© AROMNI, EPDR Serpa

EARTH ARCHITECTURE

BORN OF THE EARTH THAT RAISES THEIR WALLS

the typical houses have the natural charm of simplicity... Traditional architecture almost always uses the materials most at hand. The strong predominance of clay soils, which led the geographer Orlando Ribeiro to designate the southern region of the country as the "clay civilization", resulted in the frequent use of earth in various construction techniques, such as taipa (rammed earth), adobe or tabique (timber frames filled with an earth-based material).

TAIPA TECHNIQUE

In the southern Mediterranean regions, the Taipa technique - compressing the earth, chalk, lime or gravel between wooden panels that are later removed, producing overlapping blocks to form walls - was the most common construction process until the 1950s. After that the interest in the technology decreased and it was mostly abandoned, as a result of the rural exodus and the appearance of new industrial building materials; however, as time went by, and especially from the 1990s onwards, there was a certain erudite return to the technology, led by architects but based on the traditional knowledge of the old taipa masters.

This interest in the earth-based construction in the Alentejo has a lot to do with the search for alternative lifestyles by certain sectors of the population, who favour quality of life and well-being alongside the protection of health, organic food, sports, the sense of community and identity and the preservation of the natural environment and resources. In this sense, they seek a healthy and natural housing solution instead of an industrialized and impersonal construction. They are often referred to as "neorurals", moving from large cities to special places with a strong connection to nature. 

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Growing awareness of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to adopt ecological practices and to promote energy efficiency, positions Earth-based Architecture as a solution to be considered in the current scenario.

In the municipality of Serpa – where a very high percentage of the buildings used this technique – the attention given to this building tradition accompanied that movement of interest and renewal. The Escola de Artes e Ofícios Tradicionais (School of Traditional Arts and Crafts) (nowadays, the Escola de Desenvolvimento Rural [School of Rural Development]) offered a course on Traditional Constructions (where the use of the rammed earth has a prominent place) from day one. In Vales Mortos there are several buildings that used this construction method, making of this village an example of preservation of this traditional construction technique.

© AROMNI, EPDR Serpa

The current municipal projects designed to reinforce this typology and its technologies include the possibility of building a Laboratório de Construção Sustentável da Terra (Sustainable Earth Construction Laboratory) (ECOS, 2010), where this old (and yet new ...) raw material will be one of the main foundations of the research and experimental projects, becoming an important vector in the strategy to promote qualified scientific tourism.

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