MudWorks is getting press around the country. Here’s a story about the project from Friday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. You can read the whole story via this link: And…
A version appeared on Architectural Record’s website:
Last, but not least, Tom Stoelker of Architects Newspaper filed this report.
MudWorks proved itself as a party place Friday night during the opening reception for the installation and accompanying exhibit in Gund Hall. The true test of a public space is how it handles a crowd. Below are comments from Nick Rivard’s remarks.
Hello. I am Nicolas Rivard, a first year Urban Design student.
This project has offered us all a much needed chance to get our hands dirty, and we are happy that many of you have embraced that opportunity.
As designers, we need to re-engage the act of making the things we design. Thanks to people like Martin and Anna, making will continue to enjoy an integral role in Harvard’s design pedagogy. Job sites call for a creative problem solving approach that is best learned from hands on experience, and so often the design intent we communicate on paper
is adapted on site to limitations unforeseen in the studio.
Without these experiences, how are we to prepare for the bumps in the road that shape our work? I think the way we adapt to site constraints has much to do with the final quality of our projects, and understanding the practicalities that prefigure our work is essential to our formation as designers. Exposure to construction and fabrication while in
school uniquely prepares us for success as practitioners. Hands on projects like MUDworks address the growing rift between designers and their partner professions. While the ascendancy of digital design
tools offers incredible potential, it can also distance us from the physicality inherent to building. Earthen construction is visceral enough to dissolve this rift more quickly than any other form of construction. And as we continue to pursue design excellence in our research and professional practices, it is imperative that we engage this portion of our professional territory.
I speak for many of us when I say that this project has been one of the most refreshing experiences of my year at the GSD. And I want close
by saying thank you to everyone who made it possible. Thanks.
I photographed the dashing, peripatetic Iwan Baan photographing MudWorks yesterday. He’ll give a talk at noon today in Gund Hall, room 122.
MudWorks’ fame is already beginning to spread. On Monday, reporter Tom Stoelker from the Architect’s Newspaper was at the GSD to interview Anna Heringer and Urban Design student Nick Rivard about the project’s implications for rammed earth construction. That story is supposed to appear in print April 7, but may show up earlier on the website. Meanwhile, a Boston website, Futures + Design has scooped everyone. There’s still more too come: On Thursday, the renowned architectural photographer Iwan Baan will be at the GSD to document MudWorks. Baan, who will also be giving a talk at midday, has photographed the work of nearly every significant contemporary architect – from Herzog & DeMeuron to Koolhaas. Volunteers are needed to help with last minute details so MudWorks looks its best. If only there was a way to clean up the weird shadows under the Gund Hall canopy.
The MudWorks wall and sail have mellowed to an elephant gray since the forms began coming off on Thursday, but the project isn’t done yet. Lots of finishing details remain. GSD student Nick Rivard, a furniture maker in the Urban Design program, will be in the wood shop fashioning smooth bench seats out of redwood. He and Loeb Fellow Anne-Marie Lubenau took off in a pick-up truck from Zipcar over the weekend to purchase supplies at a nearby lumber yard.
In other news, the MudHall blog is starting to see some serious online traffic. The rammed earth project has caught the attention of the Architect’s Newspaper, which is sending a reporter to Harvard today to write about the project.
It was time for MudWorks to emerge from its wooden cocoon. The earth in the main wall had been packed and rammed and packed again, so just after midday on Thursday designers Anna Heringer and Martin Rauch gave the word to take down the forms.
Loeb Jean Brownhill Lauer, Loeb affilliate James Lauer, and GSD student Alex Myer started gingerly prying off the boards. The forms proved a bit stubborn, so it was clear more force was needed. With the help of drills, makeshift levers and brute strength, they began removing the plywood that had been holding the mud in place for six days.
It was as if they’d just uncovered a buried treasure. The wet, glistening black mud was perfectly formed, with sharp, creased corners. With the wooden shroud gone, it was possible to see the work of a 100 volunteers made visible.Orange streaks surged through the black mud, giving it the look of a geological formation. Volunteer Sarah Kantrowitz, who traveled from New York to work on the project, picked out “the eyes,” – the pine knots imprinted from the plywood. A dollar bill had somehow become wedged in one of the seating niches. No one claimed it, so it looks like it’s there to stay.
There were a few minor causalities in the course of taking down the forms. Some dirt broke off one corner and had to be repaired. But it was easy for Jean and Anna to patch by packing on wet mud by hand.It was important to hurry, though. Within the next few hours, the mud began to dry. By early evening it had turned from black to a soft, pachyderm gray. That’s natural. One of the great things about rammed earth is that the material continually evolves. What a contrast to see the rich, textured mud against the stony concrete of Gund Hall. The timing of the work couldn’t have been more perfect. MudWorks was revealed just in time for Anna and Martin to give their lectures on rammed earth construction in the GSD’s Piper Hall. Four students volunteers also talked about their participation in the design and construction of the project: Caroline James, Alex Myers, Nick Rivard, Catinca Dobrescu. The project, Alex told the audience, “has already democratized the site.” Passersby were stopping constantly to ask students questions about rammed earth. Not only had MudWorks improved the appearance of Gund Hall’s least attractive corner, it had become a way for architects to reach out to the wider world.
