A Dirty Story

Monday, August 29, 2005

A version of the sod houses that helped 19th century emigrants settle the High Plains is about to help revitalize a Roanoke, Virginia neighborhood and, maybe, Roanoke's place in the world economy...

On Tuesday, May 24th, local architect Greg Lewis � described by The Roanoke Times as the "driving force" behind the CDBG-funded C2C or "Cradle to Cradle" international design competition held in Roanoke earlier this year � joined others to break ground for a new house on a parcel donated by the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

[Photo: Architecture rendering of the house]
Architecture rendering of the house

Nothing newsworthy in that, right? Until you realize that, consistent with C2C "green building" design principles, the house will be built of dirt. "Rammed earth," to be more precise, that, Smith says, is an established and environmentally sensitive building technique.

Aware that no one has ever done it before, Smith acknowledged to The Roanoke Times that "it's an experiment. It's not enough just to have the idea. You have to have the practical part of, can you build them?"

The key, he added, is "to show this works for the person making $35,000 as well as it does for the person making $350,000."

Apparently, a number of local builders think it will, with Fralin & Miller, Inc. and E. J. Miller Construction already among the earliest partners in the project. Habitat for Humanity, Community Housing Partners, Total Action Against Poverty and the Blue Ridge Housing Development Corporation have also signed-on.

So, too, has the editorial board of The Times. "Failure is an option. But the element of risk is an unavoidable cost of being on the cutting edge" where, it believes, "the biggest opportunities lie."

And among those opportunities is China where, the board notes, C2C design and building principles are of great interest to the China Housing Industry Association which, over the next dozen years, will build housing for 400 million people. "How great would it be" for Roanoke "to gain a foothold in that market?"

And, if that happens, the dirt building won't just be "green," but also "gold."

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