Volcanic Ash In Structures: Then And Now

March 19, 2021



Shan Arcega

Do as the Romans do even when not in Rome.

The Romans were the resounding models for strong architecture and engineering. Until now, their ancient structures serve as old mirrors of their powerful history and models for timeless architecture and classic, resourceful engineering—two basic principles architects must always reinvent. In the Philippines, some government officials already took the first steps to promote what can possibly be a greener home building method. Back in January 2020 during the catastrophic Taal volcano eruption, government authorities (namely, Mayor Arman Dimaguila) from Biñan, Laguna produced bricks made from Taal volcano’s ashfall. It was a resourceful plan, but it isn’t the first time people used volcanic ash to build enduring structures. 

The Romans literally built an empire on this ash material.

Mixing lime and volcanic rock, the Romans created a mortar that was packed into wooden forms along with volcanic tuff. With a few binding chemicals from the seawater, lime and pozzolana (volcanic material from Naples, Italy) were cemented together to form an endurable material that only grew stronger the more it was exposed to seawater. The endurance and strength of this material is clear in ancient roman structures like the Pozzuoli Bay breakwater and is also evident in other iconic structures like the Colosseum and the Pantheon. Now, why is this an important piece of information? 

READ MORE: Let These Renowned Experts Help in Creating the Right Home for You

Global warming is a problem that we should all be worried about.

Currently, the most widely known basic concrete material is Portland cement. Despite being commonly used, it wears down before even reaching 50 years of use and gets beaten down by seawater. It’s also a material that makes up 7% of the carbon dioxide when produced in 19 billion tons. As of now, the last thing earth needs is more carbon dioxide. Compared to Portland cement, however, Roman concrete containing pozzolan burns less fuel. The ash material is also found in many parts of the world.  

More research and use of volcanic material like Italy’s pozzolana can be the first of many steps in making our buildings more endurable and eco-friendly. This can be especially relevant to our country. As of 2021, 23 active volcanoes to source the materials from. As terrifying as this may sound, this can mean a greener solution for a country abundant with natural materials. 

READ MORE: Beauty Beyond Brutalism: Inside the Historic Architecture of PICC

Download this month's BLUPRINT magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]