Are CEBs the best kept secret in building?

Yesterday, I came across Basin, which describes itself as follows:

‘The “building advisory service and information network”, basin, was set up in 1988 to provide information and advice on appropriate building technology and to create links with know-how resources in the world for all those in need of relevant information….’

They have lists of publications on natural building methods, not the least of which covers Compressed Earth Blocks. For those of you who have never heard of CEBs outside of the work at, the following quote from a publication in their database may surprise you:

“CEB technology offers an alternative kind of building construction: accessible, high quality, and over the last fifty years, increasingly sanctioned from a scientific, technical, social, and cultural point of view. The Compressed Earth Block is one of those rare ‘modern materials’ which has sufficient production flexibility to enable it to be integrated into both formal and informal sections of activity, from “cottage” industry to full-scale industrial plants.” (pg 5, Compressed Earth Blocks Volume I: Manual of Production )

Why is this so startling? Here is a building material that is local, uniform and potentially culturally acceptable (because of its regularity, strength and similarity to the well-known brick), yet I have never seen a building in the United States of America made from CEBs. (Although, I do know that some exist.) Nor have a read about them in the press. On the other hand, without going out of my way, I have seen at least three houses built of straw bales and have heard of at least one more under construction. I estimate that the average American is familar with straw bale construction because of the media attention it has received. When I tell anyone that we are building a Compressed Earth Block Press, however, I must explain, often more than once, that it makes soil into bricks.

In the natural building books I bring home from the library, Compressed Earth Blocks are not referenced. Nor are they mentioned as a main building method on which otherwise provides a good database on sustainable building methods.

And yet, as the initial quote proclaims, this is an advanced building method. However, it’s not truly accessible. The rural poor can compress bricks with an inexpensive, laborious hand machine, avoiding fuel costs and broken parts. The wealthy can afford exensive CEB housing produced with expensive machines. There’s not much in between.

The descrepancy between reality and the popular opinion is real. Theories have developed in my mind to explain this, but the point is not about the discrepancy. The point is that work needs to be done to disseminate CEBs as a real possibility in construction. If CEBs are discovered to be anything but liberating to society, than let them remain hidden.

1 Comment

  1. Nils

    There is a CEB building at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS:

    Broadcasting Hall is a stabilized earth building, located directly behind the School of Architecture and Urban Design, that was constructed on the University of Kansas campus in about 1942. It was developed as an experiment by KU Civil Engineering Professor R. C. McKnown. In 65 years, it has weathered extreme temperatures and is still in use, with only isolated instances of material failure in the CEB.

    Pictures of it can be seen here: