Ferrocement

If you're looking for a creatively-unlimited building material ferrocement should be high on your list. Arches, concrete domes, vaults, flying buttresses...any kind of freeform, sculptural look you can imagine, it's all possible with with this highly adaptable building technology.

What's more these structures can all be built with remarkable strength and structural integrity. Think of that giant "rock" sailboat hull that your neighbour built in his backyard way back when...the one that's still sitting there unfinished because he hadn't considered that building the hull is only around 20% of the finished cost. And because the technique itself is relatively inexpensive, he decided to go with a really big boat instead of something more realistic. Now if he could only figure out some way to convert that hull into a house...

While it may be hard to covert a hull into a house you can sure build one hull of a house out of this virtually indestructable material. Consider the punishment that a seagoing ferrocement boat is built to withstand and you have some idea of why a similarly built home can have a life expectancy in the hundreds of years instead of the decades we have currently been conditioned to expect.

What if you could build a house that lasted 500 years? Would that change the way you saw the world? If we had homes we could pass on to our great great .....great grandchildren we might take a longer term view of looking after our planetary home as well. Just a thought.

Concrete has a bit of a bad rap as a high embodied energy material which does not exactly endear it to more sustainably-minded builders. However the good news is that ferrocement use requires relatively small volumes of cement as compared to most concrete structures. This is especially true where light weight concrete is utilized, particularly in self-supporting structures requiring a minimum of steel reinforcement.

Because many of the materials used in a light weight mix have high R-values it also insulates far better than a standard mix. Light weight concretes have a similar density and compressive strength to wood.They are easy to work with, can be nailed with ordinary nails, cut with a saw, drilled with woodworking tools, and be easily repaired.

In Canada and the US, ferrocement homes almost unheard of, however when you venture into Mexico that situation changes dramatically. One can only speculate on the reasons for the dearth of such a promising technique north of the border but the sheer extravagance of concrete creativity in Mexican architecture is astounding. No doubt due in part to the rich native and colonial architectural legacies and to the great number of talented plasterers and masons who ply their art across the country, it's a tough act to follow.

The pictures below borrow from as well as contribute to that rich tradition. These Mexican homes (and a couple in the US) are all projects by Steve Kornher, an expatriate American living in San Miguel de Allende. His website

FlyingConcrete.com is a great resource as well as a visual feast for anyone interested in learning more about building with ferrocement. He also does wild river tours in Mexico for any of you river rats out there.

All photos courtesy of Steve Kornher at FlyingConcrete.com


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