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Tue August 09 2022

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Now that’s recycling

7 Jul A construction site in London is turning excavated subsoil into bricks and using them for basement walls.

Earth blocks made from clay excavated on site are used in the basement construction
Earth blocks made from clay excavated on site are used in the basement construction

VolkerFitzpatrick is blending traditional construction methods with modern sustainable sensitivities at its Apex site in Camden – using bricks made from clay excavated on site to construct the basement perimeter walls.

Working with the client, Reef, and architect Bennetts Associates, the subsoil (which is clay) is sent to traditional brickmaker HG Matthews in Buckinghamshire, which combines it with sand and straw to create unfired bricks known as earth blocks. These earth blocks are tested to British standards, regulations and strengths, and then sent back to site to be used to create the perimeter walls in the basement of the new building.

Credit for the concept rests with Bennetts architect Nikolay Shahpazov.

The Apex is a £29m mixed-use development with a laboratory and office space, forming part of the Tribeca development in King’s Cross. According to the project team, it will be the first building of this scale to make use of site subsoil as a construction material.

In total almost 14,000 earth blocks will be laid, covering more than 90m³.    

The Apex building
The Apex building

Unlike standard blockwork, which has limited recycling potential, earth blocks can be broken down and reused, or returned to nature at the end of their lifespan. As such, the earth block can store the building resource within the walls of the development throughout the lifetime of the building. This natural material also helps to regulate indoor temperature and humidity levels and purify the air by trapping airborne pollutants.

Rakesh Chavda, senior project manager at The Apex, said: “We are so proud to be a part of such a sustainable project. The earth blocks will undergo a unique lifecycle in which they are able to end up exactly where they started from and we hope this technique can be applied to other large scale developments in future.”

Alongside the project work, a team from Bennetts Associates architects has created Earthcycle: Earth blocks from subsoil, which is currently being exhibited in the 2022 Royal Academy of Arts’ architecture summer exhibition. The display tells the story about the financial and environmental benefit of using site subsoil as a construction material.

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