Sustainability, particularly in disciplines such as architecture, is our preeminent calling. In the face of staggering figures, our responsibility to address global concerns is no longer a question. Today, sustainability in architecture has become increasingly synonymous with technology-driven building techniques. Even now, shifts based in building information modeling and integrated project delivery promise to deliver better performing buildings with ‘smart’ skins, responsive systems, and complex new building assemblies. While these advances are commendable, we often fail to see that which lies directly before us. In the words of philosopher Martin Heidegger, “the answer we are looking for lies at hand; so near that we all too easily overlook it. For the way to what is near is always the longest and thus hardest for us humans.”
Earthen architecture is inherently sustainable. Yet in many industrialized nations, building with soil has become marginal – largely due to a shroud of mystery concealing the process of transforming the soil. This is particularly true in the American Midwest. Unfortunately, restricted use comes at a time when earthen architecture is needed most – to lighten our carbon footprint while rooting us to our unique place in the world. The primary obstacles preventing wider acceptance of earth architecture are primarily a lack of public awareness and professional education. The Dirt Works Studio, in the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning at the University of Kansas, aims to educate architecture students in the design and construction of publicly accessible earthen structures for all to experience.