Mud walls are currently re-emerging as an economic, sustainable solution to the housing deficit in Africa. Rammed earth construction is a rudimentary construction system in which earth is compressed into wooden boxes. The clay is horizontally placed in layers of 15 cm in height, and compacted with manual or pneumatic tools, to achieve its ideal density creating a resistant and durable structure.
Joelle Eyeson co-founded Hive Earth in 2016, a Ghana-based company specializing in rammed earth construction. Her proposal is to build accessible and ecologically sound housing through this system, using materials of local origin and available in abundance throughout West Africa. The walls are made with a combination of earth, sand, clay, and 5% cement (to give alloy). According to Joelle, cement can be replaced by lime based on the preference of the client.
The housing deficit in Ghana is ever increasing as it currently stands at 1.7 million homes. Due to the low cost of building with earth, Hive Earth manages to build a one-bedroom house for only $5,000 USD. According to them, this can solve the housing crisis throughout the African continent. In addition, building with earth cools interior spaces thereby decreasing the use of air conditioning systems. The walls require minimum maintenance and are sound and termite-proof. There is no need to paint the walls and they free of chemicals and toxins that may be present in cement.
The intention to use the minimum cement possible goes beyond the cost. Due to the excess of heat and humidity in Ghana, closed spaces with too much cement become unhealthy if they do not have adequate ventilation. The construction process of Hive Earth entails mixing the materials to form a wet mass which is then placed in molds and distributed so that it is compressed to half the original height. After that, the molds are removed to dry and cure.
“Many of the colours you see on the walls are natural colours of the earth. In Ghana, we have so many different variations of earth that we can get light beige, gray, red or even black. Sometimes we add iron oxide pigments to create brighter colours if the client asks for it,” says Joelle. The walls built by Hive Earth have attracted attention due to their aesthetics. The combination of layers with different earth mixtures result in drawings with waves, natural textures, and beautiful earthy tones.
Hive Earth has started new ventures and intends to produce residential decoration and finishing solutions. They also intend to hold workshops in universities to teach young people and future architects how to design with land, in addition to reducing unemployment among young people.