During the summer of 2007 I was commissioned by the History Channel to design and supervise the construction of a rammed earth demonstration wall in China for Digging for the Truth, a television program devoted to exploring historical issues. The program was devoted to the construction of the Great Wall of China, many sections of which were built using rammed earth.
Prior to leaving, I interviewed my former advisor at MIT, Yung Ho Chang, the Head of the Department of Architecture there, regarding rammed earth methods in China. He was knowledgeable as his firm, FCJZ had constructed a rammed earth house at the Commune at the Great Wall, a collection of residences by notable architects from China and elsewhere. In addition to many desert sections of the Great Wall, rammed earth has been used for the circular communal residences in the Fujian region of China for hundreds of years, following the southern migration of people from the desert regions of northern China.
Using local labor, we built a section of wall in front of the cameras to demonstrate how the technique might have been used 2000 years ago, and how it has been updated for contemporary construction. We staged the construction in a disused brick yard on the outskirts of Beijing, where the soil consisted of a promising blend of clay and sand. The presence of a large amount of silt resulted in a small amount of superficial cracking on the surface of the wall as it dried out, but the soil compacted well and the results were satisfying.
The trip also gave me a chance to visit various sections of the Great Wall, as well as contemporary construction in China in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics.