Mud is the oldest and most ecological building material on Earth.
With the construction industry accounting for 38% of global CO2 emissions, architects aspire to revive mud houses. They found inspiration in two unique, beautiful cities made of raw earth and ignited the “play with mud” movement.
Sana’a is the largest city in Yemen (Western Asia), and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In its 126 km2 area is currently inhabited by about 2.5 million people.
To the global architectural world, Sana’a is “an intact ancient gem”. There are still many thousand-year-old buildings here, most notably the Ghumdan Palace. Next is the mosque system with more than 100 works and about 6,500 ancient houses, built entirely of ocher.
Although only ocher, most houses in Sana’a are tall, flat roofs, ornate surfaces. When writer Jonathan Raban (UK) visited the city in the 1970s, he was overwhelmed. “The whole city is like a fortress, the houses and roads are like a maze,” Raban describes. Not long after that, in 1986, Sana’a was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Despite the passage of time, the old houses of Sana’a stand firm. In addition to being durable, they are also famous for “warm winter, cool summer”, admired by today’s builders as “the architecture of the future”.
Djenné is a city on the Niger Delta (West Africa), with an area of 302 km2 and a population of about 33,000. It was built in 800, famous for its magnificent mud architecture, especially the tallest earthen mosque in the world (nearly 20m).
Djenné’s main building material is clay. Every year, its residents repair and embellish their houses and public buildings with clay once a year. “Everybody joins in. Unmarried young people join forces to mix mud, women with husbands carry water, men with wives plastered walls …”, Trevor Marchand (UK) noted.
The Djenné people consider clay as a symbol of social cohesion and the most convenient building material. “Mud is very easy to mold, add and remove, meeting the needs of house expansion when adding people or canceling rooms,” Marchand acknowledged.
Depending on the number of people, Djenné residents build enough living space. Because every year they need to be embellished, they can decorate and redecorate their residence, making the landscape of the house constantly renewed.
“The most convenient thing about clay materials is that when it needs to be broken, the soil returns to the soil, causing no harm to the environment,” admired Marchand.
Djenné residents enthusiastically renovate the mud house every year.
“Playing with mud”The most serious emission-causing material of construction today is concrete. It is estimated that it accounts for about 7% of global CO2. However, global cement production remains at 4 billion tons/year. “We cannot live in the concrete jungle any longer,” appealed Salma Samar Damluji (Yemen). Using Sana’a as proof, Damluji claims “mud is the perfect sustainable alternative”.
Dragana Kojičić (Serbia, Europe) agrees with Damluji. In her hometown, Serbs are working to restore and build earthen houses across the country. “Mud is very pleasant, makes you fall in love at first touch. With mud, you don’t even need protective gear, just use your bare hands. We can play with mud, like children playing in the ground.” Kojičić said.
“I feel like Kojičić too,” confirmed Anna Heringer (Austria). She has been designing and building with mud for nearly 20 years, as the architect of the METI Craft School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh (South Asia). Thanks to this earth school building, Heringer won the 2007 Aga Khan Award.
“Mud is very readily available, there is much and it is as cheap as giving, capable of building any construction,” Heringer praised. With mud as the main material, the construction industry only needs to take advantage of natural ingredients such as bamboo, straw…
“Sludge is an unbeatable sustainable building material, infinitely recyclable,” Heringer continued. The mud architecture is characterized by being warm in winter and cool in summer. The reason is, mud wall has the ability to absorb heat. With it, you may not need to install air conditioning units.
In 2021, the UK Environmental Audit Committee once recommended “the use of sustainable, biological and breathable building materials, such as plaster made from clay”. In addition to the thermoregulatory function, the mud also aids in noise reduction.
“Mud houses are healthy architecture that literally breathes. Mud walls have the ability to absorb excess moisture from the air and release it when the air is too dry,” explains Damluji. Mud is also resistant to natural disasters quite well, except for flooding. However, we can avoid this risk by having a high manicure.
“Consider building mud houses,” suggested the “green” architects. With today’s design and decoration skills, architects can completely create a beautiful big mud house that is not inferior to any artificial building materials.
“Every mud house is very comfortable, comfortable, fully equipped with electricity, water, and gas,” says Jerome. Living in mud houses is contributing to efforts to combat global warming.