Caroline Grellier, our maker of vine shoot composites, allowed herself a little getaway outside the lab to find inspiration at Terra2016, world congress for lovers of earthen architecture, in Lyon from July 11-14
R&D… continuation and conclusion (?)
The collaboration contract of Termatière (my project of a social and solidarity company for the upcycling of agricultural waste into 100% bio-sourced local materials) with the laboratories of Inra (National institute for agronomical research) and Montpellier Supagro is coming to an end. Already… Three months went by way too fast. But the objectives are met: the vine shoot composite, 100% bio-sourced thanks to epoxide type glue made from grape seed tannin, is formulated and implemented with interesting results! We now need to prepare for the next step: characterizations and tests on the markets.
Leave the office, leave the lab, to find inspiration with other sectors of local materials, was my wish of the moment. So when you were screaming (or not…) in front of your TV on that evening of the football European cup final, I was in a terribly desert bus, heading for Lyon, host city for the 12th edition of Terra. This world congress of earthen architecture was held in France for the very first time in Lyon. Historic area of rammed earth and 2016 earth Capital, which couldn’t come at a better time. Let’s just say that I was not disappointed at all.
This is how I found myself among a crowd of architects, bricklayers, craftsmen, engineers, researchers, teachers, from 80 countries, all having in common an incommensurable passion for the earth material, true faith in earthen architecture as a solution for a long list of worldwide socio-economic and cultural problems.
Terra exists to allow time for debates and exchanges between these fervent professionals on several themes, including the conservation and management of earthen cultural heritage sites (note the fascinating tales of the reconstructions of the Timbuktu mausoleums destroyed during the armed conflicts in Mali in 2012); the different technical practices of this material throughout the world (norms, answers to seismic constraints, climate); the latest innovations and the state of art in the matter; the transfer of knowledge and reinforcement of skills.
During four (rich) days of mini-conferences and workshops, I witnessed a true plea for earthen construction, housing today more than a quarter of the world population, but still too often stigmatized as “poor”, thus suffering from a negative social and technical image.
Yet, in a delicate socio-economic and environmental global context, it is about offering accommodation that is respectful of the environment, sustainable and adapted, meets the needs of communities, favors local employment and the transmission of know-how, preserves the heritage of constructive cultures, and encourages innovation and scientific research. Because traditions must also evolve to live on. Some Moroccan or Brazilian builders thus adopted a seductive strategy with the upper classes in order to draw attention to the numerous advantages of earthen buildings.
This art of earthen architecture is based on locally adapted know-how, thanks to experimentations and manipulations often carried out by uninitiated people. This is what moves me the most in this way of building: traditionally, the whole community gets their hands dirty to raise walls. Each person learns and then passes on their knowledge. A sense of solidarity that echoes the maker philosophy. The training part is in fact a priority for earth builders.
I am so curious of the local know-how in the low-tech fabrication of materials. I talked about rice husks, straw, bagasse, with colleagues from England, Vietnam, Mali, Benin, Argentina, Hungary, Chili… The scientific debates alternated with exchanges on the social and societal roles of earthen accommodation. An opportunity to get to know more about this bio-sourced material for which the human being has more than 11,000 years of experience!
I hence ended a studious week, that offers new perspectives for Termatière with future projects and collaborators in sight! The problems listed throughout the congress gave me loads of ideas. According to Hugo Houben, co-founder of the Craterre laboratory, the CO2 released by a brick stabilized with Portland cement would be equivalent, even superior, to that of standard cement. Ouch…
“We mustn’t turn raw earth into the poor man’s concrete! We must identify other stabilizing agents than Portland cement.”
Hugo Houben, Craterre laboratory
Anna Heringer, architect, triggered general approval to thunderous applause in rhythm worthy of a victory at the Stade de France, with these words:
“Cement in earth is like Botox and this causes problems. We really need to live WITH the vulnerability and the sensitivity of this material!”
Anna Heringer, earthen architect
Termatière well and truly has food for thought…