In over 40 years working in the Earth Building industry Peter Hickson of Earth Building Solutions has been in many projects starting with his work with self-builders, as a building contractor designing and contracting to build various residential, commercial and educational buildings. Learning himself through research, observation, learning from others and practice and then training others has always been part of his work with the earth. Most of his projects are listed below and some of his projects are featured with descriptions and photos under each subheading.
Dooley/Keevers Home, Woodhill Mtn, NSW.
Peter Hickson, Builder. Saltbush Studios, Architect
The above home is one of my favourite building projects. It displays what can be achieved using earth as a material. We utilised the Earth Building (EB) techniques of mud brick, cob and what I call “cob-art”. It also clearly shows what can be achieved with the energy and creative input of the client and their friends who were encouraged to be involved in rendering and decorating the earth walls. The use of earth together with recycled and natural materials and climate responsive design was used to achieve a beautiful and comfortable home in harmony with the environment. Passive solar design, low embodied energy, solar hot water, grid-connected PV array, dry compost toilet and greywater reuse, spring water, groundwater tank, biofuel for heating and cooking and permaculture gardens combine to ensure a sustainable housing solution and a very small ecological footprint.
Casey Home, Callala Bay, NSW.
Peter Hickson, Builder. Brian Woodward, Architect.
This building was by far the most difficult home I have constructed. Fortunately, I love a challenge and the clients were the best a builder could ask for. It is quite a large home though was built in 3 stages the Garage/Loft, the Studio and then the House. Part of the complexity was that there are 46 corners to the walls and most are 45-degrees. The mudbricks were supplied by Make It Mudbricks and because the production is a simple process they were able to supply 45 degree corner bricks. The building has loadbearing mudbrick walls throughout and the ceilings are timber lining over hardwood exposed rafters. We built the windows and door frames ourselves. The clients wanted to be involved and save costs so we showed them how to bag the outside and render inside and they completed their own painting.
The Passive Solar Design works extremely well with no cooling required and heating is minimal. The building has dry composting toilets, vertical reed bed greywater treatment, solar hot water, tank water only, grid-connected PV array, and permaculture gardens using biodynamic practices and poultry. A shallow pond to the north of the building is used to capture and store stormwater. It also reflects light into the house and creates a cool microclimate in summer. Some beautiful shots of inside walls appear in Photos.
Peter Hickson, Builder. Peter Hickson / Ray Trappel, Architect, Concept and Design.
The original brief for this building was a training room and low roofs for PV cell installation training. We came up with a raft of sustainable ideas the TAFE was ready to accept.
This beautiful little mudbrick building was what we delivered. It was designed, constructed and fitted with the latest sustainable, renewable technologies available and includes the two low roof PV training roofs behind. Naturally it couples passive solar design and low embodied energy. It was aligned true north. The beautiful aesthetics, low embodied energy and longevity of the building are created with natural raw earth walls, exposed hardwoods and galvanised iron. The greatest design feature is the striking butterfly roof. This design allows the winter’s sun to bathe the entire 6 m depth of polished concrete floor and reach the rear wall of the training room. The summer’s sun is cut off by the upper roof eave overhang and lower roof overhang and 4 m wide pergola with deciduous Kiwi fruit vines. Yet natural light is able to enter the room all year via the northern highlights. Louvre windows are located to draw air across the room and out the top or bottom sets of louvre windows assisted by the raking ceilings and ceiling fans. The rear section of roof is set at the exact pitch for maximum annual energy return for grid-connected PV array at that latitude.
A massive fully welded stainless steel box gutter allows access to the PV cells and Solar hot water system and it directs stormwater into the rain water tank without gutters and downpipes.
