Who's Using the World's Oldest Building Material?
Alternivest just delivered 3050 Eisenhauer, a 14-unit multifamily community in San Antonio built with compressed earth, the original construction technology. (Is it still bad/possible to track mud in the house?)
Alternivest owner David Komet (snapped on site) tells us compressed earthen construction is similar to the adobe techniques originally used to build San Antonio. But he’s not just being retro—properties built this way have high thermal mass requiring less energy, are quiet for residents, are nearly unburnable and bug-free, and are market competitive to construct. David lives and works in a high-thermal-mass, historic firehouse and tells us temperature changes are very minimal, so he uses less HVAC and needs fewer ducts in the ceilings. Residents of 3050 Eisenhauer have 12 inches of compacted earth between them, which makes units very quiet. As they say, good earth makes good neighbors (and also made Pearl Buck famous).
Lake Flato designed the community because it specifically wanted to work in the compressed earth format. So why isn’t everyone building this way? David tells us it’s not easy to do, especially since it’s so rare in the US. He had to develop some technology for the property, and the City of San Antonio hadn't worked on such a project before. The biggest struggles were with navigating the code and fire safety—although the materials essentially cannot burn, the City requested a fire rating test for the walls and required commercial-grade sprinklers. (Since David wasn’t expecting that, it was a challenge.)
3050 Eisenhauer has another feature that’s not common in San Antonio: a California courtyard layout. Although zoning would’ve allowed David to build a three-story property with 22 units, he wanted to keep it small with a real feeling of community. The courtyard layout improves security and enhances that sense of neighborhood. Alternivest is preparing to break ground on Phase 2 of 3050 Eisenhauer (rendered here), and it’s developing a compressed earth building in New Braunfels designed for seniors. And David’s always working to improve the technique—next on his list is implementing vaulted ceilings.