Sustainable architecture with earth | Architect Anna Heringer

Anna Heringer is a German architect who designs buildings all over the world, especially with mud. She has also taught at prestigious universities and received many important awards for her work. From Laufen, the city where she was born, to the border between Germany and Austria, she sends her ideas on the construction of tomorrow all over the world.

Ms. Heringer, what does sustainable architecture mean to you?
It’s really about building in harmony with our environment. We need to use natural resources to achieve this – and for me, the land is the winner here. It is available in large quantities all over the world, but we throw it away. Each excavation for a new building produces earth and clay that we could process in local workshops or factories. In addition, the earth is easy to recycle. And we’ve known for centuries that the earth has no adverse effects on humans. It’s an amazing building material in every way.

If there were true cost pricing for building materials, earth and mud would now be used much more today, because the costs of energy and disposal, for example, as well as emissions from CO2 would also be included in the prices of building materials.

Is building with natural materials like mud and earth compatible with the high-tech and smart homes currently being planned?
Yes of course. The Earth does not create energy, so solar technology, for example, can complement such a house. Additionally, although mud can be processed entirely by hand, it can also be used with modern technology. It’s about the tools, not the hardware itself.

Your work has been rewarded with numerous prizes and you have obtained a UNESCO chair. But have you noticed a real questioning towards more sustainability?
Things are definitely moving. When I was a student, building with mud was a pipe dream. Today, I teach it at universities like Harvard and ETH Zürich. The subject of sustainable architecture is gaining more and more ground. Although the old ways of building are still around, more and more people are realizing that we urgently need changes.

You have carried out projects all over the world. What differences and similarities did you notice?
Building is a basic human need; there is no difference here between Germany and Bangladesh or Ghana. All the children play building. This is why it is so important that people participate. This sense of community is even more strongly present in the countries of the South, but it also exists in Germany. When we designed an earthen altar in the cathedral of Worms, for example, many members of the congregation were involved. And they enjoyed this common activity very much. Sustainable architecture is hampered by too many rules and standards – and by fear. We need more confidence – for example, in building with earth and clay.

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