Mud WORKS! Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. Anna
By Anna01-08-2016Popularity:15740 Comments

MUD WORKS!                                       

Idea and concept of the structure and installation


Anna Heringer, Martin Rauch, Andres Lepik

Earth is more than a building material. The relationship between human beings and this material is as old as humankind—but we almost lost contact. This installation invites an experience of this material in a very intimate way. In our work, one of our primary challenges is convincing clients to believe in the quality of earth: its stability, its haptic treasures, its richness in colors, its positive influence on our body and mind. This is difficult to transmit with pictures. It needs to be touched.

This is why we transformed our exhibition space, with 25 tons of mud, into an immediate experience built in earth, including:

 -          a rammed earth floor with a rammed earth bench

-          as rammed earth wall piece as a work of art (Stampflehmbild)

-          mud-casein colors on the walls

-          a sculpture to sit in called “Pepita” (the Italian word for nugget) in    Zabur technique, shaped layer by layer using only the hands as a tool.


Where can one find mud in Venice? The city is made of bricks. The factory location and clay source of San Marco - Terreal Italia is located nearby on the mainland, and has a storied history in producing Venice’s most important building material. This time, however, the mud is not fired!


A slow architecture of the senses

The Zabur technique used for shaping the Pepita sculpture is the most simple and direct way of building: shaping architecture by hand. Without formwork, the wet material, in this case comprised of a mix of clay and stones and traditional coggiopesto (recycled bricks) from Venice, is applied in layers of about 15 cm in height. The walls, although 15 – 10cm thin, are load-bearing.

The surface finish of the sculpture is unsealed and thus contributes to a comfortable indoor climate, in particular by balancing the humidity. The shiny surface is achieved with a fine mud plaster, polished by hand at the right moment, the right speed, and pressure.

The rammed earth wall panels were prefabricated in two parts.

10 cm thick formwork was filled with a saturated earthen mixture, layer by layer, and compacted with ramming. The working process is evident, as the physical energy required for compression is visible, similar to the lithogenous process. Through this stark compaction, and eventually through the drying process, the rammed earth wall becomes stiff and non-yielding without requiring any additional substances.

The working process remains visible, the individuality of the project tangible.


The bench and the floor were produced with the same mix as the Pepita, only in a more dry form and with more stones. As such, the graininess of the rammed earth mixture is formulated with a 12 cm thickness and compressed with a vibrating plate compactor, smoothened out, and after it has dried, the surface is treated with Carnauba wax.


The floor is waxed with the natural Carnauba wax.


All elements of the construction are fully recyclable without loss of quality.

Dissemination of Know-How

The construction of this installation was partly linked to a workshop on earthen structures. The TUM Chair Hermann Kaufmann is going to build hospital facilities in Cameroon during the summer semester of 2016. The installation in Venice was a great chance to learn mud building techniques – we anticipate the know-how gained will travel far beyond this Biennale.


We hope that this installation acts as a kind of punctual trigger point, with the ramification of raising the trust in this wonderful material.


Curatorial Statement

Earth, clay, mud, loam ... one of the world’s most ancient building materials has many names, colors and forms. Although it is such a venerable tradition in human civilization,Architecture as a discipline (with capital “A”!) turned away from its use long ago. Let’s face it: earth as building material has a reputation as “primitive” in contemporary times. Even the millions of people who still dwell in houses made of clay feel disadvantaged. As a result, hardly any universities worldwide teach how to build with earth; research into this technology appears to be limited to ethnography.


But wait! … What if architects were to question this doctrine and find new inspiration from this material?

What if they were to start anew with research and design projects that generate contemporary models for its application?


Anna Heringer and Martin Rauch do just this – and are fully aware of how much energy and creativity are required to impact public opinion and assuage the doubts of this discipline. Nevertheless, they are convinced that this change is possible through practical projects. The potential of earth as a building material can best be understood when we see it and touch it. Involving both improved knowledge of its history as well as innovative approaches to construction and design, it is imperative that we engineer a renewed appreciation for its – and therefore our – future.


Andres Lepik

3 Billion people on this planet live in buildings made of mud. For good reason!

Mud is still the predominant building material of our world’s population. From Latin America to Africa, from Europe to Asia – it is available almost everywhere and available at a low cost. It comes directly from the earth and can be returned to the earth without any harm to the environment. It has been used since the beginning of human habitation – for any purpose, whether in spacious rural or dense urban contexts. It has incredible and yet undiscovered potential for the future.  


Currently, more and more mud structures are being replaced with materials that require non-renewable resources that consume energy and create high levels of carbon dioxide pollution. Simply put, the planet does not possess enough resources to build 7 billion homes out of concrete and steel. We need to explore mud as the material for our future cities and homes.

We need more research, detailed technical development, and new architectural solutions to address the needs and aspirations of current and futures societies. We need to discuss this material, widely publish it in magazines, present it in exhibitions, and embed it in the curriculum of universities. We need to train new craftsmen. We need projects that reflect the stability, the comfort, the social and ecological relevance, and the beauty of mud architecture.



