Refined earth – rammed earth manual, Martin Rauch, Schlins
In the course of building our new studio in Schlins in the 1980s we became very interested in the subject of building biology and wanted to learn more about building with earth. At that time Martin Rauch, who lives close to the site of the studio, was building a house for his brother. On a winter’s day we visited the shell of the new house, which was still open to the elements. In contrast to the coldness of concrete, after a few seconds the earth walls felt agreeably warm to the touch. This convinced us and so my wife Ruth and I were among the first clients for Martin Rauch’s earth buildings. As early as 1988 we had the opportunity to design Martin Rauch’s first exhibition, along with the catalogue. A good ten years later the publication, “Rammed Earth. Clay and Architecture” appeared, which has been out of print for quite some time. This book provided important impulses for contemporary building with earth. Today Martin Rauch’s architecture is internationally known and much in demand. Almost no-one can match the extent of his knowledge and experience in the field of building with rammed earth. And he hands on this knowledge – through series of lectures he gives at the ETH in Zurich, at Harvard University, in talks and workshops at many different venues in the world, as well as during his normal working day through collaboration with his staff, in a team that constantly attracts new, interested people.
By 2015 it was finally time for a new book, conceived not as a presentation of work but as a planning manual illustrated with built examples and offering detailed insights into the techniques of planning and building with rammed earth. Our concept was to depict Martin Rauch’s work and his knowledge in the areas of research and development with a bibliophile calm, depth and stability. In the choice of media a tactile feedback was of equal importance: for printed material, and books in particular, this seems to be one of the main reasons for their continued tenacious existence. A good book makes contents manifest, has certain liabilities through its authorship and dissemination. It cannot simply be deleted, switched off or subsequently corrected. Books do not form some kind of vague “cloud”, they cannot be simply scaled or resized, they are there, tangible and vulnerable, they have a surface and friction and weight.Rather than being divided up according to projects, this publication is separated into four main areas of building – floor, wall, ceiling and opening. It explains about construction and execution on the basis of individual project details and current reference projects. These show in exemplary fashion how to solve the technical problems that arise in building with earth and illustrate the design possibilities available.
Four chapters – based on a concept from Otto Kapfinger – form the core of the contents. They are positioned at the centre of the book and are structured by panorama pages of visual introductions to the buildings and large axonometric drawings. All the detail plans were drawn especially for this book and play the main role in the black and white section. The thin edges of the pages are colored earth-grey – along the top, the bottom, or the side – indicating the particular area of building dealt with in that section of the book: floor, wall, opening or ceiling. When the book is closed these grey edges are clearly visible. In the list of contents this detail is found in the form of schematic miniatures and, together with the index, guides the user through the contents. There are large color illustrations at the beginning and end of the book: a series of pictures of completed reference buildings, another series showing the construction processes in prefabrication and on the building site.
Building with clay is earthy, solid; consequently one might expect the text to be set in a powerful, solid Grotesque sans serif. But this seemed to us too obvious. Clay building of quality has many different facets and the clichéd image of dungarees smeared with mud is unfair and inaccurate. The intentions that underlie Rauch’s art of building are highly sensitive. For example the delicate harmony of different kinds of earth, the interaction of the material with people and the surroundings, the aesthetic nature of the surface in which both the production and substance are legible, the aspects of the life cycle and much more. Therefore as a suitable typographical counterpart we chose the humanist Antiquaschrift Novel pro from typeface designer Christoph Dunst.
With its horizontal structures rammed earth depicts the production process like a kind of cross-section, layer upon layer. The intention here was to animate the reader to touch and understand the dust cover in tactile terms. The first concept for the cover played with the horizontal nature of building with earth, different surfaces of linen were layered in irregular strips above each other. However the overall effect was too clearly material and so instead I chose an open-pored natural paper for the dust jacket. Although it feels soft, this paper is in fact robust. I cut lines in the surface of the paper. These straight incisions awakened a number of the intended associations, but seemed too constructed. In the next step I worked with irregular wavy lines that were based on the natural structure of rammed earth. By using a paper with a stamped surface structure this came very close to the desired visual effect. The title of the book, which occupies a large part of the cover but with a low contrast, is interrupted by the incised lines and thus moves in a graphic way.