Building Cities with Dirt

I know that there are two main circles in “green building.”  One follows mainly prefab, shipping containers, and all things modern.  The other is in love with the dirt and all things old.  Again, I might be saying too much about myself, but I am a dirt guy.  I can appreciate the efficiencies of prefab and the practicality of reuse with containers.  But…


How can you get more sustainable than dirt?  Surely we could all build our houses from dirt and the earth wouldn’t mind.  Dirt is completely recyclable.  I will admit building with dirt has problems.  First off, it is labor intensive.  This makes building with dirt just as or more expensive than traditional stick building.  Unless you are a hippie living in the forest then it may not be practical to spend a year or two building your house by yourself so that it only cost you $10,000.

Second, building with dirt within city limits can be complicated.  Most states and cities have poor building codes when it comes to alternative materials.  This probably does not mean it is impossible for you to build with dirt in a city, but it does mean that it will be painful and slow.  Pioneers need to step out and make a way for the rest.  (I like what these guys are doing in California for starters.)

Even with these two limitations I think that earthen building has a future in Urban America.  Believe it or not, cities have been built on dirt.  The natural stuff is still down there if you are willing to dig it up.  America has need for employment right now, so why not earthen builders?  Not skilled labor, not high pay either.  And whatever happened to barn raising?  And planning departments?  Where there is a will, there is a way.  With some creativity to combine some of the best of modern construction, shipping containers and earth I think some bold individuals can lead Urban America to a better home of tomorrow.

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