Rammed earth construction at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

The dirt is starting to pile up

Building the forms

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.

A volunteer pours dirt into the forms

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.

Martin tests the mud

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.

The dirt is almost at the top of the form.

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