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A return to earth-covered houses: a combination of ancient wisdom and sustainability




Almost four decades ago in the mid-80s, I began an ambitious journey with my then boss and a Swiss client with a farming background to design an earth-covered house in the canton of Lucerne. I remember that the spherical segment was over 20m in diameter and 2 stories high and was completely integrated into the landscape and covered with earth.

This project, conceived 37 years ago, was intended to capitalize on the inherent sustainability of the earth itself. However, it remained unrealized beyond the planning stage (building permit). Unfortunately the project was not realized, but a double dome as a car dealership and car garage workshop in Schaan, Liechtenstein was realized by our office at the same time.

Today, amid a global resurgence of eco-friendly design, I reflect on this concept with renewed interest and recognize its potential to meet current environmental demands.


Historical background:

Earth-covered houses are not a novelty. They are a testament to our phylogenetic sophistication, with roots stretching back to prehistoric earth huts and Neolithic settlements. These structures represent humanity's earliest attempts at climate-resilient living. Now, as we face urgent climate challenges, these old strategies are re-emerging, redefined by modern needs for energy efficiency and sustainability.

If the Lucerne project had borne fruit, it would have become a model of architectural harmony with nature. This visualization represents the dreamed synthesis, a home enveloped by the earth that promises both minimal environmental impact and a deep connection with the surrounding landscape.


Binishell technique:


Monolithic Domes:

Monolithic domes are a symbol of the adaptability of modern construction. Their process, a union of air form, foam insulation and concrete, results in structures that withstand nature's extremes while conserving energy. The application of this method in different climate zones and terrain highlights its universal potential.


Modern interpretation:

The current pinnacle of earth-covered architecture, as shown here, combines state-of-the-art materials with tried-and-tested principles. These structures are living examples of sustainability, blending into their surroundings while providing unparalleled efficiency and comfort.


Conclusion:

Reviving in-ground home systems is not just a nod to our past, but a step toward a sustainable architectural future. Their integration into contemporary practice reflects our commitment not only to environmental protection, but also to the creation of spaces that improve living conditions and aesthetic values.

 

Call to action:

This is an invitation for you to join this dialogue to share your insights on sustainable housing solutions. How can we as architects and innovators further utilize the symbiosis of natural elements and modern design to create homes that not only offer shelter, but are havens for the soul and guardians of the earth?

 

Markus Sprenger

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