September 10, 2015
by Chris Morin
saskatoon architect paul blaser is building what he believes to be the city’s first rammed-earth home.
When it came time to build his new house, architect Paul Blaser wanted something unlike anything else in Saskatoon. Having studied design across Canada and Europe, Blaser found himself inspired by the ancient ruins in Rome. Drawing from the timelessness of the structures of the past, he is constructing the walls of his Caswell-area home using an ancient building process called rammed earth.
He believes that the dwelling is a first for the province. “I know that there have been some commercial buildings that have used it and there are even some examples in this neighbourhood who have used rammed earth for garden walls.” Blaser said.
Rammed earth is an ancient technique that uses natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime or gravel to build up a wall that has a colourful layered aesthetic. The practice goes back centuries; sections of the Great Wall of China were built in this fashion.
The walls are built in layers. Materials are poured into a mould of plywood and compressed with a tamper. The process is then repeated. The walls, a colourful blending of earth tones that are visible on both the exterior and interior of the house, are held in place by a fraction of the concrete that would normally be used to build a similar structure, Blaser said.
Rammed earth is similarly appealing for its environmental qualities. “It has a poetic quality of not just being technically sustainable but it has a sense of those materials in it as well,” said Blaser, who runs a local architecture firm and has worked on numerous projects throughout the city.mal mass. You can maximize retained solar heat in a house.”
While the tamped technique has several interesting characteristics, Blaser said he doesn’t expect rammed earth to become the next trend in Saskatoon because it’s a labour-intensive process. “We’ve used the LEAN system in order to organize the way we build. And it has a huge impact on our ability to do this cost-effectively,” he said.
He noted the permit process for the rammed earth house is similar to other designs he has submitted. “This isn’t something the city needs to look at and guess,” he said. “The design is something that they can look at and accept and know that it’s going to work.”
By Chris Morin of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
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