Architect Elisabetta Carnevale recently joined IAAC as a new Faculty for the Institute’s postgraduate in 3D printing architecture. Working as an earth architect, Elisabetta tells us what made her take conscience of the real energetic footprint of our current construction models and how she came to work with earth. 


Could you tell us a little bit more about your professional background? 

I have been working for four years for architecture offices across different countries such as Switzerland, France and Morocco, These various experiences enabled me to learn a great deal about different design cultures and approaches as well as from local architecture. As I was going through the construction of new buildings, I started to realise how heavy the environmental impact of conventional building techniques truly is and it got me thinking about how to bring my design closer to my values. I therefore decided to apply for DSA Earthen Architecture Postgraduate, a two-year programme at the world’s main research centre specialised in earth construction, CRAterre, in France. 

I’ve been working with earth ever since: first in Cuenca, Ecuador, in a Unesco-CRAterre project for the conservation of the city’s World Heritage earthen historical buildings, then investigating the possibilities of poured earth for design, at Amàco research centre. Together with Anne-Lyse Antoine; a postgraduate student, I developed a research project called Terres Contemporaines where I interviewed the architects, owners and building company managers of the 30 most interesting contemporary earthen buildings of France. I learned a lot and then felt ready to start working with earth and so I started my own architectural practice; Elisabetta Carnevale Arquitectura Sostenible


Earth and ecology seem to have been at the core of your work for many years. Could you explain how you came to specialise yourself in this particular area? 

I come from Piedmont in Italy and there, vernacular farms are made of rammed earth. But I didn’t consider it a valuable material for contemporary architecture for a long time until I travelled across Chile where earthen construction never went out of fashion and a new generation of architects are using earth in new, contemporary and experimental ways. At that point I realised how building with earth, the material we have under our feet, simply made sense. By building with earth, you respect the planet while deeply connecting the building with its landscape and with the site’s history and culture, through local vernacular architecture. 


Is there a concrete difference between earth architecture and sustainable architecture? If yes, could you explain it to us? 

Earth is an extremely sustainable material as it is locally available in most sites. It needs very little energy to be transformed into a building element, and it is 100% natural and recyclable. Non-toxic, it presents interesting thermal properties that can drastically reduce the use of air conditioning in hot and warm climates, and it also acts as a passive moist regulator. Sustainable architecture means building in a way that makes sense, choosing each material and technique according to the context of each project and its locally available resources. 


Why IAAC? Why did you choose to join the faculty of our 3D printing architecture programme? 

I have been alternating my work as an architect and the research on earthen materials and that is why taking part in a 3D printing with earth design project is an extremely interesting chance to take a step forward in both fields. IAAC is an innovative school and its postgraduate programme in 3D printing architecture is one of the few places in the world where you can experiment 3d printing with earth. Moreover, in IAAC we have the chance to work in collaboration with actual 3d printing companies and in particular with WASP; the author of the world’s first prototype. This gives the research a very effective, hands-on focus and guarantees the techniques used for the project are the most advanced ones. 


How could earth architecture and 3D printing strategies work together? 

Gaia, the first earthen 3D printed prototype, showed that 3D printing with earth is already possible and is, moreover, a very sustainable technique. It allows to print with the material available locally on-site to use agricultural waste fibres in order to improve the building performance and to design the material properties of every part of the building according to its actual requirements. The prototype is just a first step and 3d printing with earth has yet to face several important challenges, but it could give a crucial contribution to broadening the use of earth and natural fibres in contemporary architecture. 


If you had a dream as an architect, what would it be? 

The global construction sector in 2009 was contributing 23% of the total CO2 emissions produced by global economics activities. My dream is that soon architecture will stop being one of the main causes of the degradation of our planet and become a respectful embrace between a landscape, its resources and humans.