Posts Tagged ‘construction’

Why aren’t we using Aerblock when we build?

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Aerblock as an ecological building material like pumice or laterite

Why aren’t we using building materials like Aerblock instead of wood? Habitat Forum 1976 alumni Michael Baron is involved in manufacturing this safe, lightweight, storm-proof, insulating, healthy-air concrete material that mimics ancient pumice building blocks.

Aerblocks are so light they float, and yet they withstand major natural disasters. Their application is almost universal—from disaster reconstruction in Haiti and Jamaica to full-scale luxury housing and large building projects.

Construction lobbies have helped thwart the adoption of this material in North America, but it is used in many parts of the world. Why does North America lag so far behind? The only region to have adopted it in any significant way so far is Florida, only thanks to a hurricane problem that is so severe it has overridden the efforts of business to block it.

In other parts of the world, the adoption of Aerblock would aid in health and community development. Not only does it keep out the heat and other threats to health, it is a simple and intuitive material to build with. Its interlocking blocks fit together so simply that untrained and uneducated builders can put together a decent shelter with the aid of pictorial instructions. Because Aerblock doesn’t require grout, which requires training to apply and is a major a source of failure, it’s more likely to be democratically adopted and buildings are less prone to fall down. It mimics an ancient style of building with pumice blocks, a natural building style. It’s worth noting that some of these ancient pumice buildings are still standing today.

Baron contacted me in relation to my book research on Habitat Forum ’76, and then went on to tell me about his work with Aerblock. I asked if Aerblock would work in a rainy, cool climate like Vancouver, and he said that contrary to popular assumption it would be ideal here. He has in fact been attempting to set up a small manufacturing plant here as a result of his long ties with the city. I asked him why this hasn’t been adopted in construction, apart from the deterrent effects of the wood lobby, and he pointed to something I’ve witnessed myself in my own attempt to salvage my building. There is a great deal of inertia in the construction industry. It’s cheaper to go on doing the same old wasteful things than it is to take the time to reeducate yourself and invest in newer, more sustainable technologies – even when the materials are ultimately cheaper or when they clearly benefit the homeowner. I had to battle subcontractors and suppliers over choosing newer, more ecological materials.

It’s interesting how many alumni of the groundbreaking Habitat ’76 conference are still working on sustainable architecture and appropriate technology 37 years later. Why are we right back where we started when we first began to talk about these things? Rhetorical question.


“Our Mission: We strive to play a crucial role in furthering the advancement of aerated, lightweight cementitious technologies here in the US and around the world, as a legacy building material, for generations to come!”

Below: Vlack Temple in Colorado, constructed with Aerblock; Haiti reconstruction; fully modern, large-scale house;

Aerblock - church in Colorado

Aerblock Haiti

Aerblock - adobe-style mansion


10,000 yellow construction helmets lined up outside Milan Stock Exchange

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Italian protest - construction helmets outside Milan Stock Exchange

Via designboom. In a “day of anger,” unemployed construction workers hit by Italy’s recession stage brilliant protest outside Milan’s Stock Exchange. For more photos see link.

10,000 yellow helmets in Milan

Day of Anger at Milan Stock Exchange


Lyrebird imitating construction work

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Lyrebird imitating construction work

Lyrebird imitating construction work, Adelaide Zoo. Sound of the city, played back.

Most common building material in Goa is a stone called laterite

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Morjim, Goa

What appear to be red bricks below (at left in the photo, and on the wall surrounding the yellow building) are in fact quarried blocks of laterite, a porous red stone common in India and other countries. In Goa the laterite blocks are usually grouted and then cemented or plastered over and painted. All three stages are visible below. The famous brilliantly coloured houses of South India (below, and next post) are usually built this way. If owners run out of money during construction, the houses are lived in with just the unfinished grouted stone. Above, four differently coloured treatments for common laterite garden walls.

2 new buildings in Goa, one still unpainted

Morjim, Goa

House painting is also a constant job on the Indian coast—the summer monsoon is so extreme (it removes all the sand from the beach, only for it to return the next year) that a newly painted house can look blackened and decrepit within one year. Someone needs to start up a pressure-washing business in Goa. Perhaps someone already has.

Goa, local stone cut into large bricks

Goa, local stone cut into large bricks

Oldest known Neanderthal house found in Ukraine – made from woolly mammoth bones

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Why do discoveries of ancient houses make me so happy? A 44,000 year old Neanderthal bone house has been found near Moldova in Eastern Ukraine. It’s a nearly circular structure made from woolly mammoth bone, and it’s 26 feet wide at its widest point – that’s pretty substantial, the same width as the little church I live in. The bone house is delicately decorated with carvings and ochre pigments. 25 hearths were unearthed inside, suggesting it was inhabited over a long period of time. Now it appears Neanderthals weren’t really the stupid “cavemen” we thought they were: evidence is growing that they cooked vegetables, buried their dead, produced jewelry and sophisticated tool sets, and probably had language. They ostensibly disappeared just 10,000 yeas after modern man arrived in Europe, but it seems likely that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred. More on that here.

The use of bone is likely due to its availability as well as to a scarcity of wood. There are no photographs of the dig site yet. By the way, the artist’s rendering above clearly shows a modern human, not a Neanderthal. Nice furs. Via the Telegraph and Digital Journal.

“Laëtitia Demay, an archaeologist who led the research, said: “It appears that Neanderthals were the oldest known humans who used mammoth bones to build a dwelling structure.

“This mammoth bone structure could be described as the basement of a wooden cover or as a windscreen.

“Neanderthals purposely chose large bones of the largest available mammal, the woolly mammoth, to build a structure.

“The mammoth bones have been deliberately selected – long and flat bones, tusks and connected vertebrae – and were circularly arranged.

“The use of bones as building elements can be appreciated as anticipation of climatic variations. Under a cold climate in an open environment, the lack of wood led humans to use bones to build protections against the wind.”

The bone structure … was constructed of 116 large bones including mammoth skulls, jaws, 14 tusks and leg bones.”

By the way, this is by no means the oldest hominid-built structure in the world. A simple wooden structure found outside Tokyo was built 500,000 years ago by Homo Erectus.

“It consists of what appear to be 10 post holes, forming two irregular pentagons which may be the remains of two huts. Thirty stone tools were also found scattered around the site.”

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