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Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods

Lynne Elizabeth (Editor), Cassandra Adams (Editor)
ISBN: 978-0-471-71938-0
416 pages
March 2005
Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods (0471719382) cover image


The first comprehensive guide to combining traditional natural materials and modern construction methods.
From adobe to straw bales, traditional building materials are being adapted to meet code-required standards for health and safety in contemporary buildings around the world. Not only are they cost effective and environmentally friendly, but, when used correctly, these natural alternatives match the strength and durability of many mainstream construction materials.
This book examines a broad range of traditional and modern natural construction methods, including straw-bale, light-clay, cob, adobe, rammed earth and pise, earthbag, earth-sheltered, bamboo, and hybrid systems. It also covers key ecological design principles, as well as current engineering and building code requirements.
Experts on each building system have contributed core chapters that explore the history, development, climatic appropriateness, environmental benefits, performance characteristics, construction techniques, and structural design principles for each method. More than 200 visuals depict both construction processes and completed structures. An extensive resource guide shows where to go for further information, training, and research.
In an increasingly resource-conscious era, alternative construction is truly an idea whose time has come. Whether you're an architect, designer, student, or homeowner, this book will help you to combine indigenous building materials with modern construction systems and design standards to create low-impact, high-quality buildings that meet the highest levels of comfort, health, and safety.
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Table of Contents


1. Introduction

The Natural Building Movement 3
Lynne Elizabeth

The Realities of Specifying Environmental Building Materials 9
Cassandra Adams

2. A New Context for Building Codes and Regulation 19
David Eisenberg

3. Natural Conditioning of Buildings 37
Ken Haggard, Polly Cooper, and Jennifer Rennick with assistance from Phil Niles

4. Structural Properties of Alternative Building Materials 71
Bruce King, P.E.


5. Adobe 87
Michael Moquin

6. Cob 117
Michael Smith

7. Rammed Earth 151
David Easton

8. Modular Contained Earth

Earthbag 175
Joseph Kennedy and Paulina Wojciechowska with special acknowledgment of the work of Nader Khalili

Earth-RammedTires 190
Michael Reynolds

9. Light Clay 195
Robert Laporte and Frank Andresen with special acknowledgment of the work of Franz Volhard

10. Straw-Bale 209
Kelly Lerner, Bob Theis, and Dan Smith

11. Bamboo 235
Darrel DeBoer and Karl Bareis

12. Earthen Finishes

Earth Plasters 255
Carole Crews

Earth Floors 264
Bill and Athena Steen


13. Integrated Systems with Rammed Earth
Charles Sturt University, Thurgoona Campus,

New South Wales, Australia 273
Marci Webster-Mannison

14. Straw, Clay, and Carrizo

Obregon Project, Northern Mexico 283
Bill and Athena Steen

15. Light-Clay House Additions

School/Residence in Wisconsin 297
Lou Host-Jablonski, AIA

16. Variations on Earthbag

The HoneyHouse—Moab, Utah 309
Kaki Hunter and Doni Kiffmeyer

Residences in Arizona and Wisconsin 313
Dominic Howes

Sandbag House, RumCay Island, Bahamas 315
Steve Kemble and Carol Escott

17. The Value of Indigenous Ways

Habitat for Humanity International 323
C. Wayne Nelson

18. Building Technology Transfer

Raising Straw-BaleHousing for Farmworkers in California 333
Kelly Lerner, Dan Smith, and Bob Theis

Introduction of Straw-Bale Construction to Mongolia and China 339
Kelly Lerner


Finding the Soul of Natural Building 357
Tom Bender

Appendix A

Recommended References 365

Appendix B

Alternative Construction Resource Centers 375



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Author Information

LYNNE ELIZABETH is a consultant and author on sustainable community development and ecological design. She currently directs New Village Press, a publishing project of ADPSR, and resides in Temescal Commons, a solar-powered cohousing community in Oakland, California.

CASSANDRA ADAMS is an architect and consultant in construction management and ecological design. She has taught architecture, construction, and environmental courses at the University of Washington and the University of California–Berkeley.

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The Wiley Advantage

  • Chapters written by expert contributors on the building methods and materials covered, such as straw bale, light clay, cob, adobe, rammed earth and pisé, earthbag, earth-sheltered, bamboo, and hybrid systems.
  • Includes over 100 photographs of construction processes and completed buildings.
  • Contains 70 line illustrations featuring a variety of wall assemblies.
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Professor Reviews

“provides a useful insight into the various natural materials and building methods that are used in Europe and the States.” (UK Landlord, March 2007)


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