an in-depth document on house building criteria from Fonte Trocchi
we have received this article during the workshop and discussion appointment in July 2022
Most of today’s existing houses have the distinctive feature of load-bearing walls that have been built too straight and are too high. These walls invariably, sooner or later tilt to one side or the other, and the entire construction becomes unsafe, no longer habitable, and often at some stage no longer even suitable as a starting point for reinforced construction. This is the reason why it is necessary to proceed with the complete demolition of all remaining walls and for having to start from scratch.
These walls invariably, sooner or later tilt to one side or the other, and the entire construction becomes unsafe, no longer habitable, and often at some stage no longer even suitable as a starting point for reinforced construction. This is the reason why it is necessary to proceed with the complete demolition of all remaining walls and for having to start from scratch.
By observing the actions undertaken on houses over the generations – restoration, extension, abandonment, attempts at reinforcement, demolition, reconstruction – it is suggested to divide the houses into two categories:
1.) houses built BY and FOR the current generation,
2.) houses to be built by the PRESENT generation for the FUTURE generations.
The following considerations apply to the possibilities of vernacular construction which the rural context as opposed to the urban context offers. Considering the rural context as the one that provides the brightest perspectives for the future generations in which to create a society model that will necessarily be very different from the one inherited from previous generations, which is de-stabilising the entire biosphere.
Cabins, cottages and shelters which, due to their small size, easily achieve a good level of energy efficiency and seismic safety can belong to the first category of houses. The need to exclude unnecessary objects and furnishings from the interior space enhances the quality of life of the inhabitants, which is why these dwellings are proposed to the present generation as a viable solution to the housing problem, one that can be realised in a short time, at low cost and in a fairly satisfactory manner as far as it is feasible in a precarious transitional phase.
The houses which belong to the second category can be built at a leisurely pace with no time limit. This category of houses is divided into:
1.) a permanent part, such as foundations and a
2.) less permanent part that rests on these foundations.
The foundations are load-bearing external walls, starting at a thickness of at least 5-6 metres at ground level and gradually decreasing to a minimum thickness of one metre at the maximum height of the walls which are no more than 2-3 metres high. These walls can be built simply by piling up stones and earth as if they were already collapsed walls. Resistance to earthquakes, hurricanes, frost and heat waves is remarkable and can be demonstrated, although it is not necessary, by the builder with mathematical calculations.
The inhabitants have to add a little amount of stones and earth from time to time as the only necessary maintenance to counteract the settling and leaching phenomena that may occur over the centuries. These unshakeable foundations offer each new generation the possibility of building, according to their needs, abilities and preferences, with lighter and less durable materials (such as wood, reeds, straw or any other locally available material). In addition to the ground level area, there is another living floor and a roof resting horizontally on the existing building stock, inherited from the previous generation with gratitude, which can also be landscaped on the outside with flowers and plants.
The walls of most houses standing today split open vertically over time. The foundations of houses built by the present generation for future generations, on the contrary, contract horizontally with the passage of time. IIn many places in the world, this type of wall can be built without any planning permission. In a more formal context, the walls under construction can be declared, if required, as experimental construction factors in order to study the life cycle, extendable indefinitely, of this type of architecture. By raising these walls gradually over years, if not decades, allowing the vegetation to keep everything more or less covered, the visual impact will be minimal and the result perfectly integrated into the surrounding landscape.
The volume of building material that has been used in industrialised countries in the last 50 years to build the houses we currently live in, exceeds the volume of building material used by all of mankind throughout the world in the last 5,000 years. This bulk of material, consisting mainly of concrete, gravel, iron and glass, will turn into a legacy of crumbling ruins in the coming decades. In contrast, the foundations of new houses starting to be built by the present generation, if conceived as walls that have already collapsed, attempt to leave a large amount of material piled up in a useful and non-dangerous manner for subsequent generations.
Description of building houses that initially belong to category 1,
with the potential to turn into the foundations of category 2 houses at a later stage:
Mud huts, emblematic for their poverty and backwardness, built with little care in precarious situations that easily dissolve and collapse with exposure to rain, raging storms or seismic phenomena, will in the future remain the standard solution to the housing problem for a considerable number of the earth’s inhabitants. A technical improvement that does not require the involvement of specialised professionals, nor the use of locally unavailable materials, consists in building the walls, starting with a structure of woven plant material covered with a relatively thin (5-10 cm) layer of clay, so that they are slightly inclined outwards – to give these walls a tendency to fall outwards. At this point, the houses built in a short time can already be inhabited. In the event of an earthquake or other extreme events, the walls fall outwards without affecting the people living there. In the following months and years, the people can gradually reinforce their houses by placing more stones and more earth on the outer side of the walls. With this system, the walls are stabilised in increasingly compact horizontal layers, offering ever greater protection against low temperatures, heat waves, storms, hurricanes and earthquakes. Rainwater flows on the surface following the outward slope. On the outside, the walls can be terraced to increase water retention, reduce erosion and create conditions suitable for growing edible plants. The outer surface can be modified in many ways with many possibilities for adaptation to changing environmental conditions. The thickness of the walls, which may seem excessive, increases the overall usable area available.
Picturing this type of architecture applied on a large scale in the building of new settlements for humanity, we see landscapes of water retention, farmed by well-distributed peoples, expanding horizontally across the earth’s surface, – an alternative to extravagant projects such as the attempt to colonise Mars or the construction of armed bunkers, which seek vertical escape routes for a few particularly far-sighted and privileged individuals in anticipation of a future scenario that is seen as inevitable, instead of collectively tackling it with solutions that are accessible to all.
how to reduce costs:
- use local building materials,
- avoid costly technologies,
- avoid involving experts,
- build simple harmonious shapes,
- start with small dwellings,
- using the outdoor areas between the buildings for doing a certain part of the domestic tasks,
- planning so that buildings can be enlarged at a later stage,
- building collectively and finding solutions that do not require exceptional physical effort in order to be able to involve more people,
- sharing services and infrastructures.