Rammed earth may be a future building material in north-west Indigenous communities if a study at The University of Western Australia proves successful.
A three-year Australian Research Council Linkage Project worth more than $200,000 has been awarded to UWA researchers to evaluate rammed earth housing and to determine national engineering and construction guidelines.
UWA's Assistant Professor Daniela Ciancio will work in collaboration with the State Government's Department of Housing, RAMTEC and Scott Smalley Partnership.
An engineer, Assistant Professor Ciancio will test the strength, durability and workability of rammed earth as well as its structural properties such as its safety and degree of required reinforcement.
"It's not cost-efficient to go around digging holes and collecting soil from all over the Kimberley, so we hope to create artificial soils here in the lab and study the suitability for rammed earth of different soil," she said.
"We also plan to experiment with the use of soil in the ground slab and we'll evaluate rammed earth's thermal properties as the homes will be built in a region where daily temperatures range from six to 35 degrees. It's important that we understand the performance qualities of rammed earth, which may prove to be an affordable and safe material with which to build homes."
Assistant Professor Ciancio said rammed earth had stood the test of time in several famous world landmarks including China's Great Wall, some of which dates back to the fifth century BC, Spain's 14th century Alhambra Palace and India's 14th century Basgo Fort.
"Rammed earth is a potentially cheap, on-site building material that requires little expertise to work with once the formwork is in place," she said. "We hope the community members will take part in building the houses."
The UWA team will submit their findings to Standards Australia for a national rating of rammed earth. They will not be involved in the interior design of the rammed earth homes, which will be undertaken in consultation with the communities.