Ancient Building techniques; the best ones probably..

To meet the demands of a constantly growing population, most homes today are built using modern construction materials and modern techniques. While these techniques are proven to be fast and efficient, they are not all environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Some of these techniques emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases that if we continue using them, our living conditions will worsen in a few years. Modern building techniques already account for nearly 40% of C02 emission globally. As a result, there is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions globally. One way to achieve this is by constructing sustainable homes and buildings.

Sustainable buildings are made from natural materials. These materials are cheap and affordable. Most sustainable construction are made using ancient building techniques. Some of these techniques are more than a thousand years old. Fortunately, they are still relevant in modern construction. We have put together some of the best ancient construction techniques that are still relevant in construction today.


Mud construction

Mud is both easy to decorate and work with. It is particularly useful in humid and hot climates. Mud is an abundant, natural material; hence it is cheap, and even readily available than natural materials like wood, brick and stone.


Mud as a building material has numerous advantages. For example, mud consumes less energy, is environmentally friendly and naturally abundant. Compared to brick construction, the manufacturing process for mud uses less carbon, making it ideal for creating a green environment.

Other advantages of mud construction are:

Recycling is cheap: Though some top-grade construction materials are designed to be energy-efficient, lightweight, and energy-saving, recycling them is expensive. They consume a lot of fuel during recycling, leading to the release of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. However, it is different for mud or mud construction. Recycling soil requires zero fuel. Moreover, the labour requirement is less, making mud one of the cheapest forms of construction. In addition, recycled soil or mud doesn’t lose any of its natural characteristics, unlike modern building materials.

Abundance: Most modern materials used in modern construction are relatively scarce and expensive, even for financially struggling communities. But soil is readily available. Hence, it is affordable, even for economically weak societies. In addition, mud construction is adaptable and the technique is transferable.

Fosters community relationship: Natural buildings like mud construction play an important role in developing communities, particularly in rural areas where community-building workshops are becoming popular. Through these workshops, people can share the skills they possess, whether they acquired them from new or old worlds.

Poverty alleviation: Modern construction techniques are very expensive. Same with modern construction materials. Hence, people struggling financially can’t afford them. It’s different, however, with mud construction. Since soil is readily available, it’s affordable. Therefore, people, particularly those living in rural areas, who can’t afford expensive modern construction techniques can opt for mud construction.


Traditional rammed earth

This construction technique has been used for thousands of years. According to evidence, rammed earth dates back to the Neolithic period. It is a technique that’s still widely used in China till date. Ancient monuments were constructed using this traditional technique. An example is the Great Wall of China.
Although today the use of rammed earth in construction has declined, some builders still use it because of its sustainability compared to more modern construction methods. Moreover, rammed earth buildings are made from local materials that produce little environmental waste.

Anyone using traditional rammed earth technique needs to understand that the construction technique works best in climates with high humidity and relatively moderate temperatures. For colder climates, rammed earth buildings may need additional insulators. If they’re in areas that experience high rainfall, they will need protection against rain.
There are few disadvantages of rammed earth construction. The construction is not applicable to all regions because many countries lack regulations for rammed earth buildings. Additionally, the construction needs extra insulation because it hardly retains heat. It is also susceptible to water damage.
Rammed earth walls have low load bearing capacity; hence they can easily collapse from extreme vertical weight. That is why sometimes cement is originally added to the soil mixture as a stabilizer. This new material is known as Stabilised Rammed Earth (SRE) and is commonly used in Australia. However, SRE has its downsides too. For instance, it is not as environmentally friendly as rammed earth because it generates more greenhouse gases.


Nubian Vault

The Nubian vault has been existing for more than a 1000 years. Its origin can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The Nubian vault technique uses local skills and labour, together with renewable resources like earth, rocks and water. It is both environmentally friendly and cheaper than expensive cement blocks and metal-roofed buildings. Besides, it is more long lasting and comfortable than these building materials.
Despite being an age-long building technique the Nubian vault is still relevant today, particular in Sahel Africa thanks to the efforts of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy who promoted the technique. Amazingly, creating a Nubian structure requires no timber! Nubian buildings are made entirely from earth bricks and earth mortar. Now popular in Sahel areas like Burkina Faso and Senegal where timber or wood is expensive, the Nubian vault technique has been simplified by AVN (Association la Voute Nubienne) to help rural builders understand the technique. Therefore, builders or anyone familiar with earth brick fabrication and construction can create a building from the Nubian vault technique.
For example, there are more than 2000 homes built using the Nubian technique in Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. The use of this technique has created jobs and reduced resources spent on importing expensive sawn timber and sheet metal for roofs, particularly in struggling economies like Burkina Faso.
The Nubian vault technique has numerous advantages. For instance, it matches with cultural traditions, encouraging community participation in the construction. The Nubian technique is also less expensive. In Burkina, it is 30% less expensive than corrugated iron roof homes of the same size. Since earth materials are readily available, Nubian constructions are more sustainable and cheaper to set up. Similarly, they improve living conditions of families that can’t afford concrete homes, their quality of life and their environment.



Cob is a mixture of earth and fibre, such as straw, which is then mixed with water and used to construct buildings. Currently, the building sector accounts for nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emission. These carbon emissions raise global temperature, constantly disrupt weather patterns, increase sea levels by threatening people leaving around coastal areas, and change the growing season for food crops. As a result, there is a growing demand to reduce carbon emissions globally (particularly in construction) by building sustainable houses. Cob buildings are sustainable and consume less energy. Though building with cob is labour-intensive, but design-wise cob structures are flexible. Since cob buildings have thick walls, they provide enough heat in cold weathers. In summers, they keep the building interior cool. Cob is fire-proof and resistant to earth vibrations. Like Nubian constructions, cob buildings are cheap to set-up, too.

On the negative side, cob walls can take up 6 to 9 months to finish shrinking. This is a long time for anyone who wants their new home set up before that time. But with good weather and adequate sunshine three months is enough time to have the walls ready.
Another disadvantage of cob houses is that they require enough land space. Due to insulation requirements, cob walls may reach 3ft thick. This means the whole building could take up more land area. Moreover, there is also the need to construct a larger roof to protect the walls. Fortunately, with all these downsides, buildings made with cob are cheap even with the aid of modern technology.


Joe Taylor

Over 2 decades of remodeling experience, Joe is an expert in home improvement. He is now the Managing Editor of PlumbJoe where he writes guides for homeowners. His hobbies include climbing, running and playing the piano.

Recent Posts