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INSIGHTS


27


FUTURE WATCH Back to the future


Professor Steve Goodhew of the University of Plymouth reports on the CobBauge project, which is seeking to bring a traditional sustainable building material up to date and into line with thermal Building Regulations


uilding using earth in its unfired form is not new. The use of straight edged blocks dates back to 6000 BC, and rounded earth blocks in the Middle East and central Asia to possibly 1,000 - 3,000 years before that. In the UK some buildings made from cob – a local form of earth construction using a mixture of earth, water and fibres like straw and hemp – date back to around the 14th century. In the European Union, cob heritage represents at least 200,000 buildings.


B


In the UK cob buildings are abundant in the south west of England and can be found between Cornwall and some parts of Hampshire, although they are most numerous in parts of north and mid Devon. The use of cob has the potential to bring


substantial reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and construction waste compared to conventional masonry materials. While perceived as a building material of the past or for those self-builders that are enthusiastic followers of ‘deeper green’ environmental construction, cob is becoming a logical choice of construction technique in certain parts of the UK and northern France. Its inherent low carbon credentials and ability to act as a buffer to the increasing internal moisture levels in our ever more sealed buildings, while preserving the cultural linkages to thousands of vernacular buildings, make it a sustainable alternative for designers.


A number of architects have used earth in construction. Examples include rammed earth walls at the Eden Project in Cornwall by Grimshaw Architects, and the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales by Pat Borer and David Lea Architects, yet such application tends to be specified in small sections of their designs, often in a position where the material forms a thematic influence on the building infill rather than an active part of the structure or facade. This is understandable as more clients look for sustainable buildings but still wish to avoid new materials and the perceived risks associated with them. With this increasing interest in natural materials, architects and builders have strived to re-interpret historic earth construction techniques. Examples include mudwall construction at Loch Lomond Visitor centre by Richard Shorter and Simpson & Brown Architects, rammed chalk at Pines Calyx by Helionix Designs and light earth construction at Littlecroft House by Gaia Architects and Rebecca Little Construction.


ADF APRIL 2019


An opening in the thermal layer of the new CobBauge material All Images © University of Plymouth


Alfred Howard helped renew interest in cob, and subsequently Kevin McCabe (Dingle Dell and Keppel Gate), Paul Barclay, Jill Smallcombe and Jackie Abey in the UK and Francois Streiff in France have delivered new constructions built entirely out of cob.


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