Nowadays, the understanding of our building culture and the application of local construction methods may seem like a distant and obsolete concept given the role of industrialization and globalization in the construction industry. We can now obtain almost any material from around the globe just by searching the internet for a distributor in our region. But this practice has important implications for our society, from the loss of architectural identity to environmental costs related to high CO₂ emissions associated with the processes of extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and disposal of these materials.
The increasing global need to reduce our carbon emissions and use materials in more efficient ways has led us to research and learn about the origin of our region’s resources, eventually leading to better understanding their applications within a circular economy approach. But why not look right under our feet? Soil is one of the most common materials on the planet, and when it is locally sourced, it does not generate considerable amounts of embodied CO₂. It seems that after industrialization, we have forgotten that building with earth was for many years a viable construction method for our ancestors in different parts of the world. We spoke with Nicolas Coeckelberghs, one of the four founders of BC Materials, a worker cooperative based in Brussels that has been working with earth, rediscovering its use, and sharing its knowledge on a global scale while working with a local conscience.