In modern cultures, houses are normally built with brick, wood, cement and stone. Yet, as the quest to become more ecologically minded continues, some people are experimenting with alternative building materials.

Houses and Sustainable Societies

People eager to stop adding to the mountains of trash caused by modern lifestyles, are now building homes with discarded waste; giving a second life to plastic bottles, cans and tires.

Still, we need to investigate a little more to see the amazingly simple and effective building material right before our eyes, actually, just under our feet.


Reintroducing indigenous building practices, with a touch of modern ingenuity, homes are now being built with earth too.

Satprem-MainiAccording to Shri. Satprem Maini, Director, Auroville Earth Institute, Architect and UNESCO Chair for Asia, who was invited to speak at the International Conference on Society, Technology & Sustainable Development, “Raw earth as a building material has been used worldwide for millennia.”

Maini pointed out that the world’s oldest earthen building, built about 3300 years ago in Thebes, Egypt has apparently not required any maintenance.

Unfortunately, with the advent of the 19th century, use of earthen construction declined significantly.

“Modern architecture caused people to develop a lot of misconceptions about building with earth,” said Maini.

“People often associate raw earth building with poor quality,” he added.

However, because compressed earth blocks (CSEB) he uses are mixed with lime and cement, they’re more stable than people realize.

In fact, they’re so durable, one earthen brick kept in a pot of water for 16 years was found to be just as strong and solid as on the day it was made.

Houses and Sustainable Societies

The value of CSEB is magnified by its many sustainable and economic advantages. Produced on site with local material it saves transportation costs and fuel.

Trees don’t have to be chopped down because CSEB doesn’t use wood. There’s no burning involved either, so there are no greenhouse gas emissions. CSEB is also a good way to boost employment because it’s an easily learned trade.

Maini promotes CSEB through the Auroville Earth Institute (AVEI) near Pondicherry. Founded in 1989 by HUDCO, Government of India, AVEI strives to empower people to build a relationship with the earth by building their own homes. AVEI also teaches and demonstrates how earth can be used as an eco-friendly, progressive and safe building material.

Houses and Sustainable Societies

CSEB technology has even gained government approval as a disaster resistant material. In 2001, the Government used CSEB to rehabilitate the Kutch district devastated by the earthquake that destroyed nearly 400,000 homes throughout Gujarat.

Shedding more light on eco-friendly building practices, Md. Nawrose Fatemi and Nabanita Islam, Department of Architecture, University of Asia Pacific, Bangladesh presented a paper titled Sustainability and Eco-Adaptability in Vernacular Housing of Bangladesh.

Traditional and vernacular practices in architecture were also recalled and suggested as a roadmap for sustainable development in a presentation by Dr. Anil Kumar from NIT Calicut.

Today as people from around the globe seek to unite past traditions with modern advancements and sustainable practices, many examples are emerging of technologies that uplift society with no harm involved.

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