The building features, loadbearing mudbricks walls, earth based renders and paints, hardwood plantation structural timbers, recycled hardwood large section posts, beams and kitchen joinery and Forest Stewardship Council approved hardwood timber for window and door frames and joinery doors. Rain water passes through a series of filters before it enters the building, all waste water and food scraps go through a wet worm farm and into a forested area. The urinal is waterless and toilets very low dual flush to conserve water. Lighting is a combination of LED, T5 Fluorescent and Induction spot lights, cooling is passive assisted by fan, minimal heating if any should be required. The building is equipped with 2 KW of grid-connected PV panels and solar hotwater. The concrete slabs used for the verandah and pergola utilised low embodied cement manufactured from steel slag and power station ash.
The building is set in an edible landscape, including vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and fruit vines. The design includes classroom break out areas through folding doors directly opening onto the the wide pergola. A level terrace cut into the natural embankment between the low roofs and the building was transformed into an amphitheatre.
Waxwood pine logs and boards and natural compacted gravels complete the landscaping with inclusion of a selection of low water/maintenance local native garden species.
The building was central part of the highly acclaimed Yallah TAFE Environment Sustainability Initiatives.
More featured projects will be added in time so please visit again.
Peter Hickson, Trainer and Utopia Trainees and Michael Tarte, Volunteer
Superadobe Firecircle 5.8 m dia. designer and Project Coordinator, Peter Hickson
Peter Hickson, Trainer and Utopia Trainees and Michael Tarte, Volunteer
Superadobe dome (4 m dia) designer and Project Coordinator, Peter Hickson
This Training Program was conducted over about 4 months for 20 hours per week. It involved up to 20 local countrymen volunteering their time whilst undergoing accredited training in Construction. The program also involved several volunteers offering from one day to several weeks as mentors assisting with training and supervision, driving and/or cooking.
The two small buildings offer a practical low cost option to develop self help housing in Remote Aboriginal Homelands where governments have a policy of not funding new buildings but are looking for self sufficiency.
Training Programs can be developed and tailored to a project and a particular place.
Earth Building Solutions have uploaded a short video of this project to YouTube.
First week students forming walls
Second week students on completion
The proof is in the Pizza.
Second week students and Peter Hickson proud of Malu.
Construction by Peter Hickson, Builder/Trainer/Supervisor + UTS Students
Design by Kevan Heathcote, Engineer/Lecturer UTS and Peter Hickson.
This was a 2-week Training Program at Areyonga Aboriginal Community involving about twenty four university students from UTS studying Community Development. The two projects had six students each for the first week and they were replaced in the second week by another twelve students.
The small walk through museum was constructed as an experiment in stabilised earth. Local natural road gravel material was mixed with a low percentage of cement and just enough water to make a relatively stiff mixture and tamped gently (to fill voids) into temporary formwork fixed to permanent treated timber poles. The footings were the same material. The floor was constructed using dampened unstabilsed local gravel rammed insitu with a vibrating plate compactor. The post and beam style structure was constrcuted using treated pine poles for posts and rafters. The roof was constructed by recycling the slip forms onto the ceiling fixed to treated pole rafters with thin ferro-cement poured over the ceiling on a membrane.
The kangaroo (Malu) was constructed as a wood fired, bread or pizza oven and was made from the same stabilised gravel constructed by cobbing process. It was sculptured by hand using damp soil mound moulding to form the oven. A flue was constructed through the head and out between the ears.
Both buildings were only just completed in the 9 days allocated.
Setting out first mudbrick course
Building complete enough for a celebration and opening
Peter Hickson, ABV Trainer/Builder/Designer with Barangay Tagpako community
Barangay Tagpako Multi Cooperative Community is a lowlands mountain village in Gingoog City, Mindanao. Tagpako had made about 400 mudbricks following Peter’s First assignment to Gingoog where he experimented with various ow soils and additives and assessed the potential of mudbrick and cob earth building techniques for low cost housing.
This small building 4 m by 4 m which is used as a community medical centre was designed to utilise those 400 mudbricks and teach the local community how to build using mudbrick. The Training ran for about three weeks and the community completed the roof and ceiling afterwards. The grand opening without glazing of windows but with beautiful curtains was a mere six weeks after discussions began about what could be achieved with those bricks.
