Earthbag Building Will House Rwandan Women’s Cooperative

What do you need to build a house? Most people might say wood, steel, cement, excavation equipment, and power tools. These things can make building a traditional home easier, but they certainly aren’t necessary. Just ask the designers at GA Collaborative, which recently built a three-bedroom home in Rwanda using nothing but dirt and a battery-powered hand drill.

Instead of the usual timber and insulation, the Masoro Village project utilized earthbag construction–an inexpensive method that replaces traditional materials with, you guessed it, bags of dirt. The simplicity of the method allows for eco-friendly construction with only local materials and unskilled labor.

The home is meant to be a prototype for a series of homes that GA Collaborative hopes to build for members of the women’s cooperative l’Association Dushyigikirane. With limited material availability and a tight budget, a complicated design was out of the question.

One thing the build site had in abundance, however, was dirt. Since pretty much anyone is instantly capable of filling a bag with dirt and stacking the filled bags like bricks, earthbag construction became the obvious choice.

“Assisting the designers on site were four students from the nascent architecture department at the Kigali Institute of Science & Technology (KIST), who also designed for the project a mutable piece of furniture (turning from a bed into a chair, then into a table),” reports Arch Daily.

“To counteract earthbag construction’s tendency to create insular, bunker-like compartments, the designers opened up the front of the house with a long public/private veranda that serves as a covered, open-air entry and circulation space among rooms,” continues the article. It was completed with a steel roofing structure, but for future projects with more lenient timelines, the group hopes to utilize cheaper timber building materials.

Learn more about this style of green building at

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

1 Comment

  • Reply September 24, 2013


    It is a certainly a low cost housing technique. However, the long-term behavior of the unconsolidated soil (dirt) inside the bags, when exposed to tropical heat or pouring rains is quite unpredictable, even if an external cement plaster is applied over them. They may undergo expansion or shrinkage. The loose dirt may also invite insects that may find a permanent abode inside the bags thro’ any minor crack openings or crevices.
    To obviate the above obstacles, it will be a better idea, if the same locally available soil or dirt materials are made into solid bricks or blocks at the very site itself using simple moulds and an hand-operated, lever operated press. Depending on the soil characteristics, a very small amount of cement may have to be used in the production of bricks. However, if the soil is of lateritic type (reddish brown soil), then there is no need to the addition of cement at all. Such hand-operated-machine-pressed bricks have good strength and are highly durable, and can also be used as load-bearing walls. It is also possible to build a funicular-shell type roof over such dwellings using such bricks that need no reinforcement, but a thin overlay of cement plaster. The technique was initially developed by SERC, Chennai, a leading R&D institution in India and has been used in the construction of several hundreds of low-income housing schemes. For more details, interested persons can contact
    Dr.Parameswaran, Consulting Engineer

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