source: wikipedia

Human ant farms: the use of rural materials.

Rural materials appear to some architects, as a complex strategy for design, specify or even worst: become responsible for an uncertain structure where nature might be capable of altering any minute.
In a recent TED Talk, the Dutch architectural photographer, Iwan Baan explained the world of information multiple ways humanity can create a home with intuition and the necessary elements that mark each living space or even the organization of a complete town under low wage circumstances.
Become a witness of marvelous human actions by watching the video:

Although the main idea of this presentation is based on this “ingenious homes in unexpected places”, in terms of materials, my attention was certainly focused on this underground village in Shanxi, China. This amazing habitat below ground zero, inserting their living spaces into the ground as a sort of ant farm,  might be the technologic precedent of Rammed earth walls posted in this blog. Although achieving another aesthetic, it is clearly and abstraction of what has appeared in China a long time ago.


Aerial view of Shanxi; Source: intechopen

Yaodong” is the Chinese term for this type of earthed shelters. This technique has been practiced for centuries and it is an incredible accomplishment for humans acting as ants in this chinese community.  As we know, weathering is an important issue in construction and for this village, it is one of the reasons for building in such manner; this porous ground “Loess” acts as the perfect insulator keeping cold or warm the space when necessary. The other reason is the lack of traditional materials to build as other people do. Certainly, this cannot be performed in all countries of the world, seismic zones can be considered banned for this type of architecture, but some of this intentions for inserting the structure into the ground is something abstractly seen in some architectural projects.

How much time took this village to erect? Other might even ask: Where is the Health, Safety and Wealth care provided here? Legally it is the responsibility of an Architect to deal with these three letters (HSW), but if Architects and Planners are absent, humans just occupy what is found as Iwan demonstrated and no valid HSW will be found. We create, others alter. Are we designing for that sort of alterations, with that exact expectation? Are materials able to adapt to these changes that humans constantly seek and create?

Living and surviving is what matters to the people of Shanxi. It has been said that there are more than 3 million people living in this Loess Plateau, where the village sits and its considered to be one the most sustainable communities built. Not only because of the type of architecture they live in, they are also farmers and their land is full of minerals and supplies to carry out a sustainable life.

Source: panoramio

Source: panoramio

Shanxi underground town; Source: Panoramio

Shanxi underground town; Source: Panoramio

Loess –> clastic mineral= silty sediment formed by wind-blown minerals.

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Mabelle Plasencia

Founder and Editor at INmatteria©
• Architect | LEED AP BD+C, with an intense passion for materiality, innovation, technology and science. • Arquitecta | LEED AP BD+C apasionada por la materialidad, innovación, tecnología y ciencia.