Anna Heringer

For Anna Heringer (b. 1977, Rosenheim, Germany), architecture is a tool to improve lives. As an architect and honorary professor of the UNESCO Chair of Earthen Architecture, Building Cultures, and Sustainable Development she is focusing on the use of natural building materials. Her diploma work, the METI School, realized 2006 with Eike Roswag, won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007. Since then Heringer has realized further projects in Asia, Africa, and Europe. She has been a visiting professor and teaching design courses at universities in Stuttgart, Linz, TU Vienna, the ETH Zurich and TU Munich. She has received numerous honors, including the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard’s GSD, the AR Emerging Architecture Award (twice) and a RIBA International Fellowship. Her work was widely published and exhibited in the MoMA New York, the V&A Museum London, Aedes Berlin and the Cité d´Architecture et du Partimoine in Paris. In 2013 with Andres Lepik and Hubert Klumpner she initiated the Laufenmanifesto where practitioners and academics from around the world contributed to define guidelines for a humane design culture.


Martin Rauch

Martin Rauch (b. 1958, Schlins, Vorarlberg, Austria), regarded as one of the pioneers of modern reinterpretation of technical and creative applications for traditional rammed earth construction. He attended the Technical school for ceramics and oven manufacture in 1974 and the Academy of applied arts in Vienna, Master class for ceramics, four years later.

Over the course of two decades of research in theory and practice, Martin Rauch has been able to update traditional rammed earth techniques for a wide range of contemporary building tasks. As a result, he has become a leader in his field, an expert of international stature, sought out as collaborator by world-famous architects and artists.

Since 1985 he designed, planned and realized numerous public and private, domestic and international rammed earth building projects. In 1999 he established his successful and internationally appreciated company “Lehm Ton Erde Baukunst GmbH” in Schlins, Austria. He is lecturer in several universities, since April 2010 Martin Rauch is UNESCO Honorary professor at the Chair of Earthen Architecture and since 2014 teaching a design studio at the ETH Zurich. His work has been widely published and he has received a number of awards such as the Plischke Award, a Holcim Regional Award – Bronze and a Fassa Bortolo Award.


Andres Lepik

Andres Lepik (b. 1961, Augsburg, Germany) studied art history at the Universities Augsburg and Munich, graduating in 1990 with a Ph.D. on „Architectural models in the Renaissance“ at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome. From 1994 he worked as Curator at Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin where he presented the exhibitions „Renzo Piano“ (2000), „Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Berlin“ (2001 with MoMA) and: „Content. Rem Koolhaas and AMO/OMA“ in 2003. From 2007 to 2011 he was Curator at the Architecture and Design Department in The Museum of Modern Art, New York, presenting the exhibition „Small Scale, Big Change. New Architectures of Social Engagement“ in 2010. In 2011/12 he was a Loeb-Fellow at Graduate School of Design in Harvard University and in May 2012 started as Professor for Architecture History and Curatorial Practice and Director of Architecture Museum of the Technical University of Munich. In Munich he presented 2013/14 „AFRITECTURE. Building Social Change“, „SHOW & TELL. Architectural (Hi)stories from the Collection“ 2014 and „Lina Bo Bardi 1OO“ in 2015. Since 2013 Andres Lepik is member of the advisory board for Goethe Institute. He has published widely as author and editor of numerous books and articles, mainly on architecture history and contemporary topics, his main focus in the last years being in the social relevance of contemporary architecture.

We are very grateful to all our collaborators and sponsors who made this possible.



Lindsay Howe Blair (Editor of Texts), Sigurd Flora (Structural Engineer), Johannes Lerch (Assistant Site Manager), Stefano Mori (Site Manager), Barbara Narici (Local collaborator), Clemens Quirin (Office Manager), (Local collaborators), Zsuzsanna Stánitz (Assistant Curator), Jomo Zeil (Assistant Architect), workshop team of TU Munich: Matthias Kestel, Elke Kirst, Christoph Perl (Research Associates), Hanna Albrecht, Sophie Kotter, Leonie Morano, Lotta Ewert, Jonas Pauli (Students)



Ricola Foundation

Arts and Culture Division of the Federal Chancellery of Austria

Curry Stone Foundation

SanMarco - Terreal Italia

Department of Architecture, Technical University of Munich

Jürgen Laartz

Federal State of Vorarlberg

LEHM TON ERDE Baukunst GmbH 

gbd ZT GmbH 

The sculpure ''pepita" (n the center), the rammed earth floor and bench (in the lower part of the picture), the rammed earth panel (on the background wall). Photo © Bruno Klomfar

The entrance to the "Pepita", viewed from inside. Photo © Bruno Klomfar

Inside the "Pepita": the top opening, viewed from the bottom. Photo © Stefano Mori

The rammed earth panel on the left and the so-called "Pepita" with its entrance on the right. Photo © Stefano Mori

The installation viewed from behind the "pepita". Photo © Stefano Mori

Overall view of the installation during the Biennale opening, May 2016. Photo © Stefano Mori

At the base a Geogrid textile is applied for the first meter every 40 cm to add structural stability. Photo © Stefano Mori

The Zabur technique is the most basic earth-building technique, in which the wet clay is applied in layers on the wall. Photo © Stefano Mori

key: Mud WORKS! Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. Anna Heringer, Martin Rauch, Andres Lepik. Earth architecture
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