Sand has had a very passive role within construction: it is the preferred material to build on, and is used as aggregate in concrete and mortar, as well as other minor uses. Only recently has sand found itself the center of research and innovation that is changing its position within design and construction.

Nigeria bottle houses

Several forms of construction have become prevalent as viable low cost choices for housing.  In Nigeria, sand is packed into plastic bottles and stacked, using mud as mortar. As well as being cheap and environmentally friendly, these buildings are also bulletproof. More commonly, sandbags are filled with sand and earth and stacked to form walls. Pictured below: Cal-Earth Institute has designed housing for locations ravaged by war or natural disasters. They have looked towards traditional earth brick buildings as inspiration for these structures.

Cal- Earth Institute

The discovery and use of microorganisms that bind together sand to form sandstone has opened up other possibilities for constructing with sand. One of the most ambitious and creative  projects using this method is that of Magnus Larsson, a former graduate student of the University of London. As part of an effort to stop the desertification of land surrounding the Sahara, Larsson has proposed infecting the dunes at the edge of the desert with the microorganism. The resulting sandstone dune would form a barrier between workable land and the desert, as well as possibly provide living spaces for locals.

Magnus Larsson sand dune caves

These sand structures have found their beginnings being utilized for humanitarian needs, and for the most part have stayed in that position. There has not been a movement to move this type of construction to the western world, even though there are places that this type of construction is viable. As a relatively environmentally friendly construction method, as well as being strong and cheap, I would be interested to see how these sand building methods could be brought to the United States and used on a larger scale.


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