Ecobrick & Earth Building
Build beautiful, strong, circular, resilient and regenerative structures.
By using time-tested local building traditions and the power of community collaboration, we can safely secure plastic while putting it to good use in earthen constructions.
Earth and Ecobrick building methods are inspired and guided by the natural building traditions of our ancestors. Almost every land has ancient methods for using earth to build structures that stand for centuries. By adapting these methods and maintaining their principles, we can put ecobricks to good use. Not only can we build beautiful, strong and resilient structures, we can secure plastic locally and indefinitely– ensuring that it is on a path that keeps it from ever contaminating the environment.
Earth Building is known by different names around the world– “adobe”, “wattle-and-daub”, “cob”, “organic cement” etc. These low-energy and low-cost traditions have resulted in incredibly beautiful and varying structures around the world. Despite their unique shapes and forms they share certain fundamentals in common– such as using local materials, including the community, and enriching the local ecology. Our ancestors took these principles for granted, but today its more important than ever to learn from the wisdom embedded in their ways.
As we will see, Earth and Ecobrick building contrasts starkly with high-energy industrial constrution methods. Whereas industrial constructions are ecologically extractive, earthen building is ecologically enriching. Wheras industrical construction is powered by petroleum energy and dependent on capital, earthen constructions strives to be free of both. Wheras, industrial construction loosens plastic and CO2 into the biosphere, earthen building strives to secure them. Whereas industrial construction is dictatated by top-down hierachy, earthen building strives to involve and serve the whole community.
Read on to learn about the regenerative principles that guide earth building!
Keeping it Local
Earth buidling is all about improvising with what you’ve got.
If there’s anything that the different earth building tradition around the world have in common it is that they used what was local to them. Earth building makes use of the earth (sand, clay, rock, pebbles, etc.) that is nearby along with the local organic materials (wood, bamboo, reeds, grasses, etc). By keeping it local, we reduce the need for long haul transportation. This ensures a low-energy impact footprint for our building and it encourages the community management of regrowing trees and bamboo to meet local needs.
As we’re using the same resources that our neighbours have access to, they can copy us! As we all work with the same resources, we can learn from the trial and error of our neighbours, and they can learn from us. Sure and steady, our methods get better and greener. Since our shared resources come from nearby, we can also work together in the regrowth and management of resources.
Industrial construction, in contrast, relies on the transportation of materials from far away. Often these materials involve much energy in their fabrication and transportation. Because we don’t get to see where they come from, we are often not aware of the mining, smelting, and energy expenditure behind them.
When building with earth we plan for the next destruction of our creation. In so doing we ensure that the materials we use can be used again and again.Essential to Earth and Ecobrick building and the effective sequestration of plastic, is circular design also know as cradle-to-cradle design. This principle is one of the main reasons for the use of earth with ecobricks.
Unlike cement, when an earthen construction comes to its end, the ecobricks can be easily extricated and put to use again. While cement can rip and tear ecobricks, the earth completely protects the plastic from all forms of degradation and crumbles softly to release the ecobricks. In this way, ecobricks can be put to use in another construction, for another decade or century.
It is also important to think of abandoned and forgotten constructions. Unlike cement, cob is fertile, so plants will easily grow on it. In the case of a forgotten construction, plants will grow, die, and grow again, effectively subsuming the ecobricks over time in earth.
Earth and ecobrick building is powered by community collaboration rather than petroleum or capital.
A common misunderstanding is to confuse building with ecobricks with industrial building methods: paying builders, using cement and machines, etc. Earth building is fundamentally different. E&E building methods are designed from the ground up not to rely on petroleum or captial power.
Instead, earth and ecobrick methods are designed from the ground up to be replicable, non-capital, non-petroleum, collaboration powered, and cradle-to-cradle.
Furthermore, earth building techniques are what we call transcaste– meaning that the building process is not hierarchical and readily involves men, women, the young, old, rich poort and everyone in between on an level playing field of participation.
Planning for the Next Thousand Years
Plastic is a potential toxic material. When working and building with plastic it is essential to plan ahead for the next thousand years. Ecobricking and Earth Building are a way to secure plastic put it on a safe long-term trajectory.
The danger of plastic comes from its exposed surface area. To the extent that plastic’s surface area is exposed to the elements, it will steadily break down over time into smaller and smaller pieces (microplastics) and leach toxins. By packing and covering ecobricks we keep the plastic safe and secure.
Packing plastic into an ecobrick results in the terminal reduction of net surface area. An ecobrick is essentially many many square meters of plastic compressed into a very small space! Using earth to build with ecobricks is a way to further secure plastic.
Earth building involves making a mortar (we call it ‘cob’) to completely encase ecobricks. This way not a single square-centimeter of plastic is exposed! Without exposure to sun, friction, or heat the plastic inside the ecobricks can no longer degrade in any way.
It is also important to consider the abandonment of projects. Cob, unlike cement, can be readily regrown by plants. Even if long-term structures collapse, earth covered ecobricks have no way to degrade and will remain intact indefinitely. The crumbled earth provides a fertile ground for plants, trees, and forest to cover.
By building with earth using cradle-to-cradle principles, we set our ecobricks on a long-term journey through time that maximizes its chance of indefinitely securing plastic.
We call this trajectory ‘plastic sequestration‘.
Ecobricking is a what we call a regenerative technology. Rather than "sustaining" the status quo, we're careful that everything we do re-greens rather than greys.
Ecobricks keep plastic & C02 out of the biosphere. Ecobricks raise ecological consciousness. And more!
Read more about the Ayyew concept in an essay by GEA principal Russell Maier: