Gaza Mud Brick Houses as Inverted Tunnels

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Previously we reported that the Israeli siege on Gaza led to citizens constructing their houses with mud brick due to a lock on billions of dollars in reconstruction funds pledged by the international community. The ingenuity also stems from a resource created by the excavation of border tunnels, primarily in the Rafah region, used to transport goods from Egypt. When tunnels are dug, mounds of mud are created, and this mud is considered prime for the production of mud bricks. Under the siege, and due to Gazans’ loss of hope that reconstruction projects will rebuild the thousands of houses and institutions destroyed by the Israeli occupation, particularly during its New Year offensive, many homeowners have begun to explore the mud alternative.

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“Hamas is actually supporting the mud-brick housing movement and has pledged money and assembled a special engineering committee to investigate a pilot project that will test a multistory school to determine just how safe and plausible building more widespread with mud brick can be. Of course, all of this has spawned a new temporary economy in tunnel mud removal and brick manufacturing, and the engineering itself is quite antiquated but none the more outdated. They’re using combinations of mud, sand, salt, and straw, and in some cases rubble to forge bricks and build basic homes. Some have already been said to have withstood elements of winter rains and harsh summer sun….It’s almost as if the tunnels had been turned inside out, sort of poetically unraveled overland as a result of the Israeli assaults, and now offer the dual benefit of both relief housing while also keeping the essential corridors of underground commerce alive. In some ways it’s just good old-fashioned poetic justice bound with some gritty irony. “ writes Subtopia.

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Several videos about the mud brick houses are available on YouTube. In one, the daughter of Nidal Eid, a 35 year-old who constructed his own mud brick house, states, “Daddy makes everything out of mud, but he can’t make me mud toys.” In another video it is suggested that building with mud brick is “a step back in time.” But is it a step back, or a step forward, creating a Palestinian identity through architecture drawn from tunnels that “represent the frontier of Gaza’s fight for geo-economic autonomy…amazing blueprints as uprooted spaces edited into fresh new infrastructure now in plain view”, as mentioned in the Subtopia essay. “Mud is valuable”, mentions a builder of a mud brick house in another video.

[Gaza’s Mud Brick Homes | Gaza’s Gritty Mixture of Dirt, Despair Produces Houses of Mud | Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for beating the Israeli blockade | Subtopia: Over the Siege ]

Syrian Beehive Houses

Designed for the desert climate, the beehive homes keep the heat out in a few ways. Their thick mud brick walls trap in the cool and keep the sun out as well (beehive homes have very few, if any, windows). The high domes of the beehive houses also collect the hot air, moving it away from the residents sleeping at the bottom of the house.

Inside, its high dome serves to collect the hotter air, and outside to shed rainfall instantly, before the brick can absorb it and crumble. Its thick roof-cum-wall is an excellent low-velocity heat-exchanger, and keeps interior temperatures between 85° and 75° F. while outside noon-to-midnight extremes range from 140° to 60°.

Casa Entre Muros: A House Between Walls

The Casa Entre Muros, built in Tumbaco, Quito, Ecuador and designed by al bordE Arquitectos (David Barragán and Pascual Gangotena), was generated from the starting point: “There is always another way of doing things and another way for living”. Far from the pollution of the city, the house is set in the hillside of the Ilaló volcano in a indomitable land. It’s limited by two streams opened to the landscape of the valley. A cut in the sloping land helps to generate a platform for the project and also to get enough raw material to build the massive party walls.

The waving form as a result of this cut in the land, defines the position and order of every wall. The succession of rammed earth walls and the different heights of the roof caused the division of the house even for the activity or the user. To avoid the domino effect, the party walls break their parallelism solving the structure and strengthening the character of each space within. A long corridor is used as an element that isolates the project from their immediate neighbours and reinforces the autonomy of every space.

This architecture aims to highlight the nature of the material elements that compose it, promoting the aesthetic, formal, functional and structural qualities as well as the maximum respect of the environment.

A Housing Market Built on Mud Takes Off, and Then Goes Thud

The West African village of Nionsomoridou , Guiea doesn’t have running water or electric lights. Most people get here by walking barefoot along a dirt path. The remote mountain community has one up-to-the-minute feature, though: a housing bust. Rents had risen in recent years, and local residents and home builders let their enthusiasm get the better of them, turning out a spate of new construction. Now, rows of newly built houses stand empty in the village, and rents have been cut in half. So far, not so different from Miami or Phoenix. Except that these homes are one-room, windowless mud-brick huts, and the rent is about $6.50 a month.

For centuries, Nionsomoridou faced no risk of a housing-market crash, because it didn’t have a housing market. There were no unused houses. If a son married and needed room for children, his relatives put up a new hut next door, on village land that is communally owned. Then came the global commodities boom, with far-reaching effects on Nionsomoridou, situated deep amid lushly forested mountains rich in gold, diamonds and one of the world’s largest virgin iron-ore seams.

New Deal Rammed Earth

The rammed earth houses on Rosemary Road in Mount Olive, Alabama, were built in the 1930s. They were constructed with dirt, taken from the site, which was mixed with red-rock aggregate and tamped between wooden forms. The homes were built as part of a New Deal Resettlement Administration homestead community. The surprisingly sophisticated one-story houses, designed by architect Thomas Hibben, are reminiscent of the low-slung, prairie-style houses designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The government was not sure of the lasting quality of these rammed earth homes and required that they be located at the back of the project, so as to not be too visible if they collapsed, but all the rammed earth houses of Mount Olive are still standing today. Images of the buildings at the time of their construction can be found here.