Workshop: Adobe Brick - Research, New Design and Prospects for Use in Modern Construction
Idaaf Architects presents here the results of the 'Alizi/Adobe Brick' workshop, which explored the history and traditional methods for making adobe bricks, and in addition created a new design in order to find a way to continue its use in modern construction. The 'Alizi/ Adobe Brick' workshop took place in the summer of 2022 and included research and practical work with four selected participants. We studied Adobe Brick buildings in Kartli and in Kakheti; The workshop team also collected soil of ten different colours from various regions of Georgia and produced new Alizi/Adobe brick modules and decorative wall tiles.
Alizi and traditional methods of making it
Alizi, which means adobe brick in Georgian, is a sun-dried brick made by mixing earth and water with inorganic and organic additives such as sand, hay, sickle and other materials added for strength. The ratio of the various elements is determined following soil tests both on location and then in a laboratory. The makeup of the soil is quickly determined on location but a more detailed picture is provided in the laboratory. The tests determine the proportions of clay, sand and other elements in the soil, which dictates how much of the other materials need to be added. The formula for the making of Alizi is completely dependent on the soil from which it is made, and therefore there is no universal formula. As adobe is a completely indigenous material, everything depends on where it is made, therefore, it has had a great influence on the aesthetics of architectural design.
To make Alizi, a mould is filled with earth so that no air remains inside, otherwise the brick will crack. As soon as the mould is filled and the surface smoothed, the adobe brick is removed and dried for 3-4 weeks at the appropriate temperature after which it can be used for construction. To dry evenly, the brick needs to be turned over after a week.
The shape and dimensions of Alizi differ depending on the era and the place. The most common shapes are: rectangular, square, curved, plano convex and so on. The desired shape is achieved by hand or with a mould. Alizi is an environmentally friendly, sustainable building material, cheap to produce and with good sound and heat insulation plus high resistance to fire.
Photo: Landscape. Kartli.
Traditional Adobe Brick has a number of positive aspects:
- Cheapness – the materials are either free or very inexpensive;
- Localness - it does not require long-distance transportation, as the soil is mostly obtained nearby;
- Low energy as it consumes very little mechanical energy to produce or build;
- Less flammable;
- Good sound and heat insulation;
- Earthquake resistant;
- It is easy to build buildings of different shapes or dimensions with it;
- Adobe Bricks have a high, 8–12-hour dephasing ability;
- Long lasting, usually centuries;
- Suitable also for interior use due to the variety of colors and organic forms.
- In normal climatic conditions, moisture is absorbed, which creates a cool environment;
- It is completely protected from insects.
However, Adobe brick also has disadvantages which must also be considered:
- The soil from which brick is made must necessarily contain 5% - 50% clay;
- It cannot withstand pressure, so roofing structures must be light;
- Building should preferably be only one or two-storey;
- The construction process often depends on the weather;
- The material is heavy; therefore, it needs a strong foundation;
- Adobe bricks are incompatible with water and the facades should be always plastered.
Photo 1: A mixture of soil, sand and hay for making traditional Alizi.
Photo 2: Adobe Brick wall detail.
Photo 3: Traditional Alizi making. Mtskheta.
Adobe Bricks in the world
Adobe is a widespread, ancient building material, the history of which begins in the ancient period. Sun-dried, unfired bricks were used by the people of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Later, it’s use spread to the Roman Empire and the countries of the Muslim world. Hindu civilizations as well as China also constructed with adobe bricks. In the Middle Ages, adobe spread to North America, where earth architecture hugely expanded, and it is still actively used in modern construction.
Adobe making has used various methods across the world, though they remain essentially the same. Alizi was mostly made by communities where people made a specific number of bricks for a particular building. Historic and archeological sources have been preserved to this day in the form of buildings, villages and other household structures such as: Ziggurat of Ur, Iraq. (2030–1980 BC); the city of Shibam, Yemen. (16th century); Khiva city wall, Uzbekistan. (10th century); Chan Chan city, Peru. (850); The great mosque of Djenne, Mali. (13th-14th century; Bee-Hive Houses in Harran, Turkey and many more.
The typical proportions of Adobe bricks by country look like this:
France - 40x30x5.5 cm | 30x14x8 cm | 35x27x5 cm | 53x25x9 cm;
Germany - 38x25x12 cm | 40x14x9 cm 25x12x6.5 cm;
Peru - 38x38x8 cm 28x28x8 cm;
Egypt - 22x14x11 cm | 38x18x14 cm;
USA - 53x25x9 cm;
Australia - 61x30x15 cm | 46x30x10 cm;
Mexico - 40x30x8 cm | 40x20x8 cm;
In short, adobe bricks have always been used in construction, although usage has decreased over time. But in recent years, interest in this material has rekindled and architects have started to find a place for it in modern construction.
Photo: Ziggurat of Ur, Iraq. (2030–1980 BC);
Adobe Bricks or Alizi in Georgia
The use of Alizi for building in Georgia dates from the Sixth to the Fourth millennium BC. Archeological excavations have uncovered Alizi structures in South-East Georgia, where the most important are the settlements of Arukhlo, Shulaveri and Khrami. They consist of circular residential and agricultural buildings constructed close to one other. In ancient times, adobe brick was one of the main building materials in Georgia, and it was used to build the castles of Armazi, Sarkine, Vani and other castles. In feudal times, some cities, such as Mtskheta and Urbnisi, were surrounded by Alizi walls.
This earth architecture was mainly to be found in the hot and dry regions of Georgia, such as Kartli and Kakheti, but usually only in poorer residential and agricultural buildings. It was no longer in use for major construction by the early Middle Ages.
But there are well-preserved buildings in the villages of Kartli and Kakheti whose construction began in the late 19th century and finished only after the Second World War when this locally produced building material was replaced by fired bricks made in factories. As part of the workshop “Alizi” organized by Idaaf Architects, we visited both regions to study Alizi buildings and were able to determine both their history and architectural features.
Photo: Landscape. Kartli.
In Kvemo Magharo in Kakheti, houses and barns built with adobe bricks occupy a large area. These are mainly one or two-storey buildings, with two or four pitched envelope roofs and colorful facades. They were built by the Molokan, who came to Georgia from Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. The foundations are made from stone, but the ground and second floors are constructed using Alizi. The dimensions of the bricks are: 28x14x11 cm. They have a strong texture of hay as a protection against from the hot, local air. The larger amount of sickle in the brick gives better insulation. The outer walls are plastered with clay plaster, which protects the brick from the weather.
Photo 1: Former poultry farm. Village Kvemo Mahgaro.
Photo 2: Molokan houses built with Adobe Bricks. Kvemo Mahgaro.
Most of the buildings studied in Kakheti are in disrepair; most are abandoned or neglected. However, the parts that are plastered are well preserved and have lasted because the plaster has provided a resistance to the harsh climatic conditions. These houses also have storage and utility rooms built with adobe bricks.
Photos: Molokan houses built with Adobe Bricks. Kvemo Mahgaro.
74-year-old Maria Kudinova, a resident of Kvemo Magharo and a descendant of the Molokans remembers well the process of building these houses:
"The soil was brought from across the hill. They made a big circle and there they mixed sand, hay and water with the soil. They would walk horses inside it to knead the mass well. Their pulp was also mixed, which is better for the bricks, as it gave density. Then the bricks were shaped in moulds or by hand and left to dry in the sun. When it had dried enough, which probably took a month, the construction of the house started and it would finish in two or three weeks. This was done one by one for everyone's house, with relatives helping each other finish building before the rainy season started. Everyone was physically involved, because building an Alizi's house is a collective process and requires a lot of human physical strength."
It wasn’t just the Molokan houses, several large farm buildings in village Kvemo Magharo were also built with sdobe bricks. One of them, we believe, was a poultry farm, now abandoned and used mainly as a warehouse. Although the building is currently in poor condition, the parts protected from the rain are still usable. The sections of washed plaster, the structure of the double layout of the bricks, and the thickness of the wall can be clearly seen. It was also possible to observe a significant difference between the outside intense heat and the cooler interior temperature of the buildings. When we visited the outside temperature was approximately 32-35 degrees, but inside the floor and the ground floor of the Molokan’s houses were cool.
Photos: Alizi wall detail. Kakheti.
In Kartli, especially villages near the city of Gori, there are many houses built with Alizi. We visited Garejvari, Khidistavi and Ruisi, to study the adobe brick buildings built by the locals between 1900-1945.
Unlike Kakheti, the Kartli bricks have different textures and sizes. The size of a brick taken from the village Khidistavi is 26x12x7cm and it is made with a large amount of sand, therefore its texture is cleaner and the hay is difficult to see. Garejvari bricks are 33x16x7cm or 35x16x8cm with average proportions of sand and hay.
The type of buildings in Kartli are also quite interesting. In Khidistavi and Garejvari villages the buildings are mostly one-storey and cobble stone are visible only in the foundations, but in Ruisi the buildings are built with a combination of Alizi with other materials. For example, the ground floors are often made of stone or fired brick, and adobe bricks are used only on the second floor. This type of house probably became more widespread as the structural strength of the building allowed for the construction of two floors, and it was much easier to protect the ground floor from environmental conditions. As in Kakheti, Alizi buildings in Kartli are characterized by two- and four-pitched roofs, too. A large number of Alizi houses in Kartli and Kakheti are still in perfect condition and are still used for living. And the buildings no longer suitable for living have been turned into pet stalls or farm sheds.
Photo 1: House. Ruisi village.
Photo 2: Agricultural building. Garejvari village.
Giorgi Gholidjashvili a resident of the village of Garejvari, told us about how his grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers made Alizi:
"In the 1930s, after they had built their houses, my grandfathers and his brothers made Alizi bricks. The soil was dug near the village and the mixing was done on the sandy ground by the river. Bricks were formed and dried there too. They would sell or exchange bricks with local people. At that time, ready-made building materials were not available, although there was a need, and this was also a source of income for them."
Photos: House. Garejvari village.
Today, the tradition of sun-dried adobe brick construction has been almost completely forgotten in Georgia. It has been replaced by factory-made fired bricks or concrete blocks. Alizi is no longer considered useful because of the time and means taken to make it, including the physical strength required, but it is worth remembering that this ancient material is one of the most environmentally friendly materials available and meets the challenges of modern construction needs around the world.
Photo 1;2: Alizi Wall Detail.
Photo 3: The house wall, where the first floor is made of stone, and the second floor is built with Adobe Bricks. Kartli.
THE ALIZI WORKSHOP
Idaaf Architects organized and led a workshop entitled: "Alizi - research and design perspectives for use in modern construction”. It was held during the period, June-September 2022, and included research and practical work with four selected participants. Its aim was to research traditional methods of making Alizi in Georgia and the rest of the world, as well as to create new designs that could find a place in modern construction.
The theoretical and research part of the workshop included research in internet, as well as written sources from the National Library, which provided information about Alizi buildings in Georgia and their locations. But there was little information available on how these materials were made and the construction process. We therefore had to rely on what local people had to say of what they knew from family and villages stories.
Two locations - Kartli and Kakheti - were identified and field trips undertaken to study the architecture of Adobe brick buildings. In the research phase, two talks were delivered by specialists in the field: Givi Jakeli spoke about earth architecture and the challenges arising from climate change, and Salome Berechikidze talked about ecological construction and environmental analysis of the adobe bricks. The practical works took place in Mtskheta, at a pre-arranged place, and began with the production of traditional adobe bricks. Under the guidance of Givi Jakeli, a wall of rammed earth and a wall of hay covered in a thin layer of soil-water-sand mixture were built, together with different types of insulation and construction tiles made from adobe.
Photo 1: Kvemo Magharo village. In the background Alizi house built by the Molokan.
Photo 2: Traditional Adobe brick.
The second part of the workshop was a reflection on what the experience had thrown up. Participants created new brick forms and concepts: Hae by Mariam Papava; Domino by Jokola Kistauri; J (a crossed brick) by Elene Pichkadze; ES by Mea Miminoshvili; and the IA bricks by Idaaf architect’s studio. An individual mould was made for both building bricks and decorative wall tiles, according to their potential use.
Photos: Traditional Alizi making. Mtskheta.
At the same time, we explored the use of color and shape to adapt Alizi bricks to modern aesthetics. So, the workshop team made field trips to different regions of Georgia, from which about ten types of different colored soil were obtained. Each brick was made with all the colors of soil to see which soil worked best with what shapes both visually and practically, in terms of durability. After the drying process, the different soil colors were revealed, and thus which were more successful in these new shapes. After that, completed bricks were made, which are presented in the exhibition. This discovery of the colorful diversity of Georgian soils, and the successful examples of the bricks that could be made, significantly improved the results of the workshop, because we think that they demonstrate the potential uses for Alizi in modern construction.
Photo 1: Colorful soils from Georgia.
Photo 2;3: Traditional Alizi making. Mtskheta.
The Alizi Workshop is the first attempt to raise awareness about this material and define the conditions for its return to modern construction. After three months of work, it was clear that it is completely possible for Alizi to be used in both construction and interior design, using both traditional and new shapes, and even for decorative items such as furniture.
Photo 1: Blue and green soils from Imereti.
Photo 2: Colorful soils from Georgia.
During the workshop new modules of Adobe Bricks were made
The HAE Brick and Decorative Tile
By Mariam Papava
Photo: 'Hae' Brick.
The HAE Adobe brick is influenced by Japanese architecture and handwriting. The main inspiration was the relatively large-scale structures that allowed for organic growth of Japanese metabolism. The Hae bricks were created with similar proportions and their character expresses flow and versatility. The form originated from the Japanese hieroglyphs - most of the characters of the Hiragana syllabary script contain the shape of the Latin H. With the different arrangement it is possible to get many patterns of the bricks, both for the structural and decorative use.
Photo 1: 'Hae' Brick making process.
Photo 2: ‘Hae’ Bricks – one of the methods of assembling.
The Domino Brick and Decorative Tile
By Jokola Kistauri
Photo: 'Domino' Brick.
When creating the Domino brick, the main motive was to design a form that could continue in different directions, without losing the connection with the main axis, and at the same time the form to be oblique. Due to this shape, the Domino brick walls have a relief surface, which gives the shadows and depth on the facade. Wall tiles follow the brick shape and can be assembled in various compositions to give a space a creative look.
Photo 1: 'Domino' Brick.
Photo 2: ‘Domino’ Bricks – one of the methods of assembling.
The J (Crossed) Brick and Decorative Tile
By Elene Pichkhadze
Photo: 'J (Crossed)' Brick.
J (crossed) brick is inspired by cross structures and their symbolic meaning for Georgian culture. The shape itself often repeated in various, mostly religious structures, is also widely used in modern architecture. While working on this shape, I was researching urban designs and city planning. For me it was particularly interesting to see how cross shapes, which are very traditional in a way, were used to create a grid and design cities of the future. I think it has a context besides that and can be integrated in our today’s life, suggesting a new way of building and living. Crossroads became another source of inspiration for this design, translating ideas of continuity and attachment.
The form is made to be used as a structural brick and as a decorative wall tile. A single design can be assembled in many different ways, creating flexibility and freedom to experiment in the process. If displayed vertically, it creates many different patterns and leaves possibility to play with shapes, leaving a bigger or a smaller gap. When displayed for construction wall, bricks are placed on top of each other and create linear walls with irregular surface. One of the main features, that this brick has in construction walls is that it can create linear walls and merge into a corner seamlessly. It naturally continues in the corners with the same order. Walls with the J (crossed) bricks can be also made both in a single and double row.
Photos: 'J (Crossed)' Brick.
The ES Brick and Decorative Tile
By Mea Miminoshvili
Photo: 'Es' Brick.
Joining simple shapes of cubes together has brought us to the idea of “ES” brick. Simplicity of these two shapes made it easier to observe the three principles of brick weaving – Repetition, Continuity and Multitude. Two different shapes gives us opportunity to develop a lot of different combinations. They could be stacked upon one another with or without mortar. Bricks also differ in color as well.
These shapes are designed to be used as exterior wall, partition wall or decorative piles, depending on its volume. Partition walls of “ES” brick gives us opportunity to not completely isolate spaces from each other. This condition is reached by simply leaving some area between the bricks – it makes structure weigh less and also allows light to pass through the brick weave.
Photo 1: 'Es' Brick.
Photo 2: ‘Es’ Bricks – one of the methods of assembling.
The IA Brick and Decorative Tile
By Idaaf Architects
Photo: 'IA' Brick.
Material: Adobe with Hay
Dimensions: 24x24x12 cm | 48x24x12 cm
IA Brick is the first attempt by Idaaf Architects to create a new building material. Its two universal shapes fit easily together, do not require fasteners or fillers, and allow for the easy construction of pre-planned buildings. It is also straightforward to make the openings for doors and windows as the corners are also simply arranged and the interior partitions are easily attached to exterior walls. IA Bricks are made with Adobe, by mixing earth, water, sand and wheat straw. Its color is natural and is achieved from the different colored soils that can be found in the various regions of Georgia.
IA Brick was created in response to the challenges of modern architecture and construction whose non-environmentally methods have contributed to our ecological crisis, including global warming and the ensuing resulting disasters.
Photo 1: 'IA' Brick.
Photo 2: ‘IA’ Bricks – one of the methods of assembling.
Photo: 'IA' Brick Pavilion. Exhibition at 'Fabrika'.
Material: Adobe with Paper
Dimensions: 24x24x2 cm | 48x24x2 cm
The wall decorative tile IA is made by mixing earth, water, sand, and wet, softened paper mass, which helped to create the textural uniformity. Its color is natural and is achieved by using the different colored soils that are found in various regions of Georgia. Unlike IA building bricks, IA wall tiles require mesh reinforcement to maintain their strength during transportation and installation. The tile is coated with a high-quality protective lacquer to ensure resistance to water. IA tiles are intended for various types of interiors providing both decorative and functional use.
Photo 1: 'IA' Tiles drying process. Mtskheta.
Photo 2: 'IA' Tiles. Exhibition at 'Fabrika'.
by Salome Berechikidze
An environmental aspect of a building material is one of the most significant actors in response to the climate change and global warming and has the prime importance in defining the comfortable indoor spaces. The eco-friendly material is defined by the ecological manufacturing process and the energy efficient thermal properties.
Adobe, a sun dried mud brick, is one of the earliest building and finishing materials. It has an ancient, world-wide history dating back to the 8th century B.C. Earth as a building material was first adopted due to its rich local availability, easiness of the production process and the good thermal characteristics. The gradual development of the human civilization brought with it the new building materials and construction techniques. Adobe slowly lost the demand and after some period completely disappeared from several continents. New materials suggested better durability and weather resistance, better thermal properties and an opportunity of creating a sophisticated facade designs. The Industrial Revolution introduced mass production techniques, cheap and quick-to-produce new materials to the construction scene, where low thermal qualities were compensated by engineering systems. This last rapid shift became a catalyst to climate change and created a global warming and the energy crisis of the 1970s. The energy crisis brings Adobe and earth architecture back into use, but mainly in hot dry and hot humid climate regions. In temperate and cold climates using adobe is of a more complex decision as it can no longer meet the modern, strict thermal regulations. In the last decade, the requirements for energy conservation and eco-friendliness of building materials have been increasing dramatically.
Researching bio-materials is one of the main focus and the priority of a building industry. Adobe has been studied and analyzed through new laboratory tests. However, no specific solution(s) have been presented that would bring Adobe brick back into wide use.
New building material should have the following characteristics:
- Locally sourced and manufactured
- Environmentally friendly manufacturing process
- Bio additives
- Low prices and an ability of mass production
- Fast manufacturing process
- Light weight
- High resistance and durability
- Seismic and weather resistant
- Time resistant
- High quality thermal properties
- High thermal insulator
- Ability to create a sophisticated design
- Freedom of forms, colors, and post processing techniques
A 3-month workshop “Alizi (Georgian term for Adobe)” covered, analyzed the first 2 and the last 4 properties of an adobe brick: the availability to manufacture locally, the quality of eco-friendliness, the ability to work with various forms and designs and thermal properties. In order to evaluate the energy efficiency of the traditionally made Alize bricks, calculations of 3 main thermal properties were performed: thermal conductivity (W/m K), specific heat capacity (J/kg K) and thermal transmittance, u-value (W/m2 K). The calculation of heat transmittance coefficient was conducted both on a 24 cm thick “Ia” brick (manufactured during workshop), and on a 60 cm thick adobe wall (the maximum wall thickness of the traditional Adobe houses found in Georgia is: 50-60 cm). For comparison, each calculation was also performed on a clay brick, hollow, lightweight concrete block and the cast concrete of the same thickness.
Thermal conductivity (sometimes referred to as k-value or lambda value (λ)) is a measure of the rate at which temperature differences transmit through a material (the lower the thermal conductivity of a material, the slower the rate at which temperature differences transmit through it, and so the more effective it is as an insulator). On average, “Ia” brick consists of: 45 % mud, 53 % sand and 2 % dried straw. Thermal properties of fired (clay) brick, hollow, lightweight concrete block and cast concrete are taken from CIBSE Guide A considering the marks of the locally produced materials. Even though the thermal conductivity of the tested adobe blocks is better than that of the rest of the tested building materials, it can be further improved by increasing the straw proportion (mixing up to 6% of straw could decrease the conductivity to 0.4 W/m K).
Specific heat capacity is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one unit mass of a substance by one degree. It determines the stability of the indoor thermal environment during the outdoor temperature swings. The specific heat capacity of the tested “Ia” brick is also better than that of the rest of the tested building materials. However, it can be further improved by increasing the straw proportion in the adobe mixture (adding up to 6% of straw could decrease the specific heat capacity value approximately to 550 J/kg K).
Thermal transmittance, also known as U-value, is the rate of transfer of heat through a structure (which can be a single material or a composite), divided by the difference in temperature across that structure. It determines how effective a particular building element is as a thermal insulator. Calculations were conducted on 24 cm and 60 cm thick adobe brick (the dimensions of “Ia” brick are: 24X24X12 cm; the maximum thickness of the walls (double layer) found in the traditional Georgian adobe houses varies between 50-60 cm), fired clay brick, lightweight hollow concrete block and cast concrete wall. The tested adobe brick has significantly lower u-value compared to the rest of the materials, however, it is 2.5 times higher than the heat transmittance rate of a traditionally built Adobe wall. The 60 cm adobe wall u-value equals to 1.0 W/m2 K, which is the upper limit value of the low thermal conductivity materials and is only able to meet the minimum thermal comfort standards. As long as the light mass of the material is a very important aspect of its efficient use, the minimum aim of the further research should be to decrease the u-value of the new 24 cm adobe brick to 1.0 W/m2 K.
U-values are also calculated for the insulated walls. Calculations are conducted on a 24 cm thick block covered with the 5 cm and 10 cm thick insulation layer (rock wool). Tightened energy efficiency requirements make it necessary to use the high thermal insulation systems (according to the “Law of Georgia on energy efficiency of buildings” and the “law on approval of minimum requirements for energy efficiency of buildings, parts of buildings or elements of buildings” the maximum u-values for building outdoor opaque components can be between 0.2-0.8 W/m2 K). Calculations showcase that after adding a thermal insulation layer, the importance of the thermal properties of the building materials becomes not significant. Even though a difference is small, the thermal effectiveness of the adobe brick is still outlined. The next stages of the research can be directed not only to the improvement of the thermal characteristics of the adobe mixture, but also to the integration of adobe brick and insulation materials and can be approached differently across the different local climate regions.
The analysis clearly outlined 3 main aspects of the tested adobe brick: 1. Thermal advantages on the locally manufactured building materials, which reduce indoor climate conditioning loads, as well as provide more uniform and stable thermal environment; 2. Thick walls in combination with the traditional climate conditioning systems previously used for indoor temperature regulations is not possible or is very difficult to adapt to modern comfort and energy efficiency requirements; 3. Traditionally made adobe mixture and additives require updating and the laboratory tests, it no longer meets the modern energy efficiency standards on its own and gives the insignificant advantages when using the insulation layer.
Results of the Alizi Workshop:
- Alizi is clearly viable for use in modern construction and can compete with existing materials whose non-environmentally impact has caused the world to face global warming with the disasters that have ensued.
- Georgian Alizi brick can work in its traditional form and manufacturing method but can also adapt to new shapes and the colors of soil obtained from different regions.
If the Alizi bricks made during the workshop are to be manufactured to meet existing construction standards, more research and experimentation to create usable bricks will be needed. We aim to do this over the next few years, with practical workshops as well as laboratory research both in Georgia and abroad.
On November 18-22, in 'Fabrika' Idaaf Architects presented the results of the workshop in the exhibition: "Adobe Bricks - a Manifesto to a Modern Construction'. Exhibition Link