Juana Briones House demolished

Only Pieces Remain: the Juana Briones House

The Juana Briones House, parts of which were built in 1844, has been completely torn down by property owner Jaim Nulman, who fought off historic preservationists, latino activists, and descendants of Briones for years.



This is a shame for those interested in historic preservation, and it would be interesting to see what was discovered in the process of taking the building down. I’m a great believer in the preservation of historic buildings, but one of the great sustainable aspects of earth building is that it can be returned to the earth at the end of its useful life. Here we see that in action.

You do however gain the most information when taking a structure down, and it would be good to learn if anyone documented the building as it was demolished.

Holy Cross Church restored

Holy Cross Church 2010

STATEBURG — The Rev. Tom Allen might want to cringe when he hears some people describe his Episcopal Church building.

“A lot of people, they call our church ‘the dirt church,’ ” he says. “Well, it’s not really the dirt church. It’s the brick church.”

Forgive people if they don’t get it just right. The Church of the Holy Cross is one of a kind among South Carolina churches.

That’s because it’s made of Pise de Terre, a fancy term for rammed earth.

Photo Gallery

Holy Cross

The tiny community of Stateburg is set apart by a unique collection of buildings made from rammed earth, most notably the newly restored Church of the Holy Cross. Click here for a tour of the church and nearby Pise de Terre structures.

Its 2-foot-thick walls were erected in 1852 by using wooden forms to hold local clay as laborers, probably slaves, tamped it down with a special tool, forcing out the water.

Dr. W.W. Alexander, head of the church’s 19th century building committee at the time, had been experimenting successfully with this construction method at his plantation home just across the highway.

He convinced his other committee members that using Pise de Terre would give them more church for the money.

Walter Anderson, who currently lives in and maintains his family’s collection of Pise de Terre buildings across North Kings Highway from the church, says his great-great grandfather was influenced by the 1806 work “Rural Economy,” by S.W. Johnson, and began using rammed earth in the 1820s.

“When you look at some of the buildings around here, you can see a progression of his confidence in the material,” Anderson says.

For whatever reason — perhaps some thought it too crude or perhaps because of the loss of cheap slave labor after the Civil War — this type of construction didn’t spread far.

And that’s too bad in a sense, because time has proven that Pise holds up pretty well.

Of course, just about every other part of the Church of Holy Cross needed a significant renovation after termites were discovered in the sacristy in 2001.

Charleston architect Dan Beaman of Cummings & McCrady and Charleston engineer Craig Bennett with 4 SE, Inc. helped the congregation with a decade-long assessment and restoration.

The $1.6 million restoration, paid for in part with a $250,000 Save America’s Treasures grant, replaced major sections of the termite-damaged trusses and roof panels, as well as the floor panels. Termites also had dined on the base of the pews and original Henry Erben organ.

Beaman notes the Pise actually is only visible in a small cross-shaped section outside. The exterior is covered by a coarse layer of stucco, while the inside also is plastered.

The structural challenges included finding the extent of the termite damage and devising a way to keep the roof on the structure in heavy winds — since the earthen walls would make it difficult to strap on the roof.

Instead, the roof is secured because it’s made of the same heavy concrete tiles that likely replaced the original wooden tiles in the early 20th century.

Beaman says the first thing they told the contractor on the Holy Cross restoration was this: “You’re not going to touch the Pise.”

That’s because the rammed earth really is what makes this church unique.




Rammed Earth PhD position at UWA

Mechanical and Structural Characterisation of Rammed Earth

PhD position University of Western Australia

Project Summary

The significance of this project lies in recognition of the economic, environmental and social benefits of rammed earth as a construction material in Australian remotecommunities, and addresses the lack of a proper Australian Standards code supporting its wide-spread use. Qualitative and quantitative characterisation of the material and structuralproperties of rammed earth will be done through a comprehensive program of laboratoryand industry-supported on-site experimental tests. The project will result in a first ever “Proposal Form for Standards Development” for rammed earth structures, to be submittedto Standards Australia. The findings will significantly improve cost effectiveness and safetyof rammed earth structures in Australia.

This should prove to be an excellent PhD, supervised by Dr Daniela Ciancio and and Dr Andy Fourie at UWA and Dr Charles Augarde at Durham University.

For more information see PhD position announcement

How was rammed earth used in WISE

Interesting addition to the WISE website at CAT, explaining about the rammed earth wall there.

At 7.2 metres, the circular walls of the Sheppard Theatre are the highest rammed earth walls in the UK. To make rammed earth walls, loose, moist subsoil is compacted in thin layers between shuttering or formwork. Mechanical compaction forces clay molecules to bond with the aggregate (a physical rather than a chemical bond), giving the wall its strength. Particle size and grading, moisture content, and clay content are all critical to the performance of the finished wall.

Although the build had quite a few problems, I’m hopeful that the project will serve to inspire more rammed earth building in the UK

How was rammed earth used in WISE?

Terra 2012 Conference

XI International Conference on the Study and Conservation of Earthen Heritage, Terra 2012

The International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) are pleased to announce that the XI International Conference on the Study and the Conservation of Earthen Architectural Heritage, Terra 2012, will be held in Lima, Peru, from April 23rd to 27th, 2012. The main theme of the conference will be “Conservation of Earthen Architectural Heritage against Natural Disasters and Climatic Change” and more than 500 specialists in the fields of earthen architecture are expected to attend.

The conference will provide a unique and invaluable opportunity to discuss and exchange information on the latest advances in the research and conservation field. Moreover, participants will learn about the cultural identity of earthen architecture in Latin America and be able to observe firsthand conservation issues in Peru, a country with a long and rich tradition of construction with earth.

PUCP | Terra 2012.