Rammed earth houses in Gardendale are still standing even though they were built nearly 80 years ago!
Rammed Earth house 1937 photographed by Arthur Rothstein
In 1935, architect Thomas Hibben, designed the rammed earth houses as part of one of Roosevelt’s New Deal projects. Rammed earth houses is an ancient technique for building walls using natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime or gravel. Evidence of the early use of rammed earth has been seen in Neolithic archaeological sites of the Yangshao and Longshan cultures along the Yellow River in China, dating as far back as 5000 BCE.
1935 plans for Rammed Earth home in Gardendale by Thomas Hibben
In the 1800s, the building method became popular in the United States through the book Rural Economy by S. W. Johnson. The building method was used to construct the Borough House Plantation and the Church of the Holy Cross in South Carolina which are now US National Historic Landmarks.
There were also plans for two-story houses
In 1936, on a homestead near Gardendale, Alabama, the United States Department of Agriculture constructed an experimental community of rammed-earth buildings with architect Thomas Hibben.
It was rumored that the houses were built on the back of the community “so they wouldn’t be visible if they collapsed.”
Thomas Hibben took many photographs of the construction and his comments are included with the photographs below.
Digging dirt used in rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama photographed by Thomas Hibben
Rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. A depth of eleven inches is adequate for footings in the Gulf and South Atlantic states. (Thomas Hibben photographer)
Rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. The prepared earth is spread in the wall form in layers of three inches in depth. (Thomas Hibben)
Rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. The workmen stand in the forms and knead the loose earth with tampers. (Thomas Hibben)
Rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. Forms sections should not be larger than can be handled by a crew of three or four men. (Thomas Hibben)
Rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. Under tamping the earth is compressed approximately fifty percent. (Thomas Hibben)
After each three-inch layer has been tamped, another layer is spread in the form and work resumed. (Tom Hibben)
Rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. The bulkheads are firmly braced so as to maintain vertical alignment
Detail of rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. The texture of wall after thirty days of weathering.
Rammed earth construction near Birmingham, Alabama. Concrete slate roofs may be used in place of wood deck. (Tom Hibben)
Even barns were constructed by rammed earth process, Gardendale, Alabama. photograph by Arthur Rothstein
The houses were built inexpensively and were sold to the public along with sufficient land for a garden and small livestock plots. The project was a success and provided valuable homes to low-income families