Mud is an extremely expressive construction material, and the MudWorks project is already making a strong statement on the busy corner of Quincy and Cambridge Streets. Still, the rammed earth wall can’t say everything that needs to be said about the project. It needs an inscription.
Since construction started on Saturday, we’ve been talking with Loeb Fellow and MudWorks designer Anna Heringer about what to say, how to say it and where to say it. We settled on a s hort, just-the-facts quartet of sentences, and decided that this pretty much sums things up:
Built with EARTH and WATER.
Fashioned by the human HAND.
As RESILIENT as concrete.
This wall can be reclaimed by NATURE.
Then we had to decide where to inscribe the text. So with the help of GSD students we organized a mock-up. Oscar Malaspina and Nick Rivard took time from their hectic scheduls to print out the phrases and try various locations. This one seemed to work:
But after some discussion, we decided that it was actually too prominent, and took away from the main event, the mud wall. Oscar went back to his computer and designed a new version that will wrap around the base in a single, continuous line.
The plan is to engrave the letters into the mud. That means volunteers will have to work fast. Because so many volunteers have come out to help in the last two days, work has gone very fast. The MudWorks crew expects to begin taking off the wooden forms from the main wall today.
Thanks to Loeb Fellow Ian Lockwood for these great photos:
Four days into the collaborative MudWorks project, the forms came off the first section of the main wall and it looked beautiful!
The project would never have made such fast progress without the help of a wide assortment of volunteers – in all sizes. Mark Goldman, a Taos, New Mexico developer and architect (trained at the Boston Architectural College), probably wins the honors for traveling farthest to participate. He spent four full days on the job site carrying pails of dirt, ramming and plastering.
Other volunteers came from nearby schools like MIT and RISD to join GSD students. One of the hardest working volunteers, Sarah, is a local resident contemplating an architecture career. Arlo, 7, and Saul, 5, Naparstek were youngest workers on the site. Hope OSHA is okay with that.
Because the work has gone so fast, volunteers have been able to start plastering of the mud sail and the mud slide. GSD students are starting to hone in on the details.
While everyone is super busy finishing the MudWorks installation at the GSD, it’s worth remembering that we’re not quite reinventing the wheel. Here’s a good blog on rammed earth construction around the world:
In just two days, the rammed earth project at the Graduate School of Design has made enormous progress. It didn’t seem possible at the dreary start of Sunday morning. It was cold and overcast. The forms arrived late. There were problems with the delivery of the mud. But by midday, students, Loebs and assorted volunteers had formed a synchronized bucket bridgade to deliver pails of the clay-ey dirt to the ramming teams, led by Loeb Fellow Anna Heringer and earth artist Martin Rauch.
There’s a reason that shoveling dirt is called back-breaking labor. It’s hard work. But so is ramming earth, as some volunteers discovered. As the pails of dirt were deposited in the forms, the rammers went to work flattening and compressing the dirt with hand rammers. After they finished, volunteers went over the surface with the pneumatic rammer. You had to pretty strong to control that tool.
There was a brief set-back on Sunday morning. Although the volunteers had filled up close to three feet of dirt, Martin and Anna became concerned that the consistency was too wet and heavy. An emergency mock-up was organized. GSD students produced a test form in the wood shop. After it was filled, compacted and opened, the rammed earth seemed fine.
Still, just to be sure, Anna and Martin dispatched some volunteers to pick up 10 bags of gravel – 600 pounds!- at Home Depot. By afternoon, the ramming was proceeding at a fast pace. And by the end of work, the dirt was about 18 inches short of the top of the form.
Earth artist Martin Rauch (center) and Loeb Fellow Anna Heringer (right) with Loeb affilliate Miriam (shoulder) take delivery of 50 tons of dirt. Ramming starts today at Harvard’s Gund Hall, Cambridge and Quincy Streets. Work will continue through March 23. Come lend a hand and help us demonstrate a more meaningful approach to sustainable construction.
After another intense work session on Dec. 3, Mud Hall’s designers roughed out a next-to-final design for the earthen installation at the GSD.
The rammed-earth structure at the corner of Quincy and Cambridge Streets will have three parts. Call it the Goldilocks scheme: There will be something big against the façade of the GSD’s Gund hall, something of medium height in the middle and something short in front. But the exact shape of the three forms, and their precise location, still needs more refinement.Even so, that didn’t stop several members of the design team – comprised of Loeb Fellows, GSD students and faculty – from producing evocative sketches. Anna Heringer argued that the mud wall against the Gund Hall facade should be very tall, and showed a drawing of a funnel-like shape that reminded me of Eduardo Souto de Mouro’s Portuguese museum. Whatever form the back wall takes, architect Chris Calott, also a Loeb Fellow, said the group should embed glass test tubes to hold plants. Another idea that took hold of the group’s imagination came from Alykhan Mohamed (MUP), who suggested each of the mud shapes could be tinted bright shades of ochre and orange. The GSD’s Jane Hutton added that the earth could be color-coded to reflect its origins. She wants to include earth from different Cambridge neighborhoods. Not all was bliss, though. A big point of contention was whether Mud Hall should invade the pedestrian corridor between Gund Hall’s building plane and its columns. Loeb Fellow Ian Lockwood, a strong advocate for liveable streets, said the corridor gets a lot of use and should be left clear. The GSD’s Mark Mulligan was reluctant to rule out the possibility of Mud Hall straying into the space, since there is still an eight-foot-wide public sidewalk on the other side of the columns.
“You’re taking a nondescript space and privatizing it,” Mulligan acknowledged. “The point is to make people slow down. You’re diverted enough so that you have to notice the thing.” Whatever inconvenience Mud Hall causes, it won’t last long. The installation is temporary and will be taken down by the end of the 2012 Spring semester.
-Inga Saffron, 2012 Loeb Fellow
Tell someone you’re making a building out of earth and water, and they might think it’s as simple as constructing a sand castle on the beach. But rammed earth structures are serious architectural constructions that need to be designed as carefully as any building.
So, to prepare for this spring’s construction of Mud Hall, the 2012 Loeb Fellows gathered 25 students from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design on Nov. 19 for an all-day brainstorming session. After briefing the group on the site conditions (at the corner of Quincy and Cambridge Streets) and the design criteria (Nothing over eight feet!), the Loebs handed outs bags of clay and told the students to start dreaming. The students broke up into five teams and immediately began kneading the clay into fanciful shapes. Out came computers and tracing paper, and pretty soon the tables were piled with sketches.
While the students worked out designs, three experts in rammed earth construction circled the room to offer guidance. Mud Hall’s construction is being overseen by Loeb Fellows Anna Heringer and Chris Calott and the Austrian earthworks artist Martin Rauch. All have fashioned elegant, modern buildings out of nothing more than mud and water. (They’ll be getting technical help from the GSD’s Mark Mulligan, Dan Borelli, Jane Hutton and Jurg Conzett. As well as guidance from Loeb Fellows Inga Saffron, Ian Lockwood, Jean Brownhill Lauer and Peter Park) Anna, who learned the craft in Bangladesh, gained international acclaim after completing a school in Rudrapur.
All the Loeb Fellows were impressed by Anna’s passion for what she likes to call mud construction. Because earth and water can be found everywhere, she believes earthern construction is the most sustainable way to build. At some point this fall, the Loeb Fellows jokingly suggested that they should build a mud structure as a counterpoint to the GSD’s Gund Hall – a building constructed of less-than-sustainable concrete. The casual idea quickly took on a life of its own, and the fellowship administrators, Jim Stockard and Sally Young, encouraged the Loebs to put together a serious proposal. GSD Dean Mohsen Mostafavi gave Mud Hall preliminary approval almost immediately.
During the first hours of Saturday’s charette, there was a lot of trial and error as students explored the possibilities of rammed earth. Mud is an incredibly pliable, sculptural material and many participants couldn’t help channeling their inner Richard Serra – turning out miniature sculptures in gray clay. Anna and Chris had to gently remind the group that structure should be simple, so it can be built quickly and cheaply.
Mud Hall isn’t actually a building. There wasn’t time to get building permits from Cambridge, so it will technically be an art installation. The walls can’t be higher than eight feet and the whole thing will have to be built in six days, from March 17 to 23. The site is tricky, too. The idea was to locate Mud Hall near the entrance to Gund Hall, at the high-visibility corner of Quincy and Cambridge Streets. But it’s such a busy crossroads that the designers must be careful not to inconvenience pedestrians or block sight lines. On top of that, they have to make sure the structure doesn’t interfere with an annoying, round vent at the corner.
Once those constraints were understood, the designs for Mud Hall quickly took shape. By the end of the day, the students had produced five intriguing schemes:
-A group of three sleek, canted walls featuring seats notched into the surface.
-A mysterious cove shielding an array of playful seating.
-An angled screen that would appear to pierce the corner of Gund Hall. It included openings that could be fitted with strings to tap the wind and make music.
-An assemblage of two folded, shoji-like screens that would weave together like clasped hands.
-A field of raw earth that would evolve into a scattering of totems
Now comes the hard part for the Loebs and the project advisors: Choosing the design that will become Mud Hall.
Mud Hall is a project initiated by Harvard University’s 2012 Loeb Fellows to promote awareness about rammed earth construction and to challenge conventional thinking about green building. Raw earth is the most plentiful and sustainable building material on the planet, yet architects rarely incorporate it into their designs. To demonstrate the potential of mud and clay for everyday buildings, the Loeb Fellows are enlisting 25 students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design to construct a rammed earth structure at the entrance to the school’s celebrated Gund Hall. Mud Hall is meant to offer an alternative to the current orthodoxy about sustainable construction. This blog will chronicle the evolution of the Mud Hall project, and offer detailed information about the rammed earth process.