An Ancient Building Technique Readies a Spanish Farmhouse for the Future

This finalist for the TERRA Award belongs to a growing mound of eco-friendly earthen architecture.

Half-a-century ago, it would have been hard to imagine an award for earthen architecture could exist, let alone attract more than 350 submissions from around the globe. Yet since then a generation of eco-designers has revived the almost-dormant building technique, championing its high energy savings. 

Next week the TERRA Award, an honor bestowed upon natural homes built with everything from adobe to plaster, will be chosen from among 40 finalists in eight different categories in Lyon, France. 

Among the contenders is a rammed-earth farmhouse located in Ayerbe, Spain, a mountain region that is rapidly losing its rough vernacular style. Architect Àngels Castellarnau sought to redeem the local typology while addressing modern concerns over energy use. 

Local materials like stone, straw, and earth make up 80 percent of this Spanish farmhouse’s mass. A life cycle analysis conducted at the behest of Edra Arquitectura KM0 estimates that it will emit 50 percent less CO2 than comparable buildings. 

Thermo-insulating blinds, cisterns rain water, and passive solar strategies further reduce energy consumption. 

Today, few design professionals in Spain are familiar with rammed-earth construction, but it was once a common feature in Pyrenees buildings. The material’s importance to the region was part of the reason architect Àngels Castellarnau was curious to experiment with it.

The house is one of 40 finalists for the TERRA Award, an international prize for earthen homes, which will be announced on July 14 in Lyon, France. 


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