Transparent Rammed Earth

Last winter while discussing my thesis ideas with a professor, she stopped the conversation, sat upright, and announced, as myself, “I am Meghan, and I will make transparent rammed earth.”

Transparent Earth
At the time, I was switching from looking at cob to rammed earth because of its inherently more architectural qualities in regards to the modern tradition and discourse (this probably deserves a posting in itself).  I was also holding onto the general ‘ethereal essence’ I enjoy extracting from places, materials, and events in life, and realized a layering of transparency contains a rich vocabulary in producing this sort of effect.  Rammed earth being diametrically opposed to such effects could indeed be considered its beauty, I believe so at least – a massive, solid material that changes silently through the days and weeks with warming and cooling, yet over time degrades little by little back into what it always was – that upon which we live.

So, as an exploration, I wanted to find a way to penetrate a rammed earth wall that allowed light penetration, yet wasn’t the typical aperture treatment – that is, a punched out piece of wall that allows both light and a view.  I am inspired in the design of my latest rammed earth exploration by this idea as well as this artpiece by Karthik Pandian.

Glass pieces to embed
Thankfully I found a great source of free sand, H. Hafner & Sons Inc. in Cincinnati, and had help from Larry at Oakley Paint & Glass who generously donated his time and resources to make me the glass pieces I used.

The whole process was fairly predictable at this point.  The soil seemed a little more clayey than usual, and I had the good sand, which equaled to me trying and yet not knowing until the very end how good it would turn out, as I had problems with clay clumps in a previous iteration.  The sand made all the difference.

Reflective glass, earth, + me
I took a few moments to think out how to best lay out the glass.  I decided I would have two columns of varying amounts of glass pieces and therefore thickness, to see if direct/indirect light was more partial to a certain height.  I still need to do the light studies at night to explore this further.

Finished tamping

So here it is!  I was really pleased with the earth compaction itself, I’ve grown in my understanding of a good mix lately, as I must admit, the compaction was a little difficult this time because the formwork was ‘8″‘ and the tamper was ‘8″,’ so it was snug.

Left side

It turned out though.  I like the lighting effect a lot.  I wish I had staggered the glass more, but hey, maybe next time.  It definitely gets across what I wanted, and I’ll have to take more photos of lighting effects and the skewed vision of looking through the glass.

Here is the link to another project a few friends and I worked on the other day, it was our ‘unofficial’ entry to a competition on how to improve our school office’s hallway.  My classmate and my entry focuses on the issue of lack of love, encouragement, and general good self-confidence within our program: The Infinite Hallway of Assurance.

Also, I have the blessing and pleasure of going to India immediately upon my graduation to work with a non-profit design organization for a few weeks.  If you’re interested in learning more about it or providing a form of support, please visit my other blog, Meghazine, here.


Author: Meg C

Meghan is a recent Master of Architecture graduate from the University of Cincinnati. She is interested in all aspects of sustainability, finding the most pertinent ways it relates to the built environment including social justice in terms of material choice, implementation, and life-cycle. While pragmatic concerns are ever-present, she constantly explores the inexplicable beauty to be found in the intersection of order and the poetics of space.

3 thoughts on “Transparent Rammed Earth”

  1. I am looking into form work right now. I see you built yours instead of buying it. Should I look to purchase form work or build it like you did. I also really like the glass in the wall. How did that work out?

    1. Hello, to answer your first question about formwork, I would say it probably depends on the size and scope of your project. It’s extremely easy to make formwork the size that I did; anything more robust may be good to purchase, if for no other reason than reliability from those more ‘expert’ in the crafting. The biggest expense in making them yourself is purchasing the clamps; I rented mine, and have borrowed others, so hopefully there’s an alternative for you than purchasing new.

      In terms of the glass, it was a great effect – the goal was to experiment with fenestration to allow light penetration beyond simply a typical window. I just stacked pieces of glass, which is very versatile in sizing at that point, and since they are all packed together there was no problem with them sliding out or anything.

      Any other questions, let me know! Good luck with your project, and feel free to share as it progresses.

  2. Maybe you could try using a “ship-deck prism” system. They were used for hundreds of years to bring light into dark spaces. May require a protective cone on the inside point during the raming process that you could take off later.

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