Earthquake, heavy winds and termites are known hazards and problems in the Philippines so precautions were taken to maximise strength and durability. The building was constructed on a reinforced concrete slab using full loadbearing mudbrick construction including brick arches with post tensioned timber top plate ring beam, bed joint reinforcement and vertical post tension steel rods that were embedded in the concrete slab. Hip roof construction and minimal returns and panels between openings were also included in the design.
Loading soon photos and stories of the following Training Projects
Jean-Michel, an Engineering student mixing cob for model house inside UTS Materials Testing Laboratory
Luke Punzet, engineering student and Peter Hickson building the lower floor section of the half scale model house with bamboo reinforced cob
Peter Hickson constructing the attic roof frame for assembly with the bamboo cob base
The model house assembed on the shake table
Peter Hickson proposed, designed and built a low cost housing solution for South East Asia in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental Province, Minanao, The Philippines in 2006.
He stated that it was affordable, comfortable, durable and safe. He could prove it was affordable by building one. He could prove it comfortable by living in it. It was proving itself durable.
He needed to test the strength of bamboo reinforced cob especially in regards earthquakes that are a real problem throughout Asia. Peter believes if it is able to survive the racking forces of an earthquake it will also likely survive other hazards such as strong wind and perform better in storm surge and landslide.
Fortunately Peter was able to conduct shake table testing in the materials testing laboratory at the University of Technology, Sydney in 2008. Peter worked as an industry supervisor with Professor Bijan Samali and Domonic Dowling supervising two final year engineering students as their Capstone research project. The students Jean Michel Albert Thernet and Luke Punzet and Peter constructed and tested "U" shaped panels. The testing was a to determine the relative strength of cob and bamboo reinforced cob. A direct comparison with Dominic Dowling's PhD research project into improving earthquake resistance of existing mudbrick walls. The "U" shaped test panels were subjected to a standard list of simulated earthquakes from around the world and proved very difficult to break even when repeated simulations of up to 200% intensity were used. The testing was written into a thesis by the two engineering students.
Peter and the students then constructed a 0.5 scale model of half of the building he built in the Philippines. This was outside the scope of the Capstone project however the testing was vital in determining the safety of the whole system rather than the wall panels themselves. The model included three windows with bamboo ladder lintels, a first floor and attic roof frame.
So testing was able to establish the strength of the whole structure as it was intended to be constructed with minimum length returns at corners and between openings, the slenderness ratio of walls, the connection of the walls to the base and to the floor diaphragm, the impact of the additional weight in the upper floor floor wall and roof assembly on the lower cob walls and of course the effectiveness of the vertical and horizontal bamboo reinforced cob walling system in resisting collapse or structural failure.
The building was subjected to a total of four simulations of the 2001 El Salvador Earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale. This earthquake was devastating to mudbrick buildings with significant loss of life and injury and was the inspiration for Dom Dowling's Quakesafe Adobe work.
The shake table was initially set for two simulations. The first was 100% intensity and the next 125% intensity equating to around 8.4. A this point the building was examined. Small hairline cracking was visible on one side only around an opening top and bottom and along the top of the wall where a floor bearer was set into the cob wall. These were marked with chalk. The cracking was in an inplane wall on the side where a hold down assembly had loosened with the testing. The cracking though superficial was unexpected and Peter believes it was a torsional loading in what was a perfectly symetrical building. This unintended torsion was perhaps a useful additional test to the back and forth movement of the shake table.
At this stage the testing was a huge success as the testing hadn't resulted in collapse or significant structural damage that would render the building unsafe for further occupation. In order to establish whether the building would be safe to reoccupy further simulations were required. Two further simulations both at 100% intensity resulted in no further damage. Please follow the links to media releases from UTS.
The real building is now proving itself durable over time being nine years old and enduring the worst flooding in Gingoog's history, a small earthquake and several monsoons. Unfortunately as a desplay house it is often unoccupied and not